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From the London Assembly – Future Proof: Taxi and Private Hire Services in London.

16/12/2014

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Executive summary

Over 300,000 journeys are made by taxi or private hire vehicle in the capital every day. Black taxis are one of the oldest and most instantly recognisable icons of London transport and, together with private hire vehicles, form a vital part of the public transport network for both visitors to, and residents of, the city. Taxis and private hire services fill a gap in public transport provision, providing services in places and at times when other forms of public transport are unavailable, and for those who are unable to access buses, the Tube, or trains due to disability or mobility impairment. Taxis and private hire are used by both the highest earning in our society and those on lower incomes, for business and leisure purposes, at every hour of the day and night.
Efforts to modernise taxi and private hire services and meet passenger expectations are being hindered by the lack of a Mayoral strategy for the future of these trades. This makes it difficult for Transport for London (TfL) to regulate the industries efficiently and effectively. Taxi and private hire services form a crucial element of London’s public transport offer, including for some of the most vulnerable passengers, but competition from new technology, and changing passenger demands, are challenging the traditional ways in which these services are delivered. London’s taxi and private hire services will need to evolve to meet these challenges. Failure to address fundamental issues affecting the trades threatens to spark a race to the bottom in terms of standards, putting the travelling public at risk, and threatening London’s reputation as a world leader for these services.

Strategy

The inherent role of the regulator, TfL, is to protect the interests of the travelling public. We call on the Mayor and TfL to preserve the distinction between the licensed taxi and private hire industries, recognising that diversity of choice is critical to meeting passengers’ differing requirements. We need a clear strategy to ensure the survival and prosperity of both of these services, which covers three critical, inter-related areas of public interest: safety, availability and accessibility.

Safety

The Committee heard that more passengers say they always feel safe and secure when travelling by licensed taxi, than private hire vehicle. A lack of supply of licensed taxi and private hire services in some locations may lead people to make unsafe transport choices; this is a particular concern in the context of cab-related sexual assaults and robberies. We call on the Mayor and TfL to develop specific public awareness campaigns on what to look out for when determining if a driver or vehicle is licensed. We also call for a comprehensive signage strategy for both taxi and private hire vehicles, and for open access to data so that tools that use technology to link drivers to vehicle and operator information can be developed.
We believe that cashless payment options would benefit both the industries and their passengers, reducing the risk of crime and removing a barrier to making safer transport choices. TfL, as a regulator, can greatly advance this cause by working constructively with the trades to iron out potential difficulties, explain the wider benefits, and explore options to incentivise a transition towards cashless payment options.

Availability

People often choose to use a licensed taxi or private hire vehicle at times when other public transport is closed, or in locations where other public transport modes are not available, particularly in parts of outer London. Passenger views on availability differ from those of licensed taxi drivers. The Committee heard that there are a number of ways in which TfL could regulate the market more effectively to ensure a better match between supply and demand across the city. In particular, there is a need for better data to inform policy decisions on issues such as sector boundaries, licensing numbers, and rank space provision.
Providing taxi ranks has a number of benefits relating to safety and availability, as well as potentially reducing congestion and vehicle emissions as drivers are not forced to continually drive around to look for work. However, rank provision is chronically underfunded and under prioritised, the process of appointing ranks is too lengthy, and the needs of passengers and drivers are not prioritised when allocating kerb space. We call on the Mayor and TfL to work with the boroughs to improve and increase rank provision, especially in outer London, and to ensure that existing facilities are better publicised.
Taxi driver numbers have remained static for the last decade, while the number of licensed private hire drivers has more than tripled. Some industry experts have questioned whether administration of the Knowledge creates an artificially high barrier to entry for taxi drivers, and, conversely, whether the explosion in private hire driver numbers in th e last decade is because the entry requirements to this market are artificially low. We urge the Mayor and TfL to assess entry requirements into both markets to ensure that they are fit for purpose, that the requirements are relevant to the specific demands of each industry, and to ensure protection for passengers, drivers, and other road users

Accessibility

Large parts of the public transport network are still unusable for many older and disabled Londoners, and taxis and accessible private hire vehicles are a vitally important part of ensuring good quality of life for disabled and older Londoners. Disabled people told us about a range of problems in accessing these services, including taxis not stopping when hailed in the street by disabled people, broken equipment, refusal to carry assistance dogs and insufficient numbers of wheelchair accessible private hire vehicles. Alongside efforts to increase the supply of accessible vehicles, TfL should work with disability campaigners and the trades to improve disability awareness amongst both drivers and booking staff, and adopt a zero tolerance policy towards drivers and operators who discriminate against disabled passengers.

New technology

The rise of new technologies has immense potential to change the way in which transport services are used. There is significant appetite for new technology among both passengers and drivers, especially when it comes to booking and paying. TfL must ensure that it has the regulatory muscle, and the political will, to hold the line against developments which threaten the interests of passengers. An unbalanced market may ultimately lead to a reduction, rather than an expansion, of passenger choice. The Mayor and TfL need to be prepared for the inevitable consequences of a transport environment in which technology is evolving faster than the legislation that is needed to govern its use.

Enforcement

Touting is viewed by both industries as the single biggest enforcement and passenger safety issue affecting the trades. Enforcement numbers are ‘outstandingly low’, compared with other world cities. Trade representatives have raised the possibility of the trades paying higher licence fees if this would guarantee better enforcement, and there are opportunities to improve enforcement through better use of technology.
The Committee is deeply concerned that specific TfL policies, such as those around satellite offices and booking destinations, could be creating more problems than they solve. We urge the Mayor and TfL to re-evaluate their enforcement strategy and to explore ways in which enforcement resources could be increased and better deployed. Current enforcement activity is disjointed due to the different enforcement powers available to police and borough enforcement officers. The strategy should contain specific actions that the Mayor and TfL, along with partner organisations and the trades, will take to ensure that the laws and regulations governing these industries are properly enforced. This should include closer working with the criminal justice system, and lobbying Government for the use of stiffer penalties for touting and greater enforcement powers including vehicle seizure powers.

Governance and Communication

Mass demonstrations on the street and votes of no confidence from trade organisations are not generally indicators of a healthy relationship between industries and their regulators. Effective communication between TfL and the trades is vital to implementing changes to the industry that will benefit passengers, but communication appears to have hit rock bottom in the last year. Many within the industries feel that, at a senior level, TfL is simply not listening to their concerns. The Mayor and TfL urgently need to address the widespread view that they are out of touch with the needs of the industries. TfL’s Taxi and Private Hire Unit’s current structure lays itself open to accusations of an inherent conflict of interests. The Mayor’s office, TfL and the trades should develop and publish a Memorandum of Understanding which clearly sets out terms of reference and defines the respective roles, responsibilities and expectations of each party.

Passenger engagement

Failure to address passenger concerns damages the long term interests of the trades, and TfL’s reputation as their regulator. The ultimate survival of both taxi and private hire industries will depend on them providing the standard of service that passengers want. The public can provide crucial feedback on drivers, operators and organisations that can help detect illegal activity, identify poor behaviours, and provide suggestions for how to improve services. We call for improved systems for passengers to make complaints and give feedback on both taxi and private hire services.

Click here to read the full document. Future Proof: Taxi and Private Hire Services in London

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