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CAN IT BE STOPPED? London taxi driver numbers continue downward trend

Recent data from Transport for London (TfL) has highlighted an ongoing troubling trend within the capital's iconic taxi industry. As of the latest figures, there are currently just 17,310 licensed taxi drivers in London.

The gradual decline in the number of taxi drivers is a pattern that has been observed over several years, raising concerns about the long-term viability of this essential service. Delving into the specifics, the majority of these licences are held by drivers with the 'All London' green badge, totalling 15,563. The remaining 1,802 drivers hold the Suburban yellow badge, which allows them to operate in designated suburban sectors of the city.

Historical data presents a clearer picture of the industry's trajectory. In the 2009/10 period, London boasted 24,914 licensed taxi drivers. However, this number has been steadily declining. By 2013/14, the number of drivers had slightly increased to a peak of 25,538, supported by 22,810 vehicles. This peak was short-lived as subsequent years have shown a persistent decrease. By 2022/23, the total number of licensed taxi drivers had dropped to 18,297, with the number of vehicles also falling to 15,130.

Several factors could be contributing to this decline. The rise of ride-hailing apps, regulatory changes, and the economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic have all likely played a role. The introduction and expansion of services such as Uber and Bolt has seen the number of licensed private hire drivers swell to 106,575.

Regulatory challenges have also been a factor. Changes in more expensive electric vehicle requirements, increasing insurance costs, and changes on diesel cab age limits have added pressure on taxi drivers. These regulatory hurdles, while aimed at improving service quality and reducing environmental impact, inadvertently made it more challenging for part-time drivers to stay in the market.

The COVID-19 pandemic further exacerbated these challenges. Lockdowns and reduced travel significantly impacted the demand for taxi services, leading to ongoing financial strain for many drivers. Although the city is gradually recovering, the aftershocks of the pandemic continue to be felt, with many drivers choosing to leave the profession or retire early.

This downward trend raises important questions about the future of London's taxi industry. Taxis are not just a means of transportation; they are an integral part of the city's identity and public transport network. The decline in driver numbers could affect the availability and reliability of tax services, particularly in areas not well served by other forms of public transport.

Stakeholders, including TfL, policymakers, and industry representatives, have been talking, but little has been seen in the way of action. Potential solutions include revising the licensing criteria currently in place for the ‘Knowledge of London’ tests, providing financial support or incentives for existing drivers, and allowing taxis access to more road space to comprehensively do their job without undue risk of fines and penalty points.

The steady decline in the number of taxi drivers in London is a worrying trend that does demand immediate attention. Ensuring the sustainability of London's taxi industry is not only crucial for the drivers themselves but also for the millions of residents and visitors who rely on this vital service.


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