March 2012. After over 4 years of grueling mental and physical attrition I had achieved what only 14% of perspective candidates had, acquiring the converted Knowledge of London. Being granted the privilege of plying for hire on the streets of the capital wasn’t an easy journey. Like all who endeavor to succeed sacrifices were made , lives put on hold and relationships strained.
Against a backdrop of seeing my friends and peers choose the academic route, carving out careers in white collar 21st century industries. I instead opted for what I believed to be a sustainable and viable job for life. No one foresaw the technological leaps of the last decade impacting on how consumers book cars and hail taxis, but it’s evident the trade has only ever looked within the immediate context.
An example of this was the 1998 London Private Hire vehicles act where the trade failed to protect it’s fundamental methods of working (although the bills’ purpose was to license mini-cabs not to regulate taxis) as counter measures were seemingly missed by the then London Taxi Board to secure a definition of plying for hire. It’s incredible with hindsight how this was missed but the rhetoric from ministers was that the licensing of PH would not impede the licensed taxi drivers right to ply for hire.
Unfortunately this is exactly what has been happening ever since.
Future Proof ?
PHV drivers by virtue of an app. are now operating in the immediate hire market and there is a reluctance to accept this by Transport for London. Though case law exists that could dispel TFL’s inertia (Cogley vs Sherwood), favorable interpretation implemented by tacit approval appears to be the M.O.
In it’s recent report into Taxi&Private hire services (Future Proof) the Greater London Assembly (GLA) cites whether the use of smartphone apps to allow passengers to electronically ‘hail’ a private hire vehicle crosses the line between pre-booking and immediate hiring. Allowing companies in question (Uber) to reap the benefits of the lighter regulatory burden on private hire while also exploiting the benefits of the immediate hire market. This has been described as a ‘pick and mix approach to regulation’.However the report falls short in offering any such recommendation that would restrict smartphones apps. operating in this way….
The report recognises that there is general sense that becoming a taxi driver no longer provides a sustainable living income and that there are easier options available for people who do not have resources or the inclination to embark on such a long programme of training. The focus shifts on the artificially high barrier of entry into the trade and suggests a review of the system so that it’s ‘fit for purpose’.
In other words, lower the standard to make it more attractive for perspective candidates to enter the trade.
It’ll be alright son. You’re just a butter!
It appears that there is a cohesive agenda from both the licensing authority and central government to ignore the licensed taxi drivers’ right to ply for hire. There is also a blatant ignorance to recognise that this is the cornerstone in sustaining the service and attracting future drivers.
Who would put themselves through the rigor of the KOL when instead obtain near similar privileges by way of downloading an app?!
The driver demographic shows this in no uncertain terms as the last study carried out (2010) found that 40 per cent of drivers were aged 55 or over, and only 5 per cent were under the age of 35. As London’s population continues to rise dramatically, stagnation in the growth of taxi driver numbers will mean that much of this new demand will be picked up by private hire- or by unlicensed drivers and touts.
To drivers who fall within the later percentage I urge to back a statutory definition of plying for hire to truly future proof our trade. We must succeed where others have failed and not rely on the outdated view that we’ve been around for 300 years and will continue regardless.
We live in times where regulation is considered anti-innovation and the competitive free-market agenda is the only agenda.
Any deviation from this is perceived as backwards.
We must fight. We must win. We are the 5%.