As most licensed London taxi drivers are more than aware, the industry is at a crossroads, tough problems require tough decisions.
Again as every driver is also aware, a 350 year old industry is under serious threat, from a multitiude of different avenues.
The Knowledge is one of the hardest vocational exams in any industry, there really is nothing that can compare to it, yet uptake figures are at their lowest level in many years. The Knowledge is the one thing that ties every London taxi driver together.
It is impossible to say as to whether the industry will survive another fifty years, the relentless march of technological evolution and revolution is on an uncharted course. The licensed taxi trade, not just in London, but worldwide, may fall victims to the overwhelming blanket of change, and the taxi profession is only one of many industries under threat. The industry needs to make sure that it remains a viable entity for as long as possible.
The taxi industry is a myriad of opinions with no common voice, yes we have organisations and unions, but with 24,000 taxi drivers in the Greater London area, you will never get two, in depth, identical opinions as to how the trade should progress or how or it can survive.
There are however, a couple of common denominators within the industry that can be agreed upon, these must be focused on.
The vilification of drivers not conforming to a particular point of view can no longer be tolerated at any level, enough is more than enough where this is concerned. This course of action is counter-productive, divisive and just causes a repellant effect, where drivers just say "up yours", even when the point being made is valid. Those that complain that this is a "snowflake attitude" are invariably the ones that are creating the divisions in the first place. Shouting the loudest doesn't make you right, nor mean the person you are shouting at has to agree... it does however make you loud and dictatorial. Putting this in the simplest of terms, if somebody calls you all of the names under the sun because your perspective may differ from theirs, would you then join them when they come calling... I think we all know the answer to that.
Peter does not and probably cannot work in the same way as Paul, Fred cannot commit to Sam's working practices and Arthur doesn't necessarily believe that Tim's work ethics are aligned to his own.
The taxi industry in London is 24,000 individuals competing not just against private hire, buses, trains, rickshaws, cyclists, other road users and the maniacal road system that must be negotiated... but every driver is also competing against each other for business... if that is not recognised rather swiftly then any given individual is in grave danger of going out of business.
Ultimately taxi drivers are small business owners that need to think like business men and women. This doesn't make the taxi driver selfish nor greedy, nor any other insult that is thrown at a fellow cabbie behind the mask of social media.
The industry must now focus on the decision-makers to facilitate change, rather than attacking each other at every opportunity like some petulant child that isn't getting its own way, like we have all seen on Facebook and Twitter respectively.
The contunued internal strife between drivers is putting the industry's blinders up, it is deflecting away from where the real problems lay... the non-movememt of the Secretary of State for Transport.
The taxi industry's orgs and unions must now fully unite alongside each other along the thread of its common ground, along with every single driver behind them and push the Government for the swiftest of actions. The constant blaming of TfL for the actions that it cannot perform is a nonsense. The deflection, diversion and maelstrom of animosity has to end. Taxi drivers also have to start accepting the fact that not every action any org may be undertaking will be revealed to them, you don't reveal your hand when you are playing Poker.
The 2015 Deregulation Act was, and is a complete farce, every taxi driver across the country knows this, let alone every driver in London. This act needs ramming into the proverbial shredder, it is without doubt one of the most foolish acts the taxi or PHV industry has ever had to encounter. There must be new, up to date legislation to accomodate safety, technology, and to ensure both the taxi amd PHV industry can function alongside each other, within their own legislative framework, with a clear division as to how the two industry's can and should legally operate.
No single app is going to save the industry, nor finish it off, the same with the vehicle the industry uses, radio circuits subscribed to, credit card facilities that are used, the list goes on. There is no single entity that will save the industry, this weeks messiah does not exist and never has, keeping the taxi industry a viable entity requires a team effort, and there is no "I" in team. We've heard it many times from individuals how they are going to "save the trade", something which was said directly to myself by an individual only last month, seemingly disregarding the fact that there are many drivers, possibly hundreds who have been putting in a lot of effort without any recognition and doing a fantastic job in trying to keep the taxi industry on its feet.
