As part of a series of Q&A sessions in the lead up to next year’s London Mayoral election in May 2021, TaxiPoint caught up with independent candidate Farah London to discuss her plans for the London taxi trade.
In your opinion what core values does the licensed taxi service bring to London?
I have personally been using black cabs for over 26 years, instead of a private hire vehicle, as it gives me a sense of security, safety and trust, especially as a woman. There is a comfort in knowing they will protect me, for example, by always ensuring I get inside my front door when they drop me at home; they truly care about their passengers. When you travel in a London black cab, you know you are in the best of hands, not only will the driver get you from A to B the quickest, but you can look forward to a great conversation along the way.
Black cabs stand for trust, which private hire has failed to do, and this iconic trade has existed since the mid-17th century, representing some of the best of London’s culture and history. Black taxis are an iconic symbol of London and it is why tourists from all over the world want to travel and take photos with our black cab fleet.
I have travelled all over the world and nothing compares to our black cab drivers. They are not only the best in the trade, they have also committed years of dedication to learn ‘the Knowledge’, which is not seen anywhere else in the world. Being a black cab driver, is something I see as prestige. It certainly makes me proud to be in one.
To answer your question in summary, the values are: trust, reliability, knowledge and personality.
What improvements / changes could be made to the service offered by London’s cab drivers and fleet owners?
The first and most important change I would introduce would be to get rid of the ridiculous road restrictions which have almost brought our black cab community to its knees. Sadiq Khan enjoys boasting that he has given power to the London boroughs. While this has proven to be a great way for the Mayor to avoid taking responsibility for and ownership of difficult decisions, it has only succeeded in bringing chaos to our streets. Councils are adding restrictions, new cycle lanes and larger pedestrian walkways, which have crippled the city’s black cab industry.
There has been no birds-eye view of the bigger picture and it’s clearly not working for black cabs. Therefore, this vital improvement would take back control and fix road access so the city can start moving again. This would include opening main roads, like Tottenham Court Road and others as in Hackney. London has 32 boroughs and 32 failed transport policies; I believe it is time we had a single one that works.
I fully support UTAG’s campaign, so where buses go, black cabs can also go. The decision to separate cabs and buses was a nail in the coffin of the service. One of the advantages of using a black cab, was that they would be the fastest way of getting round town. I personally know that black cab drivers feel ashamed when they cannot get their passenger to their destination and have to drop them at some distance owing to restrictions and road closures. The Mayor has taken the joy and passion out of the trade. Only a few weeks ago, I travelled by taxi from Tower Hill to the Ned. The journey should have taken no longer than five minutes but took over 26 minutes as the Bank junction is now closed and the cab driver had to drive to St Paul’s and double back.
I continually discuss a wide range of issues with cab drivers. Another area in which they feel support has failed them, is going electric. Those who I have spoken to say that they would love to change to electric, but it’s simply not affordable. They were offered a £5,000 grant, but unfortunately the cost to buy an electric vehicle went up by £5,000 too.
My commitment as your next Mayor would be, firstly, to revert the 12-year licence to 15 years for diesel black cabs and then offer a larger grant of £12,500 towards the cost of an electric vehicle with an interest free loan. However, that is not my only proposal. The electric fleet would be given a 20-year licence. And if the vehicle passes its checks, there is no reason why it cannot be back on the road. I cannot take full credit for this idea. It actually came from Gary, a black cab driver here in London. This is what makes me different from the career politicians running for Mayor. They don’t listen and act and they are held back by party politics, whereas I will take the time to listen to the issues facing real Londoners, and seriously reflect on their concerns when and how I can deliver for them when I set out my commitments and policies.
Everything I will do as Mayor will be based on the people who are impacted. No other candidate speaks in detail of how they will actually improve the trade and end the carnage caused by the current Mayor. In fact other candidates talk in code, giving no clear directions. I want to be transparent from the start. I am listening and keen to know what other improvements drivers want to see.
Fleet owners have suffered greatly too, as the drivers do not earn enough money to afford the rents during COVID-19, so we need to help them upgrade their fleets and assist by renting the fleets at affordable rates.
I would also improve the tech infrastructure, so it would be easier to book black cabs. There are great apps such as Taxiapp UK, that the drivers use. These initiatives are important to support and develop further.
A public or private service? How would you view the licensed taxi industry if elected?
The trade should always remain public. I have spoken to many cabbies and they would like to see the trade returned to the oversight of the Metropolitan Police as it was managed far better with more stringent checks on drivers. I will investigate this further with cabbies and see what their opinion is, as they are the ones who would be directly affected by any new arrangement.
Both Labour and Conservatives have demonstrated that black cabs are not part of their main transport plans, they only offer false promises with no substance. They do not understand how important the trade is to our city or our history. I will ensure all is done to restore the trade to its former glory.
Transport for London has for some time called for powers to place a cap on the number of taxi and private hire licences available in the capital. Is this a policy that you would continue to support as Mayor of London?
It was reported last year by the BBC, that London has in total 126,000 unlicensed and licensed taxi drivers in the city; this means 105,000 extra drivers over and above our black cabs. Our city does not need so great a volume contributing to gridlocked traffic. In order to ensure the safety of Londoners and to combat ever- growing volumes of traffic, I would a complete ban on unlicensed drivers and also restrictions on Uber and other such platforms in certain zones.
The current Mayor has lost control and we need to act to take our city and roads back from rogue operators.
As Mayor of London how would you support the continued greening of London’s black cab fleet?
I look forward to the black cab fleet becoming green, but I am clear that it must be affordable and accessible for existing drivers. Many diesel drivers I have spoken to would change in a heartbeat, however the current grant scheme does not support this important change. Therefore, I would introduce higher grants, interest- free loans, longer licences, up to 20 years on electric vehicles, and most importantly the correct infrastructure to charge these vehicles. These charging points would only be accessible to black cab drivers, so private cars would not be able to use them. They would be placed across the city, including the green huts, and across greater London.
Through my vision of Tech London, we can deliver in the future even smarter ways of charging electric vehicles which will put the drivers in more control, benefit Londoners and help to further protect our environment and air quality.