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The taxi industry should be regulated OUTSIDE of TfL, writes Assembly Member Boff

It is not an outrageous statement to suggest that Transport for London (TfL) is a large and unwieldy organisation. Whilst there are clearly some very good people at TfL they are hamstrung by an organisational structure that expects too many balls to be kept in the air at any one time, whilst requiring too many conflicting aims to be satisfied. There is a desperate need for reform, but seemingly no political desire to carry this out.

Currently TfL runs, maintains or has some degree of responsibility for: London Buses, the London Underground, the Docklands Light Railway (DLR), the London Overground, TfL Rail, London Trams, London’s Red Routes, 8 piers on the Thames, London Dial-a-Ride, Victoria Coach Station, cycling and walking in London, the Emirates Air Line (aka the Cable Car) and the licensing of taxis and private hire. This means that TfL runs services, contracts out services, seeks to encourage motorists to use its services and seeks to encourage those using its services to walk or cycle instead.

In licensing the taxi and private hire industries, TfL is responsible for a direct competitor to the London Underground and London’s buses. If you speak to virtually anyone in either industry you will quickly find huge criticisms of TfL Taxi and Private Hire (TfLTPH) – the licensing authority. Under TfLTPH there are drivers who should not have permits, consistent weakness on preventing hailing of private hire vehicles and a lack of clarity on the rules. We’ve also seen massively increased private hire operator fees, with some operators seeing a 12,000% increase in their annual payments. We’ve also seen the Mayor force through the removal of the Congestion Charge exemption for private hire vehicles even though the report TfL commissioned confirmed this would do nothing to reduce traffic in Central London. It is time for London to do things differently.

Instead of a weak department within TfL, we need a new and separate authority. We need greater clarity about its purpose and what a successful authority should look like. The body should be openly scrutinised by the London Assembly, on behalf of Londoners, but also by the industry – with taxi drivers, private hire drivers, operators and trade bodies all having the opportunity to question their licensing authority. Being genuinely answerable to Londoners and the industry is the only way that genuine reform can be achieved.

This begs the question ‘What should that reform look like?’ Here there will be inevitable differences of opinion. There are those who would argue that, for example, Uber has been allowed to get away with far too much problematic behaviour under the current regime. Equally there are others who would strongly maintain that the problem is the regulations themselves with Uber asked to meet criteria that others have not had to reach. Furthermore, when a different operator asked for a list of such drivers so they could cross check them against their own, the request was refused. When the aim is – or should be – to help ensure that the public is safe and the rules are being followed, this seems like a bizarre decision.

There is certainly a role for the Mayor in making clear the licensing regulations that he or she wishes to see in place. Having done so, whoever is Mayor needs to step back and enable the new regulatory authority to police those regulations in as straightforward and transparent a way as possible. The status quo is not working. It’s time to start again.

Image credit (Andrew Boff): London Assembly (london.gov.uk)

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