The real issue is this counter-productive and suicidal, yet pepetual belief that we are indispensible which will finish us off... Guess what, the industry is no longer indispensible... so the industry needs to fight for its existence because that perceived indispensibilty ended several years ago.
Given the situation the industry has had forced upon it, the one thing that TfL can do, without needing to deal with the Government is to spend money to promote The Knowledge, this is not rocket science, it is an obvious move. The industry must push this, scream it out from the highest rafters.
As mentioned in a TaxiPoint editorial a few weeks ago, if the Knowledge reaches a critical mass and implodes, then whatever the industry subsequently does, becomes a fruitless exercise. Investment dries up across the board, vehicles will no longer be produced, rank space will diminish and eventually private hire will be legally allowed to ply for hire because there will not be enough cabbies to warrant that exclusivity.
As an industry there must be more pressure placed on local councils regarding road exclusions. The taxi industry is part of the public transport network, it must be treated accordingly. Flawed statistics must be challenged at every juncture by every org, in tandem with each other. If necessary legal action must be undertaken so as to force councils to actively prove their figures and justify their decisions.
There has been far too much emphasis placed on any given council's agenda, political or otherwise, this is to the detriment of just about everybody within the transport industry. The latest schemes that have been commisioned by some councils are directly designed to utterly cripple London. This is where the entire transport industry can work with each other, taxi industry, PHV industry, bus companies, delivery companies, the list goes on. This means opening dialogue with these industry's representatives.
No matter which org favours your fiver a week, you can support your org in many ways. Not everybody can attend meetings, and some drivers don’t necessarily want to either, but support comes in many forms. Letters, emails and phone calls to MPs and media organisations are a great way of being involved. Talking to your rep, possibly opening them up to different ideas is another way of being involved as well as making freedom of information requests again helps your org. If you are able to then do what you can, because castigating any given org whilst sitting on your backside doing nothing just adds to the problems already faced within the industry.
Now we come to protests, let's be clear about this, as was said in TaxiPoint directly after the five day demonstrations back in January, at a local level protests most certainly can work, the Covent Garden road scheme and the killer on the Knowledge are just two examples, but there must be a clear directive or strategy after the protests as to what is the next course of action, and of course clarity in relation as to what the protest is about.
Where protest becomes more challenging is at Governmental level, as was also stated back in January, no government ever wants to be seen as a weak Government, therefore, even if the full complement of 24,000 drivers protested daily for the entire year, there would be more chance of Admiral Lord Nelson getting his eye back than any Government capitulating. In fact in the last two decades I cannot remember a single protest by any organisation at any level ever forcing the Government to change policy, change comes through dialogue and lobbying, and that change can come very slowly. The only thing a protest against the Government can do is to highlight an issue, assuming the media report said protest in the first place.
Approaching the subject of protesting is always going to be controversial to the industry as there are some that only hear what they wish to hear or what suits them. This is because when it is spoken of, those on either side of the fence misunderstand each other or become misrepresented by third party's who are operating to a given agenda, and in some cases there are those that are just hell bent on using any opportunity to be malevolent. Fortunately, it seems as though the vast majority of individuals are smart enough to cut through the nonsense and decide for themselves as to what either side is trying to convey or achieve.
There is strength in unity, but this comes at a price, the industry must agree on the three or four most important main points, and act as one. Everything else beyond those points are an irrelevance, because if those three or four points aren't dealt with then the rest of the house of cards collapses. It must be recognised thst being part of an org or union can make a difference, if you haven't joined an org or have become disillusioned with any given orgs direction, look again, look at aligning yourself to whichever org favours your beliefs and then if possible try to help make the difference, even one letter can make that difference.
Although this is very London-centric, this really does apply to every taxi driver in the UK.
Come together and work together or go the way of the Dodo.