The Cycle of Change

(Original edit of article for Taxi magazine).

As cab drivers we used to plod along happily unaffected by change. If someone wanted a cab they’d wave their hand or approach a rank. We took cash. There was no fiddling with buttons and worrying whether the customer’s credit card was going to work. There was no stress waiting for card clearance with a bus sat behind us. We all had a bit more road space and road systems were less complicated. Things were altogether less fraught out there. When I started out there were no cameras poised to photograph your wheel as it touched the hallowed yellow paint of a box junction. You could buy a new cab that didn’t need to be plugged in.

Many of these changes have happened in the last handful of years, and there are more changes coming to our streets. Changes not just to our working conditions, but to the wider environment we work in. Updated forms of transport are being offered to customers which could disrupt the status quo and provide headaches to the authorities who control the roads. Fasten your seatbelts, it’s going to be a bumpy ride…

In a recent article I mentioned motorised rickshaws. How they’ve allowed a rickshaw on the road with a motor I’ll never know. There are more cycles coming: hire cycles that don’t have to be returned to a docking station, but can be dumped anywhere. OBikes are four times cheaper than the Santander “Boris Bikes” and can be left wherever you like. If these cheaper bikes are allowed to continue it’ll lead the way for more unregulated cycle hire outfits to flood the market. It’ll make a dent in the profits of the current supplier, and create piles of cycles on our pavements for people to trip over. It’s a situation rather like the pedicabs. The authorities failed to clamp down on them and we now have pedicabs with motors riding down cycle lanes! TfL can’t really say anything as they allowed it to happen in the first place.

If TfL did put a stop to motorised rickshaws or discount dump-where-you-like hire bikes, could we say they were luddites resistant to progress and competition? Isn’t that what many people said about cab drivers when credit card acceptance became mandatory?

TfL are making big losses because fewer people want to ride their tube trains and buses. They still have the private hire money-spinner though. They’re trying to claw money out of private hire by drastically raising operator’s licensing fees. Large mini-cab operators have to find £30,000 for a five-year licence, where previously the fee was £2,826. The mini operators are fighting the case in court. They argue that TfL failed to conduct a considered and thorough consultation before raising fees, and didn’t carry out an independent regulatory impact assessment. I suggest that TfL and other authorities never consider the impact or carry out a proper consultation on anything. Look at what they’ve done to London’s roads with all their crazy re-modelling schemes and closures.

Whatever you feel about private hire you must admit that this is a huge rise (up to 5000% in some cases).            Many smaller private hire companies have gone to the wall, or have been eaten up by the larger ones.

None is larger than Uber of course. Maybe thirty-large for running an estimated 40,000 mini-cabs isn’t so excessive. Here’s a question:  if Uber are no longer officially licensed, are they exempt from the thirty grand operator’s fee?

TfL say higher fees are needed to fund extra compliance officers “who do a crucial job in driving up standards and ensuring passengers remain safe.”

TfL themselves could have done more to ensure passengers were safe by making sure DBS criminal record checks were made properly from the start. We recently read about the imprisonment of an Uber driver who was stopped for driving erratically in New North Road. Kareem Worthington’s car was searched and the police found white powder believed to be drugs, and a secreted knife. What struck me about this case was that he had been convicted of possession of a bladed article in 2011 and 2012, and had also been imprisoned for affray in 2014. Did none of these offences come up on his DBS record? Or did TfL decide he was a fit and proper person anyway? Either the current criminal record checking system is open to corruption, or the DBS report isn’t worth the paper it’s written on.

We now have motorised chariots carrying families around the West End and getting in everyone’s way. Their drivers don’t need a licence, tax, insurance, vehicle inspection, fare chart; nor any DBS clearance. The old PCO would have run them out of town on a rail.

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