“TfL’s conditions are fair and reasonable and should be respected and abided by”, says manufacturer of taxi and private hire partition screens.
The comment comes after the capital’s regulator, Transport for London (TfL), demanded that minicab drivers must have partition screens approved or “potentially risk putting lives in danger”.
The warning came in June as minicab drivers across the UK prepared for life after the COVID-19 lockdown. Many of the 110,000 private hire drivers licensed in the capital were, and still are, expressing an interest in inserting partitions into their vehicles in a bid to create passenger confidence and reduce the transmission risks of coronavirus.
According to vehicle partition manufacturers, Driver Bubble™, they believe they can provide a safe and simple screen that fits right into vehicles, helping passengers and drivers alike to shield, but have stated the importance of respecting and abiding by the conditions set by regulators.
A spokesperson from Driver Bubble told TaxiPoint: “We have several models made from materials like PVC and polycarbonate. Many of our customers, drivers and fleets alike, have said that it has helped them to get back on the road and get their businesses back up and running. Drivers have specifically mentioned that the product “is a must” and that they wouldn’t have got back on the road without it.”
Much debate amongst the industry’s drivers and licensing authorities centres around the effectiveness and the safety of the partitions being inserted into vehicles.
In London, the UK’s biggest private hire market, discussions and safety tests are being conducted at the automotive testing facilities of Millbrook and HORIBA MIRA. As part of the discussions it was raised that the introduction of protective screens into a vehicle could negatively affect the deployment of curtain and other air bag systems which are installed in the vast majority of private hire vehicles.
Millbrook and HORIBA MIRA are offering regulators Transport for London (TfL) and the private hire industry a bespoke assessment that will consider the appropriateness of each screen and installation process for specific models of vehicles in accordance with automotive standards. The air bag issue is one element that will be considered as part of the assessment.
So we asked Driver Bubble whether the screens they offer have been tested with regard to both their effectiveness against the spread of COVID-19 and how the screen reacts in the event of a serious road collision.
Driver Bubble said: “The Driver Bubble partition screens cover 90% of the surface area between passengers and drivers, greatly reducing the potential for disease transmission. Because the screen is transparent, it allows passengers to still feel seen and acknowledged, while providing peace of mind for all in the vehicle.
“One of our models is currently being tested and approved by regulatory bodies in the UK, so we will have more to share with you the moment the testing is finalized.
“We always suggest and advise our customers to check whether the screens are suitable for them and if their local council allows screens to be fitted in taxis and private hire vehicles.”
So should TfL’s strict safety requirements be relaxed? A Driver Bubble’s spokesperson reacted by saying: “TfL’s conditions are fair and reasonable and should be respected and abided by. We are currently working alongside TfL and regulatory bodies to ensure that our screens are adhering to TfL’s requirements.
“We do believe that every taxi driver should easily have access to protection screens, as long as they are allowed by their local councils and regulatory bodies and respect the conditions set out. Most councils in the UK allow uncertified screens and e.g. the Driver Bubble Flex is made of PVC material that is very flexible and soft so that would be a great option if a driver is worried about the strength of polycarbonate during a collision.
“All our screens are made from certified materials and our partition screens are enabling drivers across the world to get back on the road and also keeping passengers safe. And we continuously imagine that some drivers need to feed an entire family with the work they do and for them staying at home is no option. We believe those people should be able to go out there now and while we work with the TfL can serve the people and get food on the table.”
The London Scientific and Technical Advisory Cell (LSTAC) advised the capital’s regulators that there is no evidence to suggest any partition screen helps to prevent the spread of coronavirus, the capital’s transport regulators reiterated that if screens are installed they must be approved as being safe.
Responding to the LSTAC research, Driver Bubble said: “If you could choose; would you rather drive in a car that has no partition or one where there is a partition screen with a surface coverage up to 90% between the driver and the passenger? So yes, there is always a chance; but I know what I prefer.
“We also hear more and more stories from drivers that bought Driver Bubbles that they feel not only more confident and protected but also safer since it is a customer-friendly barrier between them and potential threats and (drunk) ill-intentioned passengers; an advantage that is a big bonus for them.”
Coronavirus is going nowhere fast. Partition screens in most licensed taxis have always been provided in the form of inbuilt screens. For private hire customers and drivers to remain confident in their environment, screens are likely to become a more prominent sight around the UK moving forwards.