Dropping a standard taxi service is NOT PROGRESSIVE
A recent report by a think tank which called for the Knowledge of London (KOL) to be scrapped and for minicabs to be allowed to take the public to the streets for hire caused a brief stir in the media and industry.
The new report, “A Fare Shake: Reforming Taxis for the 21st Century,” has been released by the Adam Smith Institute (ASI). He argued that the government should move on to overhauling the current taxi laws, creating a “more vibrant sector” to better meet the needs of the public.
In short, the report recommended SIX key policies. These included:
Eliminate duplication and regressive licensing by creating a single, standard licensing regime enforced by a national licensing authority.
Abolish KOL testing which the report says has become unnecessary due to GPS and digital maps.
Allow minicabs to be hailed from the curb and allow all licensed operators to use dedicated bus lanes.
Support more light paratransit vehicles. These are higher capacity vehicles that run regular services on high demand routes and can be called by a customer.
Allow drivers to reclaim the cost of CCTV from passengers against taxes and encourage the use of online safety kits to improve safety standards.
Provide incentives for taxi and PHV drivers to switch to greener vehicles.
Maxwell Marlow, author of the report and head of development and research at the Adam Smith Institute, said: “Britain is operating essential services on the laws of the last millennium. It’s time to put the brakes on vested interests, which inflate costs and barriers with archaic and defunct “knowledge”, and give consumers more choice.
“We need to simplify our licensing system, make it fairer and more transparent, while ensuring our fleets are greener, safer and more efficient than before. The report contains a myriad of policies to give Britons the freedom to travel they deserve, boost the economy and ease the cost of living crisis for many along the way.
So what was the response?
Given the media attention with the headlines about the removal of the KOL, many in the taxi industry have had to go through all the reasons why two-tier licensing works.
Steve McNamara, General Secretary of LTDA, said in the TAXI newspaper: “It goes without saying that the last thing big apps want is more rules, regulations or requirements and do whatever they can. to exert political pressure and gain the support of politicians from all parties and places.
Cleverly enough, their press releases referred to ‘knowledge disposal’, which secured them excellent media coverage. I then spent the day doing interviews, countering ASI’s calls for a race to the bottom, and defending the KOL, our safety record, our green credentials, and our professionalism.
“The report is going nowhere.”
Point by point
So, was the whole report a waste of time? Many would say so, but some talking points are currently changing or are still hotly contested. Here we will go over some of them in more detail.
“Eliminate duplication and regressive licensing by creating a single, standard licensing regime enforced by a national licensing authority.”
The taxi and PHV industry has long been advocating for a better and more up-to-date best practice guide. That ball is rolling, however, after the government opened a 12-week consultation to update guidance provided to local authorities to better cope with new digital ways of working following the rise of car-sharing services.
The Department for Transport (DfT) first issued best practice guidance to licensing authorities in 2006 and these were updated in 2010.
It is recognized that much has changed in the industry and now is the time to update the guidelines to ensure they reflect new ways of working, new technologies and feedback from interested parties.
More than 270 licensing authorities follow these guidelines. Changes to window tint, taxi identification, vehicle age limits, enhanced driving tests and the end of topographical testing for PHV drivers are all likely to feature prominently throughout the consolation.
“Abolish KOL testing which the report says has become unnecessary due to GPS and digital maps.”
The report focuses heavily on London when it comes to scrapping topographical testing, but that argument could be transferred to any licensing authority.
Any taxi driver will tell you, myself included, that KOL is vital if you want to provide the best possible service to passengers. Surely there are few jobs in the world where having less knowledge in your profession is better for the client after all.
GPS is a fantastic tool if you don’t know a city. It will get you through AB in one form or another. Will it take you the best route though? Will the journey be safer with a driver constantly looking at a small screen rather than the road ahead?
GPS serves a purpose when finding road closures, but it very rarely provides the fastest route in London taxi drivers’ experience where there are multiple route options available. If you’re heading east to west through a city, chances are everyone following a sat nav on the same route is looking at the exact same route as you. If everyone is on the same road… how will it ever be the fastest?
Knowing a city inside out can mean taxi drivers can react instinctively. Something that technology has yet to achieve.
When picking up passengers hailing taxis, it’s also important that you pick up and go. Spending time entering the destination on a sat nav as traffic forms behind isn’t progressive, is it? What if the internet connection is slow or non-existent, then what does the driver do without any knowledge of the road?
London and other licensing authorities who run detailed topographical tests should be proud of the level of professionalism and knowledge their drivers offer visitors and residents alike. Dumbing down is not progressive.
“Allow minicabs to be hailed from the curb and allow all licensed operators to use the dedicated bus lanes.”
A minicab should be booked in advance so they can prepare for the trip. This might involve consulting a map to determine a route, calling ahead to arrange a safe pick-up area, or offering a price based on the route they plan to take.
With in-depth knowledge of the area, taxi drivers are trained and ready to be hailed, know the destination immediately and leave in seconds. The public is assured of an expected level of service based on the strict standards imposed on taxi drivers and the vehicles they drive.
All taxis in the capital are wheelchair accessible vehicles (WAV). This requires curbside access to use the ramps and board disabled people safely. There might be a glimmer of argument that WAV minicabs might also enjoy similar access, but due to the pre-booking nature of their job, operators may communicate before pick-up where a location safe, away from the bus lanes, could be found. It should also be noted that due to the cost of vehicles, only 1% of PHVs in the capital are registered as WAVs.
‘Support more light paratransit vehicles. These are higher capacity vehicles that run regular services on high demand routes and can be called by a customer.
This is a bit of an odd inclusion in the report. These on-demand bus services are neither a taxi nor a PHV and have already been extensively tested in London and across the country. Unfortunately, demand for these services has been low and many have been withdrawn.
In 2018, Transport for London (TfL) helped fund and promote GoSutton’s ‘on-demand’ bus trial for 12 months. Using mobile and predictive technology, GoSutton investigated whether flexible, demand-responsive transportation services can play a role in increasing the use of public transportation. A year later, the service was discontinued.
“Allow drivers to reclaim the cost of CCTV from passengers against taxes and encourage the use of online safety kits to improve safety standards.”
After a recent consultation in 2021, it was decided that owners of taxis and minicabs could choose whether or not to install in-vehicle CCTV in their vehicles.
In-vehicle CCTV does not include external/forward facing cameras such as dashcams. Research from 2021 shows that in London, less than 10% of taxi and PHV drivers have installed in-vehicle CCTV.
CCTV remains a choice as to whether individuals invest in the equipment. This can already be claimed as a business expense.
“Provide incentives for taxi and PHV drivers to switch to greener vehicles.”
The Department for Transport (DfT) recently reaffirmed its support for electric vehicles (EVs) by detailing the various grants available to help businesses and taxi drivers switch to EVs.
Taxi drivers can still claim up to £7,500 off the purchase price of a new electric taxi, but the plug-in car subsidy has now been dropped for the general motorist.