Florence Eshalomi is a Labour Co-operative politician who has been a member of the London Assembly for Lambeth and Southwark since May 2016.
She has also been the councillor for the Brixton Hill ward of Lambeth Council since 2006.
Ms Eshalomi has been highly critical of Uber, and is on record as saying, after the private hire behemoth overturned TfLs decision to revoke Ubers licence:
“There have long been concerns about Uber’s unsatisfactory working practices, and the toll this can place on their drivers, the wider industry and on public safety.
“We were clear that whilst these concerns remained, TfL shouldn’t renew Uber’s licence. Although TfL’s ruling was based on safety concerns and not poor working practices we supported their decision. We know this is a service that is popular with many Londoners, but companies must play by the rules. It has been reassuring to see Uber taking some action to clean up their act. We will continue to monitor their progress and relay any concerns to TfL in advance of any decision to further extend their license.”
Florence Eshalomi, is without doubt an extremely intelligent woman, and clearly an asset to the Greater London Assembly, however she has managed to confuse, bemuse and amuse pretry much everybody, to a man and woman, within the taxi industry, with just a single tweet. Her comment on Twitter was the following:
"Loud message from the taxi trade is stop private hire vehicles from plying for hire. The Knowledge is still regarded as the gold standard for taxi trade but they also need to embrace new technology to keep up with changes."
That comment was made at 12:42 on October 9th.
On first sight, and if you weren't involved within the taxi industry, is that Ms Eshalomi's post would seem like a fair comment, as well as being relatively innocuous, however, you don't have to delve very deeply to understand the fact that not only is that particular tweet unfair, but it is manifestly wrong at every single level and as yet, is also completely unvalidated.
Now here is the rub.....this is the sort of facile bunkum which is spouted on a daily basis by a proportion of people. Those people seem to be self-entitled millenials, who invariably believe that they should be able to travel from one end of a city to another for almost nothing. They are also the same people who will then cry foul if they feel that they aren't being paid their true worth. They are the same sort of person who has absolutely no understanding of the economics pertaining to both the taxi and private hire industry. Ironically enough this is where many drivers from both the taxi and private hire industry agree.
Now, in their defence, why should they care, some of them want cheap, they dont care how good, bad or safe any given service is, and they aren't in the slightest bit interested in the econonics of their chosen mode of transport. Ms Eshalomi, whether she meant it or not, has managed to echo that ethos in one single tweet, however, the difference is that Ms Eshalomi should most definitely care, that is part of her remit.
It is quite clear to even the most partisan (or myopic) of individuals, that Ms Eshalomi has dropped the ball here, but it must be recognised that her comment is unlikely to have been made with any malice aforethought.
Here are a few recent examples as to how the taxi industry have not just kept up with technology, but have grabbed the bull by the horns and are leading the way technologically.
In the 90s the taxi industry in London led the way, via ComputerCab, with the mobistar system, which at the time was a state of the art location and dispatch system.
Just after the turn of the century, the London taxi industry was used as a "guinea pig," every single taxi was forced to undertake an eco 3 conversion so as to clean up emissions. They were the first in a group of vehicles that had to undertake a “retro-fit.” It was arguable as to whether the system ever worked properly, it did, however, cost every single driver anything up to £3,000.
Taking a leap forward of almost a decade, Uber first surfaced on 2nd July 2012, everybody was hailing this new technology, pontificating on the fact that this advances tech was a "game changer."
What people didn't realise, and many still don't realise is that Gett pre-dated Uber by 11 months, and Hailo also pre-dated Uber by 8 months. Gett entered into the London market in August 2011, Hailo quickly followed suit in November 2011.
Credit card facilities were made mandatory in October 2016, with all taxis required to have rear fitted units as a condition of fitness.
In November 2016 a third player came into the app market, with TaxiApp Making its debut.
In 2018, the most advanced taxi ever produced was entered into the arena, fitted with everything from a state of the art electric motor to wifi, a panoramic roof to a petrol engine range extender, in fact the only thing that this vehicle doesn't have is a girl called Mabel selling peanuts and raspberry mousse on a stick in the rear compartment, and at an eye-watering £62,000 you would be forgiven for thinking that every taxi should in fact have raspberry mousse on a stick girl in the back.
The only real constant, which rarely changes is The Knowledge, but then why should it change, it isn’t broken.
We don't spend too much thought in tinkering with exams involving the construction industry, or the medical profession, just because You-Tube exists, therefore despite satnav being widely available, why should The Knowledge be any less relevant, why rely on a satnav when you can use the most powerful computer on the planet......the brain.
A satnav to a taxi driver is nothing more than an "aide-memoir" in the same way that a bog-standard road map is. It's a useful tool in the 21st century but cannot be used as a professional application, because nothing beats local knowledge.
There are most certainly failings within the taxi industry, let's not kid ourselves. The industry is not good at marketing itself, its' public relation skills have been poor at best, and in some cases the industry's social media presence could be seen as an unmitigated disaster. All of this is being addressed, companies such as London Taxis PR have entered the fold and are going a long way to improving the London taxi brand.
Organisations such as the LTDA, LCDC, UCG, GMB and Unite are vigorously lobbying parliament and local authorities over numerous issues. Individual drivers aren't just stepping up to the plate, they are going beyond that, to make their voices heard.
The complications which the taxi industry face aren't in their power to alter. Road planning, traffic management, road-works, building works, ill-concieved cycle lanes, inexperienced drivers, PHV drivers who have not undertaken a secondary driving test, pedestrians intent on wandering into the road whilst using their phones. All of these are either a local government issue or a social issue, which has absolutely nothing to do with the taxi industry.
Sometimes it is easier to pander to a perception than a harsh reality.
So my question to Ms Elashomi (as well as every other taxi driver judging by Twitter) is the following:
Given the above information, what more would you have the taxi industry do to embrace new technology and keep up with changes, because we are all quite frankly, baffled?
I have responded to Ms Elashomi via Twitter, inviting her to do an interview so as to explain her perspective, thoughts and what more the industry can do to embrace technology.