Tuesday, December 15, 2015

On A More Positive Note : GLA Member Richard Tracey's Damage Limitation... By Jim Thomas

On Monday, the Uber friendly press jumped on a recommendation -1 of 8- made in a paper entitled "Saving an Icon" released by Tory GLA member for Merton and Wandsworth, Richard Tracey.
Headlines such as "London Tories want to scrap the Knowledge" received massive condemnation from the iconic Taxi trade. 

But, in his defence, Mr Tracey did not advercate scrapping the knowledge he recommend it be reduced in overall length. 

To be fair the other seven recommendations in my opinion would be welcomed with open arms by the Taxi trade.

The paper itself, is well worth a read and at the end has #8 recommendations 


   

It's a shame Mr Tracey got his statistic appertaining to the number of PH drivers wrong, but at least the paper lays out the precarious position of the iconic Taxi trade. At the end of the paper he makes 8 recommendations which deserve serious consideration.


RECOMMENDATION #1 - Commission a competition review of the taxi industry: 
While London’s PHV numbers have doubled over the last decade, taxi numbers have remained stable. Taxis will need to increase in numbers if they are to take some of the demand generated by a surging population. Yet high barriers to entry are preventing the industry from expanding. As such, the Mayor should establish a competion review to determine how to increase the overall competiveness of the taxi industry. As part of this, the review should assess how taxi drivers could legally vary their fares to make them more competive.

RECOMMENDATION #2 - Re-shape TfL as a pro-active taxi and PHV regulator: 
TfL has previously been dubbed an absentee regulator. In order to help taxis compete in the new digital age, the regulator will have to take a more active role in the industry. Given that TfL’s prime responsibility is the daily management of the public transport network, the regulation of the taxi industry is inconsequential in comparison. As such, the Mayor should remove the regulation of the taxi industry from TfL itself and transfer it to a new Public Carriage Ofice, an arms-length body that would have a much more focused role as a regulator.

RECOMMENDATION #3 - Reduce the entry requirements for the London Knowledge: 
The topographical examination that London cabbies must pass in order to be licensed as taxi drivers is the toughest such test in the world. In a time of savvy tourists and GPS navigation technology, the Knowledge has become less useful. With an average taxi driver age of 55, regulators must make it easier for prospective drivers to enter the industry. To do this, TfL should consider reducing the length of the Knowledge. It currently take 3 years on average to pass this exam, perhaps a one-year process is more reasonable.

RECOMMENDATION #4 - Better align PHV and taxi driver licence fees: 
As it stands, the licence fee for taxis is currently over three times as much as that for PHVs. Such a state of affairs is unfair on cabbies. A large part of these additional costs are down to the Knowledge of London examination. Reducing the lager by  two-thirds as suggested above should result in the licence costs associated with the exam being commensurately reduced. TfL should also ensure that, following their current PHV consultation, that PHV licence fees are raised in line with the likely increase in administration costs associated with the forthcoming, tougher PHV licensing regime.

RECOMMENDATION #5 - Offer loans for the purchase of new Hackney Carriages: 
London’s black cab is one of the city’s most easily recognisable transport icons. Yet the cost of purchasing this public good is not met by the public sector, but by cabbies in a private fashion as self-traders. The black cab greatly adds to the cultural fabric of the city, yet Transport for London contributes nothing towards the purchase of the vehicle. This seems particularly burdensome when you consider that a modern Hackney Carriage costs almost exactly twice as much as a Toyota Prius, a popular car for PHV drivers. To help with the purchase of these expensive vehicles, TfL should offer interest free loans to taxi drivers as they replace their older vehicles with newer versions.

RECOMMENDATION #6 - Delay the introduction of ULEZ for taxis until 2020: 
The Ultra Low Emission Zone (ULEZ) will be a zone in Central London within which all vehicles will need to meet exhaust emission standards or pay a daily charge to travel through the zone. It has been announced that that all taxis licensed for the rst me from January 2018 will need to be zero emission capable. Taxi drivers are being singled-out for special treatment under ULEZ, despite the fact they represent a small number of vehicles on the road. To ease the financial burdens on taxi drivers, the next Mayor should consider pushing back the ULEZ introduction date for new taxis back to 2020, when all other cars will be subject to it.

RECOMMENDATION #7 - Ensure taxi ranks come as standard for all large developments: 
Many visitors to London are greeted with a taxi rank when they arrive at main termini and they provide a ready supply of taxis to many Londoners. However, many feel that there are not enough taxi ranks, particularly in Outer London. The Mayor should look to make new taxi ranks a standard requirement for very large developments, such as those at Nine Elms and Old Oak. TfL should also incorporate into its standard Tube and rail map a symbol that represents a station with a taxi rank nearby.

RECOMMENDATION #8 - Sponsorship should fund the rollout of cashless technologies in black cabs: 
Consumers now expect to be able to pay by credit or debit card for their purchases. Yet barely half of taxis currently take card payments. To ensure their uptake, the rental for card machines should be met by TfL on behalf of the consumer, just as they do for ticket machines in tube stations. TfL’s own costs should be met through incomes derived from sponsorship schemes attached to the card payment hardware and software. New York and Las Vegas currently utilise advertising inside their vehicles to pay for cashless technology, TfL could easily emulate this.

The taxi industry is of great use to both Londoners and international visitors. But with the rise of new technologies and challengers to the black cab’s dominance, reform of the taxi trade will be required if this industry is to continue to provide such a service. The above eight points indicate the steps the Mayor and incoming mayor could take to save this threatened industry from extinction. It is recommended that they be implemented as soon as possible.