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ADDISON LEE, PLY FOR HIRE?

10/08/2010

By Peter J Rose

Secretary UNITE Cab Section, London Branch

If any of you are readers of the Sunday Times, you’re probably aware of a recent article regarding John Griffin, Chairman of private hire firm Addison Lee. In it, apart from the usual ‘what do you like for breakfast’ type questions, was a statement by him regarding private hire and the use of bus lanes and the ability to pick up off the streets.

Back last autumn it came to light that Addison Lee had instructed its drivers to use the M4 bus and taxi lane, even though they knew full well that it is illegal for them to do so. At the time both London branches of the UNITE Cab Section wrote to John Mason who was then the new head of the Public Carriage Office, to complain in the strongest terms, about the obvious misconduct by this private hire proprietor, I my own case going so far as to ask for the revocation of Addison Lee’s licence until they reversed their instruction. The rather soft reply I eventually got from the PCO Complaints Manager was as follows:

Mr Griffin has been written to and given an opportunity to give his comments. He has chosen not to respond. In the circumstances he has been reminded that it remains illegal for private hire vehicles to use the M4 bus lane and advised not to continue the practice of encouraging his drivers to do so. Both your letter and mine will be recorded in this office and, if some time in the future ‘fitness’ of this operator is reviewed, your complaint may be taken into consideration’.

Please note the words ‘if’ and ‘may’. What the PCO were telling me was that a review was only an option and ‘may’ not be taken into consideration at all. In fact the ‘if’ would suggest that this operator ‘may’ never be reviewed at all. If this is indeed the case why? Surely it is the responsibility of the licencing authority to not only check that operators are ‘fit and proper’ at the time of initial licensing, but also to keep tabs on them to ensure that they remain ‘fit and proper’, much in the same way that taxi drivers are required to complete CRB checks when they renew their licences.

Recently I have had the opportunity to speak to a couple of Addison Lee drivers. One told me that the M4 bus lane issue was driving him mad. Although he knows that he is not supposed to use it, he also knows he will be in trouble if he doesn’t. He also told me that he found it very worrying for him when the fines come to his door and not Addison Lee’s. Even though he has been told that Addison Lee will pay them, actually they are not, because he told me that the reminders come to his door along with the threat of court action. The object of the exercise would seem to be to get Addison Lee its day in court. Both of the drivers I spoke to also told me that there had been a severe downturn in work on the circuit. They both told me that they intended to sign onto the Knowledge.

According to the Sunday Times, Addison Lee will now get their day in court where they will not only be asking for the right to use bus and taxi lanes, but the right to ply for hire as well. I believe that it is time to remind the PCO, now London Taxi and Private Hire that this day in court, has been won in great part by the flagrant disregard of existing regulations and a review of ‘fitness’ for this operator is now overdue.

Click here to see the BBC interview with UNITE Cab Section members on this subject.

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