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Heathrow Airport promises AVA improvements and would “consider” dedicated short-stay private hire floors

A key issue was whether Heathrow Airport truly recognised the important contribution made by the private hire sector.

Theo Panayi, Heathrow Airport’s sustainable travel manager, opened his keynote speech with a valid, positive observation that operators “are not the underground, you’re not the trains, you’re not the coach, you are something else” highlighting the “all hours” service and comparing the industry favourably with Heathrow as it’s also “in the passenger business”.

Panayi said Heathrow’s future planning extended past 2040, but it was working to cap surface access and car movements to 2016 levels - something that will clearly impact the industry, although Panayi said he was keen to work with operators and trade representatives.

His keynote speech focused on Heathrow’s desire to be a good neighbour. He raised the well-publicised issue of drivers loitering in nearby residential streets and the associated litter, noise and fouling issues and the introduction of the Authorised Vehicle Area (AVA), a car park specifically for private hire drivers and chauffeurs to use.

Panayi’s anecdotal evidence of praise towards the AVA was countered by operators in the room, who voiced concerns over poor facilities such as the basic toilets and provision of refreshments. Panayi acknowledged that the facility wasn’t perfect but said it was being monitored, and he admitted he would like to provide better, healthier catering.

This also prompted a general criticism of Heathrow’s parking facilities, with cost a major concern. This was expressed succinctly by operator David Pryor, claiming “Heathrow makes more money out of my business than I do,” highlighting the lack of competition and price rises.

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Panayi explained that Heathrow’s “single till” operation meant it would have to raise prices elsewhere to offset any reductions. Congress chair Mark Bursa said that many operators in the Thames Valley, where rail connections are poor, are a mainstay of the Heathrow travel business sector. With them “delivering your [Heathrow’s] best customers… should we not be having a charging system that really favours the chauffeur and private hire operators?” he asked.

To counter the frustrations of operators of the poor policing of picking up clients in terminal drop off zones, a delegate suggested that a dedicated floor or space in the short stay car parks be made available; thus improving convenience for all. GMB Union’s Steve Garelick said that basic discussions have already taken place, with Panayi saying “he was happy to take that suggestion back as there sounds like there’s an appetite for it.”

Criticism of Heathrow’s inconsistent approach to parking was widespread. Fellow panellist Joe Polley of Parker Car Service expressed what many in the room were probably thinking, describing the industry’s predicament as: “We provide transport to the public and yet we get treated as if we are the public, and it would be good if we could get better access.”

Looking to the future, the general consensus on third runway matters was a simple “just get on with it,” not just from the airport, put also from its discussions with politicians. Congress chair Bursa and Polley both highlighted the strong transport links plus the importance of the airport and its surrounding industries to the private hire community.

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ProDriver Congress London 2016 photo gallery