Today we had the opportunity to speak the Chair of the London Assembly Transport Committee, Caroline Pidgeon. Always insightful and accomodating, Caroline gives us her views on pollution, congestion, cycling as well as a number of other issues.
TaxiPoint would like to welcome Caroline
Steve Kenton - TaxiPoint
There have been ongoing problems at TfL regarding the processing of taxi license renewals, including horrendously long waiting times to speak to somebody as well as DVLA codes to access driving licence details timing out after three weeks, can you, as a London Assembly member assist in highlighting these issues to TfL?
Caroline Pidgeon - London Assembly
I am aware of both taxi drivers and private hire drivers having to wait months and months for their licences to be renewed and in one case a driver has been out of work for 6 months because of it, so I am fully aware of the situation.
I've heard from a number of drivers about the difficulties in getting through to TFL on the phone, this is something we can pick up in our final report because they have to carry out their licensing duties properly.
That being the case, assuming that any given delay is a TfL issue and not a driver issue, will TfL allow a driver to keep working after the licence expires or issue a temporary licence until the licence has been renewed, assuming of course that the licence hasn't been revoked?
TFL should be able to process licences in a timely manner, but they are going to have to look at issuing a couple of weeks extension if that is what is needed, as long as there have been no issues arising surrounding the driver having a licence renewed.
Why TFL does not do this in a timely manner is something that even I don't understand and maybe this is something we will pick up at our next hearing as we have Helen Chapman coming in.
The main part of the problem seems to be that the DVLA code is timing out after 3 weeks, although you have 4 months to renew your licence, so would this be directly down to TfL, or could it be argued that there is a fault in the system with the DVLA in respect of the fact that there isn't enough time for TfL to process a licence if the code expires after 21 days?
You have to have the resources to process those licences in good time so if that means employing extra staff or having staff do over time to facilitate that, then so be it. Drivers should not be put out of work through no fault of their own.
Could the problem be solved by TFL along with all of the other licensing authorities across the country lobbying government to force the DVLA to increase the length of time that the driver licence codes should remain valid?
Well that may well be a solution, Helen Chapman, along with other heads of licensing ahould be able to do that, it would be a sensible way forward.
Whilst it should be applauded that action is being taken to reduce pollution in London, and given that roughly 2.5% of the London taxi fleet is zero emission capable at the moment, what are your views on both Hackney and Islington councils imposition of their own "low emission areas," given that certainly for the taxi industry, there could be two clear breaches of legislation, which may cause conflict, those being the Hackney Carriage Act and the 2010 Equalities Act?
We haven't looked in those areas as a transport committee as yet, i think generally the assembly, overall, is in favour of the mayor's initiative to clean up London's air.
If there is a conflict of legislation it's for the taxi industry to raise with those specific boroughs because they are borough initiatives.
Generally we do support the initiative to clean up London’s air as this is not just for the general public but also for the drivers after all you're sitting in pollution all day long, what is it doing to your life, it's shortening your life as well.
I know there is an issue with the new taxi in relation to costs, but all the drivers I've spoken to who have driven them say they are lovely to drive. They are a premier vehicle but its getting enough of them out on the streets and available for drivers to rent as well as buy which is an issue.
What is your response to criticism surrounding the levels of congestion in London being artificially created in the quest to tackle pollution?
We spoke about this on the committee and we agreed the London is grinding to a halt because of congestion so we do need to tackle that congestion.
We would like to see a "smart" road pricing scheme brought in for London which will ultimately see vehicle excise duty devolved from government, so that you could have that funding to invest. Ultimately if you drive lots you will pay more, but if you're an occasional driver then you will pay a lot less.
We have to get people out of cars and we have to get people to stop taking unnecessary trips on our roads because otherwise nobody will be able to get about, so if you want to take a taxi to go from A to B and you're in a hurry there's no point because London is gridlocked.
Bearing in mind that taxis are part of the public transport system would they also be liable to pay into any road pricing initiative?
They could be, but this is something that they would have to work out. If you didn't have vehicle excise duty and you had lower running costs, bearing in mind the new vehicles are electric, then we would need to look at that.
Do you envisage that the current taxi lifespan will be reduced from 15 years to 12 years to facilitate speeding up cleaning Londons air?
I think the Mayor needs to look into what extra subsidy can be provided to clean up London’s taxi fleet, because thats the only way that you will get more drivers into electric taxis.
I don’t know whether you should shorten the diesel taxi lifespan because some drivers may want to retire after 15 years, and bought a vehicle to last until then.
Now that the cycle superhighway has been here for a while do you think that it has been a good idea, badly implemented amd could have been designed in a way which was more sympatheitic to other road users?
To be honest, no, our committee were very strong on cycling, and we pushed Boris Johnson to stop just putting a bit of blue paint on the tarmac, and do segregated cycle lanes and give cyclists the width of the lane to allow them to make mistakes.
Listening to the evidence that we learnt from Copenhagen and the Netherlands showed that you needed a dedicated cycle lane.
Roadspace is a limited resource and I'm afraid I would rather have a lot more cyclists and a nicer environment for the pedestrians to walk, I'd like to have a lot more vehicles priced off of the road through road pricing. All of these things are our suggestions so as to "thin-out" the traffic so that more people can cycle in a safe way, that's the only way to make it easier to move across London in a bus or taxi.
Do you think that more responsibility should be taken by cyclists, such as cycle-marking, insurance etc, will cyclists face more accountability?
There are very different views on the committee as to whether you should have bike registration, insurance, required to wear a hi-vis equipment or just be able to hop on a bike and go. Personally I wear hi-vis and a helmet, I have also done the TfL scheme when you sit in the cab of a lorry and have a cyclist come alongside you, I discovered that if you are wearing for Instance a dark jacket, you couldn't be seen, but if you wore a hi-vis jacket you could be seen clearly. It was really interesting.
We haven't got a position or a view as a committee on whether they should be extra cycling legislation. When I have suggested that cyclists should wear hi-vis I've had a lot of the cycling community raise concerns on Twitter.
Personally I think you need to be seen, you need lights on your bike and you need high vis. TfL do fund training for adults and children across boroughs in London to improve peoples ability on a bike.
Could I add, we are now looking at taxi and private hire services, picking up from our previous future-proof report, and what we are looking at is that we have now got a new Mayor, he put in a taxi action plan, we are trying to work out where we are with that, what he's actually delivered, looking at some of the changes brought about in 2015, and looking at how can we drive up standards in this sector rather than to have a race to the bottom. We are concerned about drivers with excessive hours to make ends meet, we are seeing a large number of accidents because drivers are tired.
We had one hearing and we've got another one coming up in November, and then we are going to be doing another round table with other stakeholders to get their take on taxi and private hire. If there are any drivers that want to feed into that, they can send that to the assembly.
We want to look at how we can support and improve the quality of this whole sector. Taxis have their high standards already but we need to see how we can make Black taxis sustainable in this current environment. Yes there are apps to help the taxi industry but the Black taxi sector has to help itself as well.
As you know, I’m a big supporter of Black taxis, but twice in recent months I have been turned down because they didn’t want to go where I was going, some drivers just don’t help themselves nor the industry itself.
TaxiPoint would like to thank Caroline and her team for granting us this interview.