Yes, I believe that London’s taxis provide a reliable and trusted service to the city. Therefore, passengers’ safety and convenience, aided by drivers’ extensive knowledge of our streets, also play an important role in providing accessible transport to all. My 2016 Taxi and Private Hire Action Plan recognised this and demonstrated my commitment to ensuring London continues to have a world-class taxi service.
I have since taken a number of actions so that the taxi industry can thrive. For example, I have ensured that drivers can continue to access bus lanes. TfL has enabled taxi access to 18 more bus lanes at key locations on the TfL road network and has written to London boroughs requesting access to bus lanes on the roads they control. Taxis can access 95% of bus lanes by length on TfL roads.
TfL has delivered a 29% increase in the number of taxi ranks across London, already exceeding its target of an additional 20% by 2020, and it is continuing to press local authorities for additional rank locations.
Another key focus of my Action Plan was encouraging London’s taxi fleet to become a world leader in adopting zero-emission-capable taxis and supporting drivers’ transition to clean vehicles. Taxis continue to play a crucial role in helping London meet our air quality targets with almost 2,000 new electric taxis already licensed. The figure was zero when I became Mayor. These vehicles are hugely popular with passengers and I am proud to see so many on our streets.
To support drivers, TfL has restructured the delicensing scheme. This scheme provides up to £10,000 to those who trade in their older, dirty vehicles early, double the maximum under the previous scheme from Boris Johnson when he was the Mayor. TfL has also set up a £5 million fund to help drivers of Euro 5 taxis to confer to liquid petroleum gas (LPG) and continues to contribute towards a £7,500 grant for the purchase of a zero-emission-capable taxi.
To maintain the availability of wheelchair-accessible transport in central London, taxis are exempt from paying in the Congestion Charge Zone and the ULEZ. TfL also recently published the results of a consultation on changes to Tooley Street. I listened to the trade and taxis will be allowed to access, along with buses and cycles, while other road users will not.
Finally, TfL has published a brochure which encourages people from all walks of life to become London taxi drivers.
Thank you, Mr Mayor. I do not know if you can help here, Mr Mayor, but you may or may not be aware that NSL runs the phone service for taxis, both the private hire and the black cabs, if they have to phone in and get relicensing appointments. At the moment, they are having real problems with this phone service. The average wait time, according to TfL, is about 12.5 minutes, which is an awfully long time. I was on the phone to a taxi driver last night who had to wait on more than one occasion for over one hour. There are drivers out there who are aggregating up to 11 hours because they cannot wait forever if they get a job or whatever. It really is a major issue for them.
I was just wondering, Mr Mayor, whether you could help by using your good officers to have a word in whichever ear necessary to find out what the problem is and resolve it.
Chair, I thank the Assembly Member for raising this real concern for taxi drivers. I undertake to go away and look into this and write back to him as he has raised this. I will do that very shortly because it is a real source of concern, I bet, for those taxi drivers. I thank him for raising that and I will look into this.
Thank you. I really appreciate that, Mr Mayor. Thank you very much. Could I also raise the issue of the taxi age limit? You may recall that we had a fairly civilised discussion last time and I have asked you more than once if you would be prepared to meet with me and representatives from the Licensed Taxi Drivers’ Association (LTDA) to discuss your plans for reducing the taxi age.
I absolutely understand why you want to reduce the taxi age. According to TfL’s figures, it would save something like 8,000 grams of nitrogen oxides (NOx) per kilometre, which is very laudable. However, I did explain to you at the time, Mr Mayor, that the proposal by the LTDA that I wanted to discuss with you would save 12,000 grams of NOx per kilometre, which is 50% more. You said that you were aware of that and said that you did not need to have the meeting. That is fine. I respect the fact that you may not want to meet me, but you have now introduced the proposals that we were discussing. You have not, as far as I am aware, responded to the LTDA. By so doing, you are actually putting out 50% more pollution than necessary. I really cannot understand why you have done that.
I am sorry that the Assembly Member is out of the loop, but the LTDA has met with my Deputy Mayor [for Transport], Heidi Alexander, and those meetings have taken place since the last time we spoke. I am sorry you are out the loop in relation to that. It is an issue that you had better raise with the LTDA rather than with me.
One of the things that TfL is also doing is looking into the technological solution suggested by the LTDA, which is to retrofit the Euro 5s so that they are compliant. It is not yet ready, but TfL is working with them to see if there is a technical solution to those Euro 5 taxis to give them a greater life expectancy. It is not true to say that any of the options put forward by the LTDA or others can address the real concerns caused by taxis causing issues around particulate matter and NOx into the air.
Just so we are clear, taxis currently contribute 25% of nitrogen dioxide and NOx road transport emissions in central London. Because of the improvements made elsewhere by the ULEZ - they are not covered by the ULEZ for the reasons I have said in my answer - they will contribute more in percentage terms to NOx, 30% and going higher. Unless we take action, we cannot meet the legal requirements placed upon us as a city and will be in breach.
That is why it is important to take this action. That is why we will be consulting widely and we have announced our plans. If there is a technical solution that makes us get there quicker, of course we will follow this up, and that is why TfL is talking to the LTDA.
Yes, but the problem is that by reducing the life expectancy of these cabs, it does not make it economic to make those retrofits that would reduce the NOx. That is the whole argument.
Also, I do not know if you are aware of this, but a lot of people bought their taxis with a 15-year-life with a view to using them until their retirement. This is causing major problems in the trade for people who want to retire. It is also causing problems for people who want to hire cabs because the value of the cabs have gone down. A lot of the larger hiring companies have sold off their older cabs and have taken advantage of your £10,000. That then means we have a number of drivers now who cannot find a cab to do their jobs. You are affecting drivers livelihoods by this method. If you had stuck with what the LTDA had said, one, that would not happen, two, you would get a better saving and, three, we would have more cabs that are producing less NOx. I do not understand why you were not prepared to have the meeting and you were not prepared to help the taxi trade.
I have explained in answer to a previous question. I do not want to repeat myself because I may be interrupted. We have met with the LTDA, not just TfL but also the Deputy Mayor Heidi Alexander has met with the LTDA. TfL is looking into the technological solutions that the LTDA is suggesting.
The good news is that because I doubled what was being offered by the previous Mayor, we are seeing more and more taxis moving towards the electric option, going from zero when your friend [Boris Johnson] was the Mayor to 2,000 in record time. We have increased the delicensing scheme as well. We have also across London, which had not talked about now because you must welcome this, record numbers of