Tuesday, April 05, 2016

Dads Defending Daughters....Reply From The Mayors Office

Dear Mr Etheridge 

Thank you for your email to the Mayor dated 17 March setting out your views on the taxi and private hire trades in London. 

I would like to assure you that the Mayor is a proud supporter of London's black cabs, which he believes if the finest in the world. He knows that the Knowledge, which each and every taxi driver has undertaken, remains as valid today as it was when it was first introduced in 1865. 

The Mayor agrees with those who are concerned that the number of private hire vehicles (PHVs) licensed in London is creating a problem. We have seen a rapid growth in the private hire sector and the number of private hire drivers has risen from around 59,000 in 2009/10 to over 100,000 today. These numbers have given rise to a number of wider issues, including rising traffic congestion, illegal parking and impacts on air quality. 

Currently, Transport for London (TfL) is legally obliged to issue a licence to anyone that meets the licensing criteria and has no legal power to introduce a cap. The Mayor has been vocal with central Government about his view that it should provide further legislative powers for TfL so that a cap on the total number of licensed vehicles can be introduced. Until this is progressed, the Mayor has asked TfL to look into the impact and feasibility of removing the Congestion Charge exemption for PHVs, which you refer to in your letter. They now outnumber taxis on our roads and an estimated one in ten vehicles in the Congestion Charge zone is now a PHV. TfL is currently undertaking further research on this issue and the Mayor hopes to see this progressed at the earliest opportunity. 

London has a large and vibrant private hire sector which has been regulated by primary legislation since the early 2000s. The regulations have not been comprehensively updated since they were introduced despite widespread and rapid changes to how the industry operates. Because of this, and in recognition of the sorts of concerns you raise in your email, you may be aware that over the past year TfL has undertaken a wide-ranging consultative review of private hire regulations. TfL considered proposals for changes with overriding aims to improve passenger safety, maintain a clear distinction between the taxi and private hire trades, and improve the overall quality and accessibility of PHV provision in London.

TfL's findings were considered by the TfL Board on 17 March, and a comprehensive package of new regulations were approved that will modernise and improve the private hire industry. Taking into account the 20,000 responses the consultation attracted, alongside detailed passenger research conducted by TfL, the Mayor believes the new regulations agreed by the TfL Board strike the right balance between enhancing passenger safety and customer experience when using private hire services. You can find out more about these changes in a press release published the day after the TfL Board: https://tfl.gov.uk/info-for/media/press-releases/2016/march/tfl-board-approves-new-plan-to-modernise-london-s-private-hire-industry 

On the specific issue of hire and reward insurance, which you mention in your letter, the Board agreed more robust insurance requirements. The Mayor acknowledges that hire and reward insurance is important to protect passengers. Without this insurance in place, passengers may not be able to reclaim costs or claim compensation following an accident or injury. Private hire vehicles were required to have this insurance only when undertaking bookings. The new regulations will change this: a policy will now have to be in place for the duration of the vehicle licence, including when the vehicle is presented for inspection to TfL. 

Regarding your concerns about sexual assaults committed by drivers, allegations against any licensed driver should be reported to the police in the first instance. TfL works closely with the police and may suspend or revoke a driver's licence on information disclosed by the police about reports of sexual offences. The Mayor has also ensured that illegal cab issues are given greater attention from the officers across the recently established 2,300-officer Roads Traffic Policing Command (RTPC). The creation of the RTPC brings with it the opportunity to significantly increase cab enforcement activity, mobilising hundreds of officers to focus on priority issues such as touting and cab-related sexual offences. All taxi and private hire driver applicants are subject to exactly the same enhanced Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS) checks prior to becoming licensed. 

You also raise concerns in your letter about the tax paid by Uber. TfL's remit as a licensing body and regulator is to ensure the safe delivery of PHV services in London, while issues of tax are generally a matter for HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC). However, in appropriate cases, TfL will bring specific concerns to its attention, as it did in the case of Uber. At TfL Board last week, it was agreed that TfL would consider whether any additional information should be brought to the attention of HMRC. 

I hope that this email assures you of how seriously the Mayor is taking the concerns of the taxi trade and the range of actions being put in place in response. 

Thank you again for writing to the Mayor. 

Yours sincerely 

Liz Ashby 
Public Liaison Unit 

Editorial Comment:
My Reply From My MP Gareth Thomas.

Dear Jim

Thanks for your email.

I met with Steve McNamara last December to discuss this issue, and I do share the concerns at the current unequal playing field.

You may be aware that I supported my colleague, Wes Streeting, in introducing a Bill recently that proposes action to improve passenger safety and makes competition fairer. The Bill contains provisions on training requirements for private hire drivers, insurance, and tax liabilites.

If you have not already seen it, you can read Wes' speech here: http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm201516/cmhansrd/cm160322/debtext/160322-0001.htm#16032230000001

I will continue to monitor this issue closely and, if you feel it would be helpful, I would be happy to meet you in order to discuss these issues further. If you'd like to make an appointment, please call my office (Phone no withheld)

Yours sincerely

Gareth Thomas MP (Harrow West)
House of Commons, London, SW1A 0AA

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