We still don’t seem to have been able to get to grips with the number of drivers who don’t go through the Taxi Feeder Park at Heathrow Airport. It is a legal requirement that ALL taxi drivers pass through the TFP before proceeding to the terminals’ ranks.
The taxi ranks at Heathrow are like any other taxi ranks in the GLA Area, or the Met Police Area, as it used to be known. The only difference is that at Heathrow there are byelaws that have to be observed. These byelaws state:
9(10) Taxi feeder park;
No person shall drive a Taxi on to an Authorised Standing without having first driven through a Taxi Feeder Park unless at the direction or with the consent of a Constable, a traffic warden in uniform, an Airport Official or the Airport Company.
Now this is where BAA/HAL seems to think that it’s okay to allow a select band of drivers of their choosing the right to by-pass the TFP on a permanent basis. The wording of the byelaw is being misinterpreted for the convenience of BAA, rather than for the real reason why “a Constable, a traffic warden in uniform, an Airport Official or the Airport Company” may direct or allow a driver to proceed to an “Authorised Standing” without first going through the TFP. Isn’t it clear that this byelaw was put there to enable authorised persons to direct taxis directly to the ranks on the rare occasions when there may be unusual or extraordinary reasons for doing so? This could be in times of emergency, high levels of traffic around the airport, or a number of other unusual circumstances. I firmly believe that this confusion could be cleared up in a Court of law, but more on that later.
So who are these drivers who are a select band that have been allowed to by-pass the Taxi Feeder Park? Well, they are made up of three separate groups and they are:
- Taxi trade officials from Unite (the union) and the Licensed Taxi Drivers Association (LTDA).
- Taxi marshals.
- Certain members and so called “officials” of the private company, Heathrow Airport Licensed Taxis Society, or HALTS.
All of these are working taxi drivers that possess no skills or authority over and above those of any other working taxi driver, except that they are all part of this select band of privileged drivers. So why are they allowed such status over their other colleagues? The reason is simple! It is because it suits BAA/HAL to have drivers of “importance” on their side. The last thing BAA/HAL wants is for taxi drivers at Heathrow to assert their rights in a proper and forthright way. This would undermine the possible intention of the airport operator to “deregulate” the taxi operation at Heathrow in a similar way that it did when it was the Airport Operator at Gatwick some years ago. There, drivers have to work under the terms and conditions set by the taxi operator that has won the contract to offer its services at Gatwick. No such thing exists at Heathrow, because there, any taxi driver who holds an All London Taxi License can work at Heathrow Airport without the need to do so through a third party company. BAA doesn’t seem to like this one bit, and it would appear that the best way to deal with this situation is to undermine it. And this is where the role of the “Privileged” driver comes in.
Unite and the LTDA
These two taxi trade organisations have had a presence at Heathrow airport for over 40 years, and have managed to establish themselves as the “official” voice of the London taxi trade. Time has seen a number of other trade organisations emerge at Heathrow over the years, but these two have managed to hold a dominant position despite this. In 1993 members of these two trade organisations were persuaded that it would be a good idea to set up a drivers’ mutual society to promote the needs of all taxi drivers at Heathrow; this would enable all drivers at Heathrow to join an organisation that looked after their interests, even if they weren’t members of another trade organisation, including Unite and the LTDA. This was the birth of Heathrow Airport Licensed Taxis Limited, or “HALT” as it became known.
HALT suffered years of mismanagement, and was beset with problems because of a poorly written rule book. I won’t go into the detail here because it is too long winded and would require a separate and lengthy article to cover its history! Suffice to say, the executive committee took advantage of the flaws in the society’s rules and systematically went about transferring its business and assets to a private company that they have set up with a similar sounding name, all without the consent of the members. That company now operates at Heathrow with funding from non-consenting drivers who are forced to pay a levy to it every time they enter the TFP. This company is registered at Companies House under the name “Heathrow Airport Licensed Taxis Society”, or “HALTS”.This is the company that produces the infamous Blue Vouchers that have caused so much controversy at Heathrow; but more on that another time.
So, back to the privileged drivers: Unite and the LTDA have regular meetings with BAA/HAL on a random basis to discuss taxi trade issues; usually once every month or two. There are two other trade organisations that also have trade reps who attend these meetings, and they are the London Cab Drivers Club (LCDC) and Heathrow Airport Taxi Drivers United (HATDU). The trade reps that represent Unite and the LTDA do not pass through the TFP, but have been given the dubious authority to park close to it and receive a large reduction in the amount of time that other drivers have to wait before being sent from the TFP to the ranks. They also have office space provided for them in the TFP compound to conduct business. Reps from both the LCDC and HATDU do not receive this perk, not because BAA won’t allow it, but because they choose not to accept it. These reps know that it is inherently wrong, and have stated as much on many occasions. This begs the question, why do they agree to sit down alongside other trade reps who do accept this perk when they know that it isn’t right? Herein lies one of the problems we have as taxi drivers at Heathrow. Unless those taxi trade reps who know that this is wrong come out and state it as a condition for attending meetings with BAA, the stagnated situation drivers find themselves in won’t change and the status quo at Heathrow won’t ever change either. A line needs to be drawn between what is, and what is not acceptable behaviour before ordinary drivers receive proper representation at Heathrow.
This one will seem very strange to anyone who doesn’t know how the taxi trade at Heathrow has managed to get its own “private army” of tout-busters. The airport operator (HAL) has an obligation to provide security at Heathrow, and does so by allocating funds to the police and employing its own security staff. Security at Heathrow is a major concern for travellers because the reality of a terrorist attack is currently set at “substantial” according to the Home Office website. This means that an attack is a strong possibility, and security at all places where large numbers of the public gather should reflect that. Unfortunately, HAL and the police seem to think that the passenger terminals at Heathrow are worthy of untrained taxi drivers to report “taxi touting and any suspicious behaviour” that may occur. I’m not sure that I would feel too safe in a crowded airport terminal knowing that taxi drivers were sometimes the only visible means of security, but that is what happens at Heathrow airport.
