With the audio all hooked up and ready to leave for work, I tuned into the live debate surrounding London’s taxi and private hire industry taking place at City Hall on Tuesday.
The discussion was led by the London Assembly’s Transport Committee with the aim to benchmark the two trades against its damning findings back in December 2014, where the committee found the capital’s regulator, Transport for London, infamously “woefully inadequate”.
In what was at times a heated and honest assessment from both sides of the industry, several key points where made, but the focus in this TaxiPoint article is on one for now; Congestion Charge exemption. Recently the London Assembly members chose to oppose the mayor’s plan to clean up London and improve traffic flow by making minicab drivers pay the congestion. The highly controversial move, was brought on by Conservative Gareth Bacon AM and may derail the mayor’s plan for private hire drivers to pay the £11.50 charge from April next year. Taxi drivers were to remain exempt. However, assembly members were convinced that the proposals put forward would have a devastating impact on smaller minicab firms while driving up costs for passengers and passed the motion against the plan 16-3. Only Lib Dem’s Caroline Pidgeon AM and the two Greens, Sian Berry AM and Caroline Russell AM, stood firm and opposed Bacon’s motion. During the CIty Hall grilling, Steve McNamara the General Secretary of the LTDA, said “Smart road pricing has to be the way forward across 24 hours” but taxis would need to be excempt. This drew quizzical glances from some on the committee who went on to show what can only be perceived as a lack of understanding for the situation taxi drivers face when it comes to the Congestion Charge. In fact, Caroline Russell AM said in a Tweet on the subject: “Smart road pricing has to be the way forward across 24 hours says Steve McNamara from the LTDA #AsemblyTransport #CabReview but turns out he thinks taxis would be excempt. Not sure that’s how road pricing *works*!” This response will infuriate cabbies who have been explaining the mechanics and legislative laws surrounding the job since the City Hall report was released nearly four years ago. Licensed taxi drivers should not pay the Congestion Charge as they have no choice whether they enter the zone or not. All drivers are compelled by legislation to take any member of public to their destination. They risk serious consequences if they refuse to take a fare. Either Caroline Russell is suggesting all cabbies become the only road user and form of public transport to be FORCED to pay the charge or she feels each driver should risk the licence that many man and woman studied over three years for to obtain. This raises the further question. If cabbies are not forced to pay the charge like all other road users, can they now take the longer route around the zone to the public’s destination? The cost to the customer using the licensed taxi, a form of public transport remember, will increase. Unless of course, cabbies are FORCED to take the shortest route through the zone and thus FORCED to pay the charge. Minicab and other private vehicles can make a choice. If an operator has 20% of their bookings in the levied zone it would not take a logistical genius to suggest not all of their fleet would be sent into the zone. Also with a predetermined price, taking a route outside the zone maybe more cost affective to the operator and customer. Minicabs are not forced into the Congestion Charge zone. They are sent there. Another important point worth raising too. Who would pay for the extra cost FORCED onto the cabbies? In London the meter is based on a Cost Index which relates to the running costs of a vehicle and the average living wage. The added cost of £11.50 per day will see the customer hit with a possible 5% increase to their journey price. As cabbies struggle to compete with rising costs forcing the meter higher how does increasing the fares at this point help both the industry and customer who expects the gold standard from what is still a public, not private, service. Four years on from “Future Proof” and it seems only a few show proof of understanding our future.