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DORCHESTER HOTEL MINICAB RANK – UNITE WRITES TO THE HEAD OF LTPH

09/09/2010

The events at London’s Dorchester Hotel have understandingly been the ‘hot’ topic on most of the Capitals taxi trade’s blog sites and indeed amongst UNITE Cab Section members. Below is some relevant correspondence that the UNITE Cab Section has had with LTPH regarding this matter.

I have to point out that normally reproducing emails in this way would not be UNITE’s normal procedure. but given the importance of this situation and its possible impact on the London taxi trade, plus – that as yet no statement has been made through the normal LTPH notice system or TfL Press Release, on this occasion I feel it it is the right thing to do.

Peter Rose

Secretary UNITE Cab Section, London Branch.

Email to UNITE from John Mason.

Dorchester Hotel – Park Lane Taxi Rank 6th and 7th September 2010

Further to my email earlier today I write again regarding the situation that arose at the Park Lane taxi rank adjacent to the Dorchester Hotel on the 6th and 7th September 2010. Quite understandably, like you I am sure, I received a considerable number of emails and telephone calls regarding this issue and I instigated an immediate investigation into the matter.

In the first instance and most importantly I would like to sincerely apologise to you, your members and all taxi drivers for the way we have handled this matter.

In June this year a request was made to TfL through the normal route by the event organisers for a suspension of the ranks and parts of the red route to create a “pick up zone” for departing guests. This is, I understand, is similar to requests made and accommodated for this and other events at the Dorchester in the past.

However, it is clear that a more detailed internal consideration of the nature and impact of this request should have been made at a Senior level. Whilst obviously TfL has a duty to do what it can to help organisers of such events service guests transport needs a more detailed and thorough understanding should have been given at the time as to the exact nature and purpose of the request and the impacts of accommodating it.

With regards to the use of the suspended bays by private hire vehicles clearly any bookings taken on street or cash journeys booked on street would be illegal and we have contacted both Lewis Day and Addison Lee regarding the nature of their operation. Both companies have assured TfL that all journeys were pre-booked by various TV associated companies such as ITV and guests from the Dorchester Hotel at the conclusion of the TV awards with Lewis Day employing their own marshals to ensure that their pre-booked customers were shown to the correct vehicles.

However, given the allegation that cash bookings were observed being taken on street, I have asked for all records for both companies to be reviewed to ensure that all journeys, as advised, were indeed pre booked.

In conclusion I would like to apologise again to you and your members for the way we have handled this matter and confirm that I have taken immediate steps to ensure all such requests for such suspensions are reviewed at a Senior level. I know and fully understand that many within the trade will be understandably annoyed by our decision to suspend this rank and I agree with the sentiments of all those who have contacted me that the suspension of this taxi rank to specifically accommodate private hire vehicles was not appropriate.

As I indicated earlier I have taken immediate steps to ensure all such requests are reviewed at a senior level and we will investigate the claims of cash / on street bookings.

Whilst we will continue to do what we can to assist organisers of such events this should not be to the direct detriment of taxi drivers.

Jim Kelly’s response from UNITE.

Dear John

Thank you for your correspondence dated 7 September in relation to the events at the Dorchester Hotel.

It would appear that the events fit a growing pattern of Private Hire Operators abusing legislation, especially in the West End. I am surprised that TfL has treated something as serious as the suspension of a busy working rank as a matter of routine. Despite your assurances that this type of request will in future be dealt with  at a more senior level, Unite feels that this decision appears to condone a situation whereby private hire vehicles, of a similar make and colour, with a uniform PH operator livery, are sitting in a public place on a road space clearly showing to members of the public the words “Taxi”.

Surely, this situation, would, to any reasonable member of the public, be mistaken for a normal rank, with these vehicles lined up for immediate hire? It is therefore the view of Unite that no further dispensation should be allowed to do with this type of operation.

Also the presence of marshals, in nearly all cases, adds weight to the impression that passengers can simply walk up and into waiting vehicles. Often the wording on marshals jackets can be deliberately misleading, meant to attract potential passengers to an illegal operation.

We would also be interested to know if The Dorchester is a registered PH operating centre, or a satellite office? Also, was the method and recorded information of pre-booking robust and did it conform entirely to existing Private Hire legislation?  Further,what was the role of  the Marshall and what information was recorded on his/her clipboard, Was the marshal working for the main operator or the sub-contractor? Is this information also recorded and available to TfL officers?

We would therefore hope that your TfL enforcement officers will be tasked with checking independently and methodically, and that this will not be a simple request to the two companies to check their own records. Indeed, can illegal immediate- hiring cash jobs be traced effectively, from records, in this type of operation?

Finally, if either of the two companies did condone their operation on the night to be used illegally, will the “One strike and you are out” policy of TfL be enforced on both the two companies and any drivers acting illegally?

Yours

Jim Kelly

Chair Unite Cab Trade Committee

John Mason’s reply

Dear Jim

I would agree with your sentiments regarding how we dealt with this suspension. I can only apologise once again for this matter.

I can confirm that the Dorchester is a registered PH operating centre and we understand the marshals were provided by Lewis Day to facilitate the Lewis Day bookings and customers.

As I indicated in my letter to you yesterday, we are looking into the allegations that were made regarding bookings being made on street but our understanding is that these marshals were specifically engaged to ensure that passengers taking pre booked journeys made it to their respective vehicle. Dave Stock’s team are already in the process of looking into what went on during the evening and he will update me in due course and we will try to answer your questions with regards to how the information was recorded etc.

The “one strike and out” policy applies to any driver found guilty or accepting a caution for touting or any “satellite” office where there is sufficient evidence that the operation is taking booking on street. As I know you are aware, there are plenty within the taxi trade who feel that the evidence they can provide through pictures or video clips is sufficient but this is not the case however I can assure you and your members that we will not and do not hesitate to revoke licenses, driver or operator, when there is clear evidence that illegal activity has taken place.

I will update you in due course.

John Mason.

Comment:

The subject of minicab ‘Satellite’ offices is probably the most important issue on the lips of cab drivers  at the moment. UNITE through meetings with LTPH and its trade paper Cab Trade News; have argued that satellite offices are out of control and unenforcible. when LTPH through Notice 15/10 said that, ”no further applications for private hire operating centres within venues will be processed from 1 June 2010”. UNITE welcomed the statement which also promised a consultation on private hire.

It would now appear that LTPH will issue a new ‘satellite’ licence, ”should there be exceptional circumstances”. it has to be pointed out that no such provision was made within Notice 15/10. to find now that LTPH will issue ‘Satellite’ licences is both confusing and disappointing.

As we have said many times UNITE will continue to argue for the abolition of the ‘Satellite’ office and and end to the Clipboard Johnnie.

Peter J Rose

Secretary UNITE Cab Section, London Branch.

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