There are around 40 taxi drivers who “volunteer” to act as taxi marshals at Heathrow, and these drivers do not receive any payment from either the police or BAA for their time spent patrolling the terminals. A shift usually means walking around the terminals for about an hour or so, and then these drivers are free to go back to work as taxi drivers. What they do receive, in the form of compensation, is a reduction in the time they would normally have to wait in the Taxi Feeder Park before being sent down to the pick up a fare from one of the terminals. Just like all the other “privileged” drivers, they receive a reduction of around 1/3 of the time that their ordinary colleagues have to wait. There are times when the wait can be anything from 4 to 5 hours. This means that taxi marshals can get to pick up a fare at least one hour ahead of those who are compelled to go through the TFP. Over any period of time this can be a very lucrative advantage over their colleagues who have to wait behind them.
Not only that, but if they do a late shift marshalling, they can take a fare the next day without any wait whatsoever. They then come back to the airport and do yet another ride without having to wait, in lieu of another stint of marshalling later on that day. This offers a huge financial advantage that many other drivers rightfully resent. This all adds to the divide and rule culture that HAL seems so keen to encourage within the London taxi trade. But is this a price worth paying when you consider the risk that it poses to airport security? It is for professional police officers who have the proper training and powers of arrest who should be doing this, not inadequately trained taxi drivers.
The fact that the police can save some of its budget this way is not good enough, especially when London is about to host the Olympic Games. If security is breached at Heathrow because of a lack of policing when the Games come to town, there will be some very embarrassing questions that will have to be answered. In the meantime, Heathrow by-laws are being ignored by BAA/HAL on a daily basis, and this in itself is enough to bring the airport operator to book.
Heathrow Airport Licensed Taxis Society (HALTS)
This group really is the crème de la crème when it comes to perks and privileges. I mentioned the origins of HALTS earlier under the heading Unite and the LTDA, but it is only when you look at what this company does receive in the way of perks and privileges that it is possible to know how BAA/HAL seems to have orchestrated a “them and us” situation within the London taxi trade.
To say that BAA/HAL and HALTS are partners, as HAL officials often state, is to miss the point. The reality is that it is a one sided affair where one group – HAL – tolerates the other group – HALTS – for its own ends. To quote Franklin D. Roosevelt ‘Theymay be bastards, but they are our bastards.’
So what are these “perks and privileges”?
To start with, the directors of HALTS receive a payment of at least 78 pence every time a driver enters the Taxi Feeder Park. This is compulsory as HAL collects this charge within the entry fee. This equates to around £700,000 per year! This money is subsidising a company that has managed to enter into an agreement with BAA/HAL which elevates it as the “preferred taxi provider” for Heathrow Airport. Part of this agreement means that the HALTS web-site is linked to the official Heathrow website. This is a major boost for any company that offers its services to travellers at the airport.
Without this money it is unlikely that HALTS would be able to survive in the real world, let alone compete with any opposition. So when our passengers approach the taxi desks in the terminals they are encouraged to pay by credit card and the passenger may then be taken out to the taxi rank as a fixed fare journey, but often these passengers never get to see the front of the taxi rank but are spirited away by a taxi that hasn’t been through the TFP – fixed fares into London are illegal if they are priced above the metered fare. All this is done by HALTS to “help” their colleagues in the London taxi trade at Heathrow; but the question has to be asked, who are these “colleagues”? It is now common knowledge that the price the passenger pays is between 17-25% more than the driver gets paid; so yet another little earner for HALTS at the drivers’ expense, and let’s not forget, the driver has already been forced to pay a levy to HALTS when passing through the Taxi Feeder Park!
The fact that HALTS has a website means that bookings from passengers can be taken. When the passenger arrives at Heathrow it is anybody’s guess whether that job will go to the front of one of the taxi ranks or elsewhere. Many of these jobs are in fact being put in taxis that driven by HALTS’ “colleagues”. Colin Evans of HALTS has been spotted on many occasions waiting inside the terminals with a name-board! Could this be yet another little earner?
Until all drivers are forced to go through the Taxi Feeder Park, as the Heathrow byelaws state, there will never be fairness at this airport for ordinary taxi drivers. Until Unite the union takes some action against its members who are taking full advantage of exploiting this loop-hole in the system, there will never be fairness at this airport for ordinary taxi drivers, and until the marshals accept that they must receive a more equitable form of compensation for their labours, there will never be fairness or satisfaction for ordinary taxi drivers at this airport. But most importantly, until HALTS directors accept that drivers do not willingly pay a levy to their company, and start to develop their business without our help, there will never be fairness at this airport for ordinary taxi drivers.
Earlier on I stated that it might be possible to force BAA to accept that its interpretation of the byelaws is flawed, and that this could be cleared up in a Court of Law. It is not easy to do this because there are costs involved, and BAA is well known for fronting anyone who tries to force it to do anything. There was a case last year where BAA decided to evict two companies from the forecourts. These two companies had a legal right to be there, but nonetheless, BAA told them that they could no longer offer a meet and greet service on the forecourts. These two companies decided to take the matter to the High Court; a very bold and expensive thing to do, but they won the case after 10 days. The cost of this legal action was £1.5 million, and the two companies were awarded two thirds of their costs. This meant that even though they were right to challenge BAA, they still had to pay £250,000 in legal fees.
So what chance has the London taxi trade of getting BAA to accept that it is wrong to allow so many taxi drivers to by-pass the TFP on a permanent basis? I think that there could be a way, because as they say, there’s more than one to skin a cat.