I have a lot of time for Caroline Pidgeon. I liked her as a young councillor when she served at Southwark in the late nineties, too.
She is rational, stands her corner, and holds a healthy respect for the London Licensed Taxi Trade. Furthermore, she isn't frightened of Mayor Johnson either, and will tackle him head on, as and when the need arises.
I feel that her role on the London Assembly Transport Committee is a good as we will get from somebody outside of our trade infrastructure, and most of her comments are extremely helpful to us.
I have read the recent report, in it's entirety, from start to finish. Most of it is what our trade have been grumbling about for years now, but there were one or two things mentioned in it, which I was astounded by.
One of them was the fact that during the whole of last year, only 926 ARRESTS were made for illegal touting. That figure is blurred by the Metropolitan Police themselves somewhat, for not accurately recording whether the arrests were by licensed or unlicenced touts, or whether any of our own trade were involved.
Although naturally bias then, and due to poor clarity of the figures, either deliberately or otherwise, I shall assume that the mass majority of these arrests, were concerning mini cab drivers.
Notice I say ARRESTS. There is no report or statistics of any future convictions or punishments recorded. But even so, 926 arrests in a year is woeful !
As an Enforcement Commander with the situation as it currently sits, I would expect 926 arrests a week !! And I'm not being flash either. The current hit is about two a day!
A decent Enforcement Officer who knows his craft well and with a honey pot like London to get his teeth into, should have no problem at all in arresting 100 touts a night, especially over the weekends !
In 2008, the Mayor apparently doubled the Enforcement Team from 34 officers to 68. I specialised in surveillance all of my military life and was proud to be taught by the best experts of this field in the world. However, TFL's crack covert team have surpassed any officers I have ever known, as they are so covert, nobody has ever seen them, including the touts !
Even so, despite another 10,000 licences issued since 2008 on their patch, the Enforcement Unit have not increased.
In New York City last year, the Taxi Enforcement & Compliance Team confiscated and destroyed nearly 8000 cars !!! THAT IS ENFORCEMENT !!!!
With respect, it is difficult to take the role of our Enforcement Teams seriously, when they spring out of nowhere for over ranking and deliberately try to fit up a bona fide London Cabby for taking a fare on his way home with his light off, isn't it ?
I have screamed for years that with 70 odd thousand licensed mini cabs and probably as many unlicensed touts out there, cheek by jowl with our trade, you simply HAVE to have adequate, robust and dedicated Enforcement Officers with full powers of arrest and serious vehicle seizure focus.
One of the issues that the Committee make that I disagree with, is the recommendation that we adopt a cashless payment system. I can see the attraction of a card facility on board, indeed, I have a card machine myself. But I worry that the machine becomes mandatory, which I strongly oppose. I believe that our trade already have the balance right. Over half of our fleet accept cards, and there are many people out there who would rather pay with cash anyway.
Not only that, you can imagine how much the card companies would exploit charges if a cashless system became mandatory?. Just as we are left with a take it or leave it arrogant attitude regarding our cab choice, I wager that the card companies will adopt the same arrogance, should we be in a position with no choice.
The provision of ranks was discussed at great length, and for the life of me I can't see how it costs TFL between 2 grand and 10 grand to appoint one ?
It is bad enough in the middle, so I fear for the health and future of our yellow badge colleagues. Without adequate taxi ranks to get their living from, guess who's going to slip in right in front of them ? Negotiating taxi ranks from various London Boroughs may well be challenging for TFL, but what else do they do for their hundred and odd thousand licence fees ? That's a lot of dough ! Negotiating Taxi Rank space may well prove challenging, but not half as challenging as one of our suffocating yellow badge mates hoping and praying that he isn't nicked for having two inches of his cab's arse hanging off a ridiculously short rank !
It's all very well the Mayor and his mob advocating and supporting a two tier system, but if that system is battered, broken and bent then the very concept of the dream is flawed from the outset, and is unworkable, which as we know is simply that.
On the whole, I would congratulate Caroline Pidgeon and her panel for the report and it's various recommendations. The big problem is of course, these recommendations in the main have been given till May next year to materialise and time is not a commodity our trade can afford.
Whatsmore, I have an inherent mistrust of Mayor Johnson. I genuinely believe that his remit and brief are more for self promotional and personal future parliamentary reasons, than honest profound concern for London and it's people.
These Assembly Report recommendations can be as crucial, focussed and as targeted as you like, but if the man at the top don't react to them, or finds a million excuses as to why he can't, then it will be a complete waste of time.
I am a cynical prehistoric grumpy old dinosaur these days. With a background of assume nothing, believe nobody and check everything, drummed into me for years, my pessimism may well be misplaced. Let's hope so !
We shall have to wait and see.......
Despite my pessimism and distrust of Johnson and the senior TFL command, I would personally like to thank the Committee for their work involved in this report, and hope that it is instrumental to the future and security of our proud and platinum London Taxi profession .
Be lucky all. Stay safe.