In a feisty debate during Mayor's Question Time, Sadiq Khan was forced to face some searching questions from Brexit Party assembly member David Kurten and Conservative assembly member Keith Prince, regarding London's taxi industry.
The Mayor initially opened the debate by explaining to the assembly members what he has done for the industry.
He told them that he had no control over private hire vehicle capping, but tempered that by saying that Transport for London (TfL) has invested £600,000 on 77 new taxi ranks since 2016, given taxis access to 18 additional bus lanes, brought in credit card payment schemes making journeys quicker and more convenient and promoted The Knowledge through the LTDA's podcast.
He also said that he allocated £42mn to the industry to help fight air pollution, including £5mn to be set aside for taxis converting to LPG as well as a £7,500 grant for the purchase of a zero-emission capable taxi. £18mn was also set aside for expanding the rapid charge network across capital, with 200 rapid charge points across London, 77 of which are exclusive to the taxi industry. The Mayor claimed that he has listened to the taxi trade and allowed taxis continued access to Tooley Street from Borough High Street. David Kurten then stepped up, initially thanking the Mayor for listening regarding Tooley Street, before firing back, asking: "What will you do to stop the reduction in size of London's taxi fleets?"
He also asked: "Would you reconsider the reduction of the taxi age limit from 15 years to 12 years?"
The Mayor responded by saying that driver and vehicle numbers have been reducing since 2009 and 2010, claiming that the dip in taxi fleet numbers didn't begin 2016. He added that competition from the private hire (PHV) industry was a factor in the reduction of driver numbers but did acknowledge that there are challenges to new people doing The Knowledge, saying: "TfL are working with people wanting to do The Knowledge to make it easier to do and raise awareness of it." Mr Kurten responded by stating that the taxi fleet stood at 22500 in 2010, noting that there had been a 2637 reduction in size since Sadiq came to power, he then asked what figure the Mayor would like to see the taxi fleets at by the time he finished his term in office in 2020. The Mayor hit back, defending his record of introducing more bus lanes, increased marshalling and tackling illegal plying for hire. He claimed to be the “most pro black taxi” of the 3 Mayors after examining previous policies, but under the previous 2 Mayors PHV numbers doubled.
Mr Kurten finished by telling the Mayor that he had a big decision to make as to whether to relicense Uber which will have an effect on PHV size. However, it didn't end there for Sadiq Khan as Keith Prince then stepped up with a swipe at the Mayor's comment regarding seeing himself as the most "pro black taxi mayor" of all, saying: "You obviously don't look at your Twitter." He challenged the Mayor by saying: "In your manifesto it said special privileges will be built in for those who wish to become licensed London taxi drivers, you also mentioned the exclusive right to ply for hire and the use of bus lanes, can you identify these special privileges?"
The Mayor responded by repeating some of his opening comments regarding additional bus lanes, financial assistance over vehicle scrappage and the additional grant made available to taxi drivers to buy zero emission capable vehicles. Mr Prince countered the Mayor by saying: "They've got to buy the vehicles, it's not a privilege." He added: "Is it a privilege reducing the age limit of older taxis, destroying older driver’s retirement plans? "Relicensing those who are still flouting the rules, stopping cabs from using bus lanes, where buses go taxis should go, not acknowledging black cabs as part of the public transport network, not giving drivers a choice of 5 electric cabs to choose from thus forcing them to buy 1 vehicle, soon to be 2, not providing enough charging points meaning cabs are running on their petrol range extenders, tripling the reduction of the fleet. Are they some of the special privileges you promised?" An unfazed Mayor responded by saying: "I think it's a human right and not a privilege to breath clean air and we have an invisible killer in London, toxic air, half of this comes from transport." He added: "We know that taxis emit a disproportionate amount of toxic gases, this is why we have to clean up fleet." He went on to explain that the taxi industry gets a privilege other industries don't get, a huge subsidy in scrapping polluting diesel vehicle and a grant for a zero-emission capable vehicle. The Mayor finalised the questioning on the subject by saying: "Who suffers the worst with bad air quality? Cabbies. So they will benefit from our policies."
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