London Mayor Sadiq Khan has pledged to quadruple the number of officers responsible for tackling touting and other illegal activity by minicab and taxi drivers.
The popularity of app-based operators such as Uber has sparked a surge in the number of minicabs operating in the capital but concerns have been expressed that resources at Transport for London, which regulates the cab trades, have failed to keep pace.
In 2014 a London Assembly report warned that the number of enforcement officers was “outstandingly low” compared with other world cities and called for TfL to “explore ways in which enforcement resources could be increased and better deployed.”
Today Mr Khan announced that an additional 250 compliance officers will be hired over the next year, taking the total number to 332. The additional officers will ensure rules are upheld while serving as a high profile deterrent to unlicensed drivers and touts.
Funding for the new recruits will be raised through the fees minicab firms pay to operate in the capital.
Mr Khan said: “I want Londoners to feel safe when they take a taxi or minicab and that is why I have approved a major increase to the size of our team that targets touts and illegal activities.”
Steve Burton, TfL’s Director of Enforcement, added: “This welcome boost to our enforcement team provides Londoners with additional reassurance and also sends a message to those not complying with the law that they will be caught and dealt with robustly.”
Many black cab drivers complain that illegal ranking and touting by minicab drivers is damaging their business and some accuse former Mayor Boris Johnson and TfL of failing to support the trade against what they see as unfair competition from Uber.
Tensions between Mr Johnson and taxi drivers became so bad that cabbies held a series of protests outside City Hall and, on one occasion, forced the monthly Mayor’s Question Time session to be halted after taking exception to the former mayor’s use of the term “luddite” to describe elements of the trade.
In contrast to their deteriorating relationship with Mr Johnson, the trade has responded positively to his successor’s announcement.
Steve McNamara, General Secretary of the Licensed Taxi Drivers Association, said: “It is so refreshing to have a Mayor who recognises the danger posed to the travelling public by illegal minicab activity and is prepared to act to ensure their safety.
“We welcome this substantial increase in compliance officers, and look forward to working with Sadiq in the future.”
Some of the improvement in relations between the taxi trade and City Hall stems from the appointment of former London Assembly member Val Shawcross as Mr Khan’s deputy mayor for Transport.
Mrs Showcross, who previously served as Chair of the Assembly’s transport committee, has been a long-time and vocal supporter of the black cab industry.
Her appointment was universally welcomed by drivers and other stakeholders, including disability access campaigners.
City Hall and TfL say the extra officers announced today are the first step in “a comprehensive strategy” to improve the quality of service offered by private hire operators and ensure the capital’s taxi fleet are “the greenest in the world.”
The new strategy will build on TfL’s recent review of the trades, which introduced a number of regulatory changes for private operators, and its decision to mandate the acceptance of card payments by taxi drivers from this October.
Today’s announcement has also been welcomed by Caroline Pidgeon MBE AM, current Chair of the Assembly Transport Committee, who said: “This is a long overdue step towards increasing passenger safety and cracking down on dangerous practices and rogue operators.
“The Transport Committee has called for better enforcement of the taxi and minicab trade since December 2014 and we welcome TfL’s plans to increase the number of compliance officers tackling illegal minicab activity.
“Now TfL must ensure that these extra officers are given the proper powers, resources and training to identify and stop touting, which is widespread across parts of the city.”