With the news that Sadiq Khan will continue as London Mayor for a second term, the capital's taxi drivers will no doubt be asking the question "what does he have in store to help the industry survive and rebuild a thriving trade again?"
In the build up to the Mayoral election, TaxiPoint spoke with Khan to find out his views on the iconic industry, its drivers and what lies ahead.
Firstly, there's the hot topic of financial support for Transport for London (TfL) licensed drivers. Unlike many local authorities around the UK, who have allocated funds from the Governments' Discretionary Fund package to help their licensed taxi and private hire drivers, cabbies from the capital have yet to be supported during the pandemic by way of a grant directly from their licensing body.
When asked by TaxiPoint why TfL have been unable to allocate any monies to support its drivers, Khan said: "I'm acutely aware of how hard the last year has been for taxi and private hire drivers in London and I have been keen to provide support wherever possible. The coronavirus response money from the Government that's been used outside of London by some local authorities to assist drivers has gone straight to the councils in London and not to TfL. We did explore whether councils across London would be able to provide financial help for drivers, but all of their funding had already been allocated.
"Where I have been able to, I've been keen to help. TfL were right to offer cabbies some flexibility for vehicles that were coming up to having their licence renewed during the first lockdown and I’ve also lobbied the Chancellor on behalf of the trade. I’ve pushed for more flexibility in the way that the Self Employment Income Support Scheme (SEISS) grants are calculated, urged the Government to exempt ZEC taxi purchases from capital allowances and have made the case that payment holidays for taxi and private hire licensees with vehicles on finance should be further extended. We haven’t had much joy with Government yet, but I will keep pushing."
With lockdown beginning to ease, taxi drivers will be hoping to see an improvement in work levels over the next couple of months, but even so, with over 12-months of hardship already passed, a financial package supported by Sadiq Khan and TfL would go a long way in helping those hardest hit. Reports of drivers giving up on the trade and cabs being handed back is without doubt a worrying thought for one of the world's most respected modes of transport. Cabbies need to know that their job is "future-proof" and is not in danger of being phased out.
Khan told us: "London’s black cabs are iconic and are internationally recognised as a part of our city’s fabric. As we emerge from the pandemic, I cannot imagine a future without black cabs. They offer passengers both safety and convenience, playing a key role in providing accessible travel for all.
"As long as I am Mayor, taxi drivers will have an important part to play in London. You only need to look at my track record - if this was an industry that I didn't believe had a viable future, then I wouldn't be investing tens of millions directly into the trade.
"My £42m support package has enabled more cleaner, greener ZEC vehicles to be licensed and I applaud the efforts made by the taxi trade to clean up the taxi fleet. In total, more than 4,000 delicensing payments have been made, equating to more than £34m of direct support for the taxi trade."
But is the above mentioned really enough to secure a flourishing future for the cab trade? There may well be many who say "no"!
The capital's black taxi drivers are still expected to spend years studying the 'Knowledge' to be awarded their green badge licence, but with such uncertainty in the industry, numbers of those currently studying for the world renowned test are not as they once were. For an industry to really stay strong for years to come it needs new blood constantly pumped through its veins.
Speaking of the iconic 'Knowledge of London' test and its future, Khan said: "TfL has worked hard to promote the benefits of being a London taxi driver by raising the profile of the Knowledge and have explored ways for TfL to gain accreditation for the Knowledge."
He went on to say that if he was to be re-elected, he'd be happy to ask his team to discuss with trade reps what more can be done to increase the number of students training to become taxi drivers.
Well, you're now in for a second term Mr Khan, and the capital's cab drivers will no doubt be keeping a close eye on whether or not you keep to your word and do all you can to help those who have built arguably the best taxi network on the planet.