Friday, February 28, 2014

Another Victory For The RMT Ranks And Highways Team: by Jim Thomas

Great news
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.

1. Enforcement
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?

Regards 
RMT London Taxi Branch.

In reply:

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.

Regards
Darren

Darren Johnson AM
Green Party Member
London Assembly
City Hall 
Queens Walk

Thursday, February 27, 2014

Manchester Taxi Drivers, Take On Their Licensing Auhority.




Cardiff Cabbies Threaten Strike Action Over Illegally Plying For Hire By Private Hire Drivers.

Cardiff Hackney Carriage Association has threatened to go on strike unless the council has a crack down on private hire cars are claimed to be illegally poaching customers.

Hailing a taxi has never been easier, with cabs lining the city streets.

But now the chair of Cardiff Hackney Carriage Association has threatened to go on strike unless the council has a crack down on private hire cars who he claims are illegally poaching customers.

The chair has accused certain private hire cars of “blatantly disregarding” the licensing law.
He said: “If the council don’t do something constructive in order to deal with the situation we will have to take industrial action.”

Private hire vehicles can only take passengers who have phoned up and made a booking. They are not licensed to pick up customers from the street and if they do, their insurance is often invalidated.

Concerned parties are calling on Cardiff Council to take a stronger stance against drivers who routinely flout the law to gain some extra cash.

Bryan Roland, general secretary of the National Private Hire Association, said: “It would appear on the face of it that it is so rife in Cardiff that there may well be a suggestion that there is insufficient enforcement going on.

“Unless the message is getting out there you are going to get nowhere and they will just carry on.”
Private hire companies in Cardiff have denied that their drivers are involved in the unlawful practise of plying for hire.

Peter Renwick, manager of Premier Taxis, said: “We pride ourselves on being the only totally exclusive private hire company in Cardiff.

“We categorically do not provide shelter for any driver whom may flout the law and illegally ply for hire.”
Ryan Owen, director at Dragon Taxis Ltd, said: “We would never condone such behaviour, our interests are always that of public safety. If a driver was found to be doing this they would be reprimanded.”

Cllr Gretta Marshall, Chair of the Licensing and Public Protection Committees, admitted: “The whole taxi trade in Cardiff is far from perfect currently and historically relations with the Council have deteriorated.

“Earlier this month I met with Hackney Carriage drivers to listen to their concerns about how we could improve relations.”

A Cardiff Council spokesman said: “We undertake enforcement action against private hire drivers who pick up customers from the streets, as they are not licenced to do so.

“Recently the Council has prosecuted a driver for this offence at Cardiff’s Magistrates Court, further prosecutions will follow.”

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Edinburgh Taxi Company City Cabs, Fight Back Against Minicab Apps.

Edinburgh Taxi company City Cabs, have started a fight back in the City and surrounding area against the onslaught from the minicab app.

The Cab company has raised its profile with a new advertising campaign, putting rickshaw bikes to better use, advertising services offered and the launch of their new smart phone app.


Rickshaws have for some time, been used to display posters (examples above) for eco-friendly promotions, with advertising agencies. 

In London however, it has recently been announced that there could be a ban on rickshaws being used as pseudo Taxis in the very near future, even though TfL and local councils such as Westminster, have shown an interest in licensing the bikes.

Short of cash in the Scottish capital?
No problem.
A new contract to provide City Cabs, Edinburgh with Chip & PIN terminals for their vast fleet of Taxis has been announced by Adelante Software Ltd.
Adelante and City Cabs have had a successful working relationship for over 10 years and this new contract means that City Cabs have a full complement of payment options to offer their customers.
City Cabs covers all of Edinburgh and surrounding areas, including Edinburgh airport, a contract that has recently been renewed for a second time and alone brings in over 490,000 pick ups a year.
Already, after only a month, City Cabs are seeing a substantial increase in the number of fares being taken as a direct result of implementing TaxiPay Chip & PIN. 
Adelante also offer a very handy iPhone app which enables Taxi drivers to take Card payments. Very handy if you don't normally take cards and you drop someone off in the middle of nowhere who then produces a card as only means of payment. As long as you have a GPS signal, you can take the payment through the app.

Also available on other platforms.

Monday, February 24, 2014

Big Brother Is Watching...But Who's Watching The Watchers?..by Jim Thomas

Over the last 8 years, The Anderson Shelter and Taxi Leaks blogs have been subject to a number of cyber attacks. 

These have ranged from simple comment abuse (mass comments from the same IP address, slating both sides of the argument, designed to stir up trouble) to more sophisticated attacks, hacking into the blog and change content. 

Around the time the IDs were about to be introduced, our team noticed certain patterns in comments which purported to come from both suburban drivers and all London drivers. Using a simple checker program attached to blogger we were able to source comments and found they came from the same IP address.  

That IP address, happened to be part of a wifi network given the name of a Taxi representative group. 
As I have long since lost the evidence I won't name the Org involved, but I did write an article at the time, which was published in an early copy of UCG News.

Shortly after this misuse of our comment section, my attention was bought to certain content appearing on the blog, which seemed to be sailing close to the wind and was highly libellous. 
As we always keep a back up of posts, we were able to replace most of the offending material before complaints were received. 
But the fact was, we had been hacked. 

Even though we changed to uncrackable passwords, because the offender was permanently signed in, they were able to carry on changing the odd post. In the end it was easier to close down the blog and start again.
 
Taxi Leaks now has a more secure sign in process, but we still get reports from Google of mass password attempted sign-ins. 

Starting again has been hard, we'd built up a large and loyal audience. But after just a couple of years, we have now surpassed the readership of The Anderson Shelter.

Our team of contributors have also been the victim of constant attempts of email account hacking, the latest attack being last night.

      Latest crude attempt to steal email password.

About a year ago, it was revealed in a leaked memo that the editor's twitter time line was being printed off and circulated to certain individuals at Palestra and Windsor house...this we have kept proof of.


Notice that Helen Chapman used her personal email account and not her TfL account to send this screen shot to John Mason, who then sent it on to other staff at Palestra.

After the above email was fired off, the sender realised the person being observed had been mistakenly copied in.
A number of attempts were then made to try to retrieve the email. But it was took late. It had already been recieved and opened.

 

So big brother is watching....it's just a shame they are not watching what's going on outside clubs and bars and putting their skills to better use.

The attacks continue.
The latest casualty to fall foul of a hacking attempt has been the RMT email client, which has had to be taken down after being hacked into.