The Ranks and Highways team for the RMT, again wrote to leading members on the GLA and also to certain members of the House of Lords regarding the situation concerning unbooked minicabs and the amount of illegal plying for hire in Central London.
It has been alleged by our team that TfL, the Met/City Police and most local councils have adopted a blind eye attitude to this practise. Victims of robbery, assault and sexual assault are seen as no more than collateral damage, as long as the streets are clear of late night revellers.
Many PH drivers are openly plying for hire outside clubs and bars an even using licensed Taxi ranks, stopping Taxi drivers from plying for hire legally. TfL policy has been completely disregarded with the issueing of satellite office licences which are given out to certain operators like sweets.
In a recent report from the board of TfL, it has been revealed that over 20% of Private Hire operator centres have failed compliance inspections in 2013.
We have in the past been promised help from the GLA, but we can now confirm the Transport committee is to hold a major investigation into the way Taxis and Private Hire are being run by TfL. The RMT have been asked to engage with the transport committee and supply our concerns and suggestions.
This is a major victory for the trade after years of smoke screens and non engagement from our licensing authority. It comes on the back of another breakthrough where Ranks and Highways officers from the RMT have engaged with two agencies regarding illegally plying for hire in Westminster.
Below is the letter sent to the GLA:
Thank you for your offer of help regarding problems currently concerning the London Taxi trade.
Our biggest problem is getting any type of positive response from the Met police and the TfL sponsored Cab Enforcement Unit attached to the Safer Travel Command.
We have complained on numerous occasions to the Commissioner and the Mayor but always get a well scripted answer which offers no new solution. Alas the problems remain. Despite the odd high profile on street operation, there is no follow up and after a day or two the situation reverts back to a free for all.
New York City has an enforcement team of over 350 for a cab fleet of a similar size to London.
London currently has 14 (fourteen) and Boris's announced this as 'We have doubled the size of the cab enforcement team'
True but still hopelessly inadequate to deal with the nightly scourge of sexual predators and illegal plying for hire by Licensed Private hire leaving passengers uninsured.
The Taxi trade would no doubt be happy to fund a larger more effective team. Birmingham has done so and is very successful as their frequent tweets testify.
Much of the problem could be self-financing for local councils and TfL's red rout network, using penalty fines issued to the offending illegally parked vehicles.
2. Rank Space & Disabled Access
We continue to suffer a net loss of rank space forcing cabs to circle when quiet causing pollution, this is especially galling for the cab trade as many late night venues have what we call a Satellite office for Private Hire vehicles which leads inevitably to the cars waiting outside (which is illegal if they are not booked) yet TfL refuse to appoint a rank, often on the grounds of road space, plus they and the relevant parking authority seem happy to turn a blind eye to PH cars parked at the very same location.
Currently Cannon Street station (City of London is the authority) had no taxi rank and is surrounded by bollards so no wheelchair user can either board or alight. There are many other locations (Lewisham and London Bridge stations) where this is an issue.
Just as concerning are that the plans for many of the cross rail stations which do not include provision for a taxi rank, leaving wheelchair users and the less ambulance effectively marooned.
3. Lower emission taxi fleet
There is no cab driver in this city that would not prefer to drive a clean ultra low or zero emissions vehicle.
After all we work in this atmosphere constantly.
The Mayor & TfL has portrayed the cab driver as the villain, yet we are forced to use vehicles that TfL have mandated.
He has introduced a fifteen year age limit as a condition based system, yet the current range of vehicles available to purchase, produces more NO2 & NOx than the previous models. The main beneficiaries of this policy have not been the lungs of Londoners, but companies with directors who sit on the environment committee.
We now have the pronouncement that all new cabs will be zero or of ultra low emissions from 2018.
No published strategy to assist the cab trade into moving over to these vehicles either by a subsidy or a tax break.
No details of development of infrastructure for electric fast charging stations/standings and the models displayed at City Hall were effectively either mock ups or prototypes with scant details on price, range, warranty etc.
TfL has no information about what the future is for today's cabs purchased up to 2018 causing paralysis in the cab trade supply market.
In conclusion you can see there are significant challenges both in terms of public protection, emissions and sustainability that the Mayor and TfL seem to be unwilling to properly address.
If the cab trade is to invest heavily in new technology, it will need some measure of protection and infrastructure provided for it to thrive. The London Taxi is an icon, consistently voted the worlds best and 100% wheelchair accessible.
The Mayor and TfL seem not to value that beyond the odd sound bite or staging meetings with a carefully selected few from the trade.
Our experience is that TfL are secretive, economical with the truth and aggressive as our treatment during the Olympics showed when anti terrorism legislation (yes anti terrorism!) was used to intimidate drivers exercising their legitimate right to protest.
We need a coherent way forward, can you help us?
RMT London Taxi Branch.
Many thanks for your email which has been forwarded to me. Following our recent work on cyclists, buses and pedestrians, the Assembly's Transport Committee will shortly be launching a major investigation into the taxi and private hire trade in London and I would very much encourage you to engage with that review and fed in your concerns and suggestions.
Darren Johnson AM
Green Party Member