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FOUR QUESTIONS THREE TAXI LEADERS: Uber, biggest challenges, cab costs and PHV cap

What would you say are the biggest challenges facing the London taxi industry right now?

Steve McNamara (LTDA): “Our biggest problem is maintaining and improving our access to the road network. The current ludicrous system whereby some boroughs give us access to LTNS and others don’t, where TfL give us access to all the Bus Lanes, some priority access such as London Bridge but then deny us the ability to use Bishopsgate, has to stop.

“We are easily identifiable, there is an easily accessible database of licensed taxis which Boroughs can use for ANPR enforcement. As an integral part of the public transport network, and the only one providing a fully accessible, door-to-door service, we should be able to access any and all restricted routes.”

Grant Davis (LCDC): “When I say ‘many’ what I mean is that the whole landscape of the taxi trade is changing very fast, and we unfortunately do not have any say on how the changes impact us. If I were to list them, it would be LTN’s, PHV numbers, Knowledge of London (KOL) numbers, and finally the cost of our taxi.

“The licensed taxi trade in London has 2 bedrocks, the vehicle and the KOL and unfortunately for us, our regulator, TfL has failed us on a massive scale.”

Paul Bond (RMT): “For us the big challenge is TfL’s driver policy and an ever-decreasing profit margin. The trade is not given the respect it deserves with no recognition of the investment made, both in terms of time and money, to offer the service we do.”

There’s been a long public battle with Uber and other ride-hail operators entering the London market. Would you say the playing field is now equal?

Steve: “The only advantage the ride hail companies ever had, in fact their USP, was that they were cheap, unsustainably and unrealistically cheap. As a result of the many regulatory burdens now required of them, (most of them designed to tackle the many safety issues and risks these operators presented to the public), they are no longer cheap.

“In fact, they are often more expensive than the equivalent taxi fare. As a result, their customers have deserted them. The requirement for all PHVs to be ZEC has massively reduced the choice of cheap cars available to PH, in many cases the cost of a car has doubled.

“All of these measures, coupled with our universal acceptance of contactless payments and the far superior service taxis provide, has meant we are now the first choice of many Londoners and visitors, a phenomenon being described by many as the ‘renaissance of the London Taxi’.”

Grant: “All of us in the licensed Hackney Carriage trade know only too well our battles with Uber, the Government and our regulator TfL.

“We realised the end game for Uber and others was for the taxi trade to die in London, but that never happened and we are seeing a resurgence of work for us (mainly due to the lack of taxis working).

“Recently the PH app BOLT has been asking taxi drivers to join up and will join the other apps in London offering a mixed fleet.”

Paul: “I don’t think it’s a case of level playing fields. We shouldn’t even be playing the same sport! We all know the history when it comes to the taxi industry and Uber. Whilst there have been some successes there is still a lot to do looking no further than defining what a pre-booked electric hail is.”

Should there be a cap on the number of private hire vehicle drivers licensed in the capital?

Steve: “Any cap on PH will need primary legislation, Boris, when he was Mayor wanted the power to cap numbers but never actually delivered when he had the opportunity as PM.

“The current Mayor has also supported calls for a cap. Many focus on the number of drivers, personally I would favour a much more realistic and enforceable cap on the number of vehicles, a minicab driver without a minicab is unemployed!”

Grant: “Every time the conversation for a cap on PH numbers is brought up at meetings with TfL, they run for cover. The PH representatives have a massive sway of power over TfL and because of this the PH agenda is always accepted by TfL.

“The question of can TfL cap numbers is always answered "no" by TfL, but this is a cop out.

“There is always more than one way to skin a cat and if TfL were to reintroduce the enhanced driving test and also the English language requirement, these two things alone would organically assist the number of PH drivers getting registered every month to slow down. We know for apps such as Uber they need a churn of drivers signing up on a regular basis to keep going and maybe these points have been made to our mayor when he meets Uber officials.

“With over 100,000 PH drivers licensed in London, how does TfL think anyone in both industries can earn a decent living?”

Paul: “It all comes down to primary legislation. There just isn’t a will to push this agenda through at Government level so hands are very much tied. Do we need one yes, but will we get one anytime soon, no.”

The cost of financing the only new black cab available to drivers has just tipped over £100,000 in some cases. How are the costs impacting the industry and how can the trade adapt?

Steve: “The cost of our cab is a major concern, although much is made of the £100,000 figure, much of that is attributable to current high interest rates. I have seen others calling for the Conditions of Fitness to be reviewed or scrapped, according to these people this would give us access to cheaper vehicles, put simply it won’t!

“Even without the turning circle, which they say is not needed, any vehicle would have to be fully wheelchair accessible, all drivers would want to keep a partition and as with PH, it would have to be electric. This kind of conversion would put a minimum of £20,000 onto the base cost of a vehicle, more realistically £25,000. The cheapest possible donor vehicles start at about £43,000, the Vito at over £50,000, meaning the on the road price of any of them will be similar and more likely more than the TXE, plus it would be a converted van, and would have limited range (160 miles on average) and would come with built-in range anxiety.

“The problem we, and now most businesses face, is that modern electric or hybrid vehicles are all expensive, there are, unfortunately, no cheap options anymore. To try to tackle this we at the LTDA have been working with a supplier to get a Euro V to Euro VI conversion approved, that will give back a 15-year age limit to these cabs and ensure a supply of older cabs going forward. Expect some news on this soon.”

Grant: “The situation we now face in London is a disgrace and needs to be urgently addressed if the taxi industry is to survive and flourish. When the ZEC taxis were first demanded by TfL, we were promised 5 vehicles, we now have just one taxi available, and the cost is increasing £1,500 every quarter.

“In London we are facing a shortage of taxis and what has happened is that due to the very high cost of both renting / buying a LEVC taxi, this has stopped older drivers, part time drivers and also Suburban drivers returning to the trade.

“And when you look at the mayor's new 12-year age limit, we will be losing around 1,000 taxis a year which is having a catastrophic impact on our numbers.”

Paul: “Removing features like the turning circle would do very little to bring down costs, but of course we need more vehicle choice.

“The real problem is the financing of the vehicles. We need to re-engineer the financing model currently in place and look for interest free loans help similar to the help offered in Scotland. There is also a big case to drop VAT from public electric chargepoints and also dropping VAT from all wheelchair accessible taxi vehicles.”


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