London Assembly Member says the taxi trade may need to find a new way of doing business to survive

Image credit: Ross Campbell/Twitter @CarolineRussell

London Assembly Member and Councillor for Highbury East Ward, Caroline Russell, has said a combination of sat navs, Uber and the current coronavirus pandemic means taxi drivers need to think about how to create resilient livelihoods in "this physically distanced world we find ourselves in".

The Green Party parliamentary candidate, backed up the suggestion by saying the daily flow of workers who might take a taxi has been removed due to lockdown and social distancing caused by COVID-19.

Caroline's claims that the capital's taxis' USP (the knowledge of London) has been disrupted by sat navs and Uber has sparked a fierce debate on social media, with taxi drivers defending their iconic trade.

The debate sprung to life after Caroline posted a tweet from Islington Council. The message was on the topic of encouraging members of the public to walk or cycle, which has been aided by closing many of the borough's roads to traffic.

The questions then put to Caroline included "should taxis be separated from the public transport regulator, then?" Despite officially being part of the Transport for London network, taxi drivers are finding themselves repeatedly banned from using valuable routes around the city.

Defending the knowledge and what it brings to a world renowned trade, one member of the public wrote: "The KOL [knowledge of London] aids safe and efficient transport. 3,500 vehicles meet ULEZ regs. Every vehicle is mandated to be wheelchair accessible with benefits for the sensory impaired. A privacy partition may help stymie virus transmission. Policy is choking the trade, not the coronavirus."

Another wrote: "How dare you! I've just been forced into buying a new taxi by TfL and you're denying me access to the roads? Drivers are going to the wall while you pontificate on creating resilient taxi livelihoods? Really. You're killing the trade."

Defending her comments, Caroline made it clear that her comments were just herself 'thinking aloud', saying: "To be clear. My role as an Assembly Member is to check the Mayor and TfL are doing a good job for Londoners.

"They have executive power and make all decisions. London's economy is broken by coronavirus and I'm thinking aloud here about how we can make a taxi trade resilient."

Caroline's thoughts are that tourists and daily flows of office workers are not coming back any time soon. Therefore "a new business model and role for the cab trade in a city fundamentally changed by the virus" is needed and requires some "creative thinking by the Mayor's recovery board".

TaxiPoint has approached Caroline for further comment.

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