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WHEN IS A TAXI, NOT A TAXI? The taxi industry has an uphill battle to reclaim its name

When William Henry Hoover founded the Hoover Company in 1908, little did he know that his company name would become synonymous with, not just a mechanical cleaning product, but the act of vacuum cleaning itself, the name Hoover became a verb. How many times have you heard somebody say "I've just got to do the Hoovering" – it's so common that we don't really think about it, in fact it's even been referred to in Dire Straits, Money for Nothing.

The same can be applied to the word ‘taxi’, it seems as though every passenger carrying vehicle on the road is now referred to as a taxi. This of course can and generally does cause great consternation within the taxi industry, particularly in London.

Euston, we have a problem

Recently, actress Ruth Madeley claimed that a taxi driver took her wheelchair away following an argument outside Euston station. According to Ms Madeley's Twitter feed as well as a BBC report, the actress stated that the driver told her that it was "too difficult" to drop her at an accessible entrance and it wasn't his problem if she couldn't use stairs. She them claimed that after a dispute over payment, the driver took her wheelchair, put it in his boot and refused to give it back.

Although Ms Madeley is in no way at fault here, my suspicions were aroused as soon as I read that the driver had put a wheelchair in his boot.

Mission impossible

It is likely that almost anybody who has travelled in a taxi would know that putting a wheelchair in the boot is almost impossible. Drivers of the few remaining TX2 taxis as well as those who drive both TX4 and LEVC taxis would find it physically impossible, while Mercedes Vito drivers would also struggle because the boot isn't deep enough. I was then struck by something, why would the driver of a fully wheelchair accessible taxi even attempt to fold up a chair and place it in the boot of his vehicle? It didn't take the mind of a genius to work out that the vehicle was in fact a PHV. It was later revealed by Ms Madeley that the taxi was in-fact a private hire vehicle.

Social media overdrive

Needless to say, cabbies on social media went into overdrive and justifiably so. Once the error was pointed out to Ms Madeley, in relation to the vehicle in question, she apologised profusely. Attention was then turned to the mainstream media (MSM) providers, who reported the vehicle as a taxi.

Now here is the awkward bit – I have to defend the MSM here, they were right to report the story in the way that they did. Calling the vehicle, a taxi as opposed to a PHV was correct since they were reporting a direct quote from Ms Madeley and as such, alteration and manipulation is forbidden under pain of litigation. However, this issue does arise with alarming regularity, so let's examine a little more closely...

When is a taxi not a taxi?

When we look at a taxi in London, we see a purpose-built vehicle driven by an individual used to convey single or groups of people for hire and reward to a previously undetermined destination via an undetermined route. Outside of London the same definition applies, however there is a difference – London's Hackney Carriage Act differs to the legislation which governs the rest of the UK.

Outside of London, taxi drivers, private hire drivers and dual license holders (drivers who hold both a taxi and PHV license) generally can (and do) work off the same platform and out of the same offices. As an example, Phoenix Cars, based in the northeast of England, carry taxis, coaches, buses and PHVs on their platform, all work together relatively harmoniously, although as in London a PHV cannot rank or ply for hire on the street.

As a result, Phoenix can legally refer to themselves as a taxi operator, despite carrying other forms of transport – in turn PHV drivers can legally be referred to as taxi drivers. This piece of legislation is different in London, PHV drivers cannot legally refer to themselves as taxi drivers and would be committing an offence to do so. This applies even if a company carries both taxis and PHVs on its platform.

Confused? You will be...

Now here is the confusing bit! If a private hire company has a number of taxis on their platform in London, they can legally identify as a taxi operator despite PHV drivers not being allowed to identify as taxi drivers.

When Uber first came to London, they attempted to bring taxi drivers onto their platform, had they been successful they could have legally referred to themselves as a taxi operator. So, this begs the question as to why the industry can't trade- mark or copyright the word ‘taxi’.

Unfortunately, the word ‘taxi’ has become a generic term and as a result it cannot be protected by an individual nor a company – who would hold ownership of the name?

Reclaim the name

Sadly, we now have an uphill battle to reclaim our name.

Due to the lack of legal avenues available to the trade, the only real way to tackle this in London is via a concerted and aggressive advertising campaign, as well as tackling every media organisation which dares to refer to a PHV as a London taxi. This is something that the LTDA as well as other orgs have had to do with alarming regularity.

Unfortunately, until we get some kind of voluntary agreement from media providers, we could be playing ‘whack-a- mole’ until Armageddon comes.

In the meantime, we are going to have to excuse people like Ruth Madeley – and even some journalists, whilst continuing to explain that there is a stark difference between a taxi and a PHV in London, much in the same way that there is a difference between a BAFTA nominated actress and a butcher who is working at the local repertory theatre playing the back end of a donkey.

Article written by Steve Kenton appearing in LTDA ‘TAXI’


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