Caroline Pidgeon and Daniel Carr
TfL have recently proposed new regulations to take into account new advances in technology. The proposals have been welcomed by both the licensed Taxi trade and the majority of PH drivers and operators across the capital.
But to everyone's surprise, the Lib Dem's mayoral candidate, in line with her party policy has come out against these new regulations.
It appears that the Lib Dem's are in favour of a certain smart phone app being allowed to breach PHV act legislation, by showing cars in real time that are available for immediate hire (illegally plying for hire).
They are also against the introduction of a 5 minute period before customer request and passenger pick up. Their reason is that people will be put at risk waiting in the street for the envisaged extra 90 seconds (based on the average arrival time of 3.5 mins).
If this app complied with current PH regulations and had a booking facility, passengers would not have to wait in the street at all. But again, the Lib Dem's feel this company should be given preferential treatment, in regards to the regulations every other PH have to abide by.
At a regional conference on Saturday, London Lib Dems debated private hire regulations, and how they should get it right.
There are three proposals Liberal Democrats should be most concerned with. The first, a mandatory waiting period between requesting a private hire vehicle and pick-up, is hard to square with any consumer interest rationale. TfL is proposing a mandatory 5 minute wait, about 1.5 minutes morethan the average time it takes for an Uber driver to arrive. Apparently this would reduce the risk of a customer getting into the wrong vehicle, a problem TfL provides no evidence to suggest actually exists. Even if it does, it appears not to have been weighed against the risk of extending the time in which people may have to wait alone on a street corner late at night.
Taken together with another proposal to ban the in-app visualisation of hire vehicles, the impact on ride-sharing services will be severe. As Uber’s popularity among customers revolves around the app’s visualisation function, low fares and short wait-times, killing two of these off smells suspiciously like an attempt to cripple a black cab rival.
The most concerning is the proposal to lock drivers into working for just one licensed operator at a time. It seems innocuous enough, but looking forward this risks significantly decreasing the take-home income of drivers who work for ride-sharing platforms. Why? If you use Lyft or Uber in the US you will notice most drivers have a dashboard of smartphones on the go. This enables them to play-off operators like Uber, Lyft and SideCar, accepting rides from whoever is offering the highest rate.
Locking drivers into working for one operator will also risk entrenching the position of today’s largest operators. New entrants, who usually begin with a small customer base, will find it hard to entice drivers to jump platforms if rides are likely to be less frequent. Back in Australia, fears Uber might unilaterally lock drivers to their platform prompted Uber Vice-President David Plouffe to insist his company would not go down this road. That TfL is considering a proposal that risks decreasing driver pay and cementing Uber’s dominance of the London ride-sharing market is troubling.
So what principles should inform the Liberal Democrat stance on the private hire market? As the motion suggests, we should back robust regulation on customer safety, payment of due taxes and the provision of disability compatible services. However, we also need to recognise that regulations which inhibit competition do a disservice to both customers and drivers. Other cities are already seeing a more vibrant ecosystem of operators emerge by following these principles.
New Lib Dem member Dan Carr proposed a motion that they should oppose controversial changes.
Mr Carr argued that Merton has few black cab ranks and the growth of services like Uber will increase choice.
The Lib Dem's support was given the day after this so called trendy minicab app surged prices to 500% to the people in the midst of the terror attacks on the Parisian streets, while the local licensed Taxis ferried the walking wounded, lost and bewildered to safety, free of charge.