Chairman Mark Bursa launched the second panel session by explaining that Transport for London was engaging in consultations about several new rules and introduced Steve Wright of the LPHCA, who gave an account of his association’s recent court case against TfL, where LPHCA’s objections to the regulator’s new licensing structure were rejected by the judge.
The outcome of the court case itself had, according to Wright, been “a major setback” but on the other hand, “if you don’t fight you never win”, he said. “The case has also sent out a very strong message to TfL that we’ve raised our game and need to be listened to,” Wright said.
The campaign had also got the LPHCA a better hearing in London’s City Hall, including with Transport Commissioner Mike Brown, and had helped to secure an extension to the consultation period for proposed English language tests for drivers. TfL had also promised to help sort out the inflexible rules about who could be authorised to carry out driver uploads. Wright felt TfL had always taken a “divide and conquer” approach but now the industry needed to pull together.
The first interactive vote of this panel session had 73.5% of those at the Congress saying that private hire operators in London didn’t get a fair deal from TfL, although 12.2% felt they did.
Joe Polley from Parker Car Service said that the industry had itself demanded to be regulated and had previously had good relations with the regulator for a long time. But he felt that now the trade was just a whipping boy, being abused by the regulator, and the “people we pay to regulate us seem to be bent on destroying us.”
Debbie Wambergue from iChauffeur, a high-end niche operator, said the regulator made everything so difficult, and pointed in particular to the apparent iniquities of the banded licence system that saw companies like hers paying over £300 pounds per car while some bigger operators were paying more like £70 per car. Jonny Goldstone said a per-car rate would be fairer than the current system.
Dominick Moxon-Tritsch thought it unlikely that the current licensing system would survive for more than five years and said that TfL was looking to pilot a system of “dynamic road space charging” reflecting factors such as the number of minutes or miles involved in a journey and also time of day and location. He said TfL had got the current system “very badly wrong”.
An interactive vote showed that only 21.1% of delegates had taken part in all of the TfL consultations, with 26.1% having taken part in some. The majority hadn’t taken part at all.
Steve Wright said operators needed to take a fuller part in the consultations on subjects such as vehicle signage and he quoted the words of a predecessor: “Your biggest enemy is apathy.” It was also important to be aware that TfL was increasingly taking notice of online consultation at the expense of what the trade bodies had to say. Wright explained that the taxi trade were constantly influencing the consultations affecting private hire. Most of the responses to the consultations were coming from the competitors of private hire.
Only 6.5% of delegates thought that the position in London had got better since Sadiq Khan had replaced Boris Johnson as mayor, with 58.7% feeling it had got worse.
Parker’s Joe Polley agreed that things were worse under Khan, whom he felt had been hijacked by the taxi lobby. Polley had had some contact with Johnson, but almost none with Khan and described the trade as being “in a war situation with our mayor and our regulator.”
Moxon-Tritsch disagreed. He felt TfL had previously been “asleep at the wheel” but that it was now doing a much better job of holding large app-only operators such as Uber and Taxify to account. Greentomato Cars’ Goldstone agreed with Moxon-Tritsch on the regulation of Uber but, returning to Polley’s point, felt that both mayors had been scared by the black cab trade.
On the subject of the consultation process, Mike Galvin said it was important to do the same as the big companies and get involved at a much earlier stage because “by the time it gets to consultation it’s pretty much happening” - an approach that would, however, take a lot of money and time.
A delegate vote had only 7.9% of delegates saying they thought the new TfL banded licensing system was fairer, with 86.8% saying it was less fair. There was a similarly low level of support - 14.5% - for the written English language test proposed by TfL, although 67.7% were in favour of a test for spoken English only.
Moxon-Tritsch felt the test would be expensive, and also a “major pain point” for the app-only operators who need to recruit lots of drivers and have a higher turnover than others. Wright also criticised the proposed tests, questioning their relevance especially for established drivers, whom he felt should be covered by “grandfather” arrangements.
Delegates were also negative on the proposed requirement for Zero Emissions Capable private hire vehicles, with only 30.6% being in favour, and 61.3% opposed. Goldstone said he was in favour of lower-emitting vehicles but the problem was that a longer transition period was needed because the current level of infrastructure provision was insufficient and there was problem with the availability of suitable vehicles.
Wright thought there would be difficulties even when sufficient infrastructure was in place because drivers would still have quite a lot of down-time while their vehicles were charging.
Moxon-Tritsch said the failure to provide charging infrastructure in London was an “all singing, all dancing catastrophe”. He thought there might have to be a revival of the “return to base” model of forty ago, with cars returning for charging when no public infrastructure was available.