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TREVOR MERRALLS Q&A: Knowledge of London, taxi trade complacency and cross-border troubles

The taxi drivers left plying their trade in the capital are enjoying somewhat of a renaissance since covid restrictions were fully relaxed. However, under that renewed optimism remains some underlying issues facing the long-term future of the industry.

We talk trade with Trevor Merralls, General Secretary of the United Cabbies Group (UCG), and get his take on all things black cab.

What’s your take on the Spring 2023 tariff proposals? Should the industry take the full 11.6%?

The UCG’s Membership overwhelmingly voted for the full increase. Bus drivers have accepted pay offers of between 10.5% and 11.6%.

How can we get more people applying for the Knowledge of London? Why do you think people are reluctant to begin the process?

The KOL is our apprenticeship, and it needs to be promoted properly. Key players like LEVC stepping up with funding to ensure we have a 21st century recruitment campaign promoting the benefits perhaps even agreeing to sponsor x number of KOL students a year like a graduate programme need to be explored. Future cab drivers buy cabs, so it is in their interests to do more.

TfL also need to ensure the sole rights and privileges of what you get in return for completing the KOL are a tangible reality; sole right to ply for hire and access to roads as professionally trained drivers as a bare minimum. Our training has no bias and success is based on hard work, determination, and dedication.

However, if it is hard to find out what it involves, if the KOL is not regularly promoted then potential future cab drivers cannot weigh up if the process is one they wish to start.

There still remains the harsh reality as to why would you study for up 3 years when TfL continue to allow PHV to buy a licence to in effect work in our market via an app in 6-12 weeks. We have all seen the recent driver numbers so all the time PHV can work in the immediate market via technology, the incentive to do the KOL diminishes. Until that elephant in the room is properly addressed it’s like putting a plaster on an axe wound.

Is the playing field between taxis and PHV now more level or can more be done?

At the UCG we don’t hold the view there should be a level playing field; it assumes we both do the same job, we don’t – we are extensively trained and publicly hired driving a purpose-built vehicle like buses.

All the time PHV can work in the immediate market via technology, it raises the issue if we are both working the same way how is the Two Tier Viable. TfL acknowledge technology has led to a blurring.

Where is the blurring occurring? In whose market? We are licensed to P4H, and we can do prebooked work. PHV are not trained, licensed, or qualified to work in the immediate hire market and can only be prebooked. How can prebooked be immediate?

The high demand in London has seen more out-of-area PHVs working in the capital. What’s your stance on cross-border hiring?

We believe the triple lock is a myth that should be challenged. The UCG are convinced stopping PHV plying for hire via an app will put everything back in its box. Before app technology we never saw mini cab drivers from Wolverhampton blatantly picking up in London. The UCG have made TfL aware of our view and that is we believe these apps are making provision.

We’re anticipating another dip or stagnation in black cab vehicle numbers. Should more have been done to keep older vehicles on the road and what more can be done to get new ones licensed?

Absolutely, a lot of this is being conveniently explained as related to the lockdown but the Covid pandemic just accelerated policy decisions made and accepted by others in the trade, only for the goal posts to be moved from 15 to 12 years with nothing in return. This is now having significant consequences. When there were waiting lists to rent cabs for drivers wanting to return to work, we asked TfL to look at the interim measure of allowing drivers to purchase Euro 6 TX4 or Vitos from outside London and was told it was a promising idea and something they would look into; we are still waiting.

TfL have now advised wheelchair accessible private hire vehicles can be exempt from the licensing requirement to be Zero Emission Capable (ZEC) on a case-by-case basis. So what consideration is now being given to Licensed Taxis if the concession is linked to ensuring there is no diminishing supply for the travelling public reliant on wheelchair accessible vehicles? TfL should make some interim pauses to the Age Limit in the current financial climate to ensure the fleet does not diminish further.

Since the coronavirus pandemic restrictions were fully dropped those working in the industry have seen demand rocket. Would it be fair to say it’s easy to become complacent with the underlying issues facing the industry while times are good?

Just because it’s busy now, doesn’t mean our problems have gone away. We still face many future challenges with an aging demographic, less people signing up for the KOL and our iconic purpose-built vehicle on a PCP deal with finance that is coming in at over £94k and we still have PHV working in our market.

We are often reactive as a trade, thinking about today’s takings or because this week was busy, next week will be. We need to be more proactive going forward ensuring we protect our interests to ensure this trade that has given us all a good living is there for the KOL students of today to inherit when they get their badge. It is prudent to put money away in the summer should the roof leak in winter and we need to keep an eye on our future, protecting our rights to ensure we are around for another 350 years.


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