Transport for London’s plans to support the capital’s Taxi and mini cab trades don’t go far enough according to London Assembly members.
In December the Assembly’s transport committee published a hard-hitting report which branded TfL “woefully inadequate” at regulating and supporting the trades.
AMs said the Mayor’s transport agency had allowed itself to be seen as a ‘soft touch’ which fails to uphold regulations, especially in relation to Uber and its use of a billing app many Taxi drivers believe breaches laws banning mini cabs from using meters.
The report warned TfL’s reputation had been damaged by a perception that it “has at best, failed to present a significantly robust challenge to an operator trying to strong-arm changes to enshrined legislation to suit its own business interests, and at worst, has actively colluded with that operator to create an imbalance in the market.”
It also highlighted TfL’s failure to clamp down on unlicensed ‘marshals’ who take private hire bookings outside venues despite a ban on plying for trade on the street.
Many Taxi and mini cab drivers welcomed the report which they said highlighted long-term concerns.
Publishing its response to the report on Wednesday, TfL said it was committed to working with drivers to address issues and said it would boost the number of Taxi ranks “as part of ongoing work to support the trade and to better meet the needs of drivers and passengers.”
Transport commissioner Sir Peter Hendy said a new Taxi and Private Hire Terms of Reference Group would be set to up “to consider the future developments of both the taxi and private hire trades.”
The response’s publication was timed to coincide with Sir Peter’s appearance before Assembly Members at a follow-up session of the transport committee.
The meeting was watched by hundreds of drivers who’d packed the public gallery at City Hall and at times heckled the commissioner’s claims to support their trade.
Sir Peter said while some passengers were moving towards operators who use booking apps, a significant number of journeys were still taken by people hailing a Taxi on the street and predicted this would continue to be the case for many years.
On the issue of Uber, the commissioner said he was keen that the High Court provide a definitive ruling on whether the firm’s billing app was legal and insisted TfL would enforce any ruling banning it.
However he warned that Uber and its competitors could easily sidestep any court ban by using apps on a customer’s smartphone to determine the cost of their journey.
For this reason he said it was important that the trade adapt and embrace modern technology if it was to see off competition from new entrants.
AMs were promised that TfL would look again at introducing signage such as number plate prefixes to identify properly licensed mini cabs but Sir Peter was jeered by the audience for suggesting any scheme would need to accommodate executive hire firms who tend to oppose such markings.
Speaking after the meeting, committee chair Caroline Pidgeon AM said: “First, I’d like to thank the huge numbers of London Taxi and Private Hire drivers who attended the meeting at City Hall today.
“The Chamber was full and many drivers were left standing outside in the rain. This emphasised to us how important these issues are to the trade and strengthened our resolve to continue to push TfL to provide a better service for the industry.”
“The ranks action plan is a good start, if not a little flimsy – but we would like to see all our recommendations taken forward by TfL – we need more than lip service. TfL needs to put the passenger first and there is clearly a lot more work to do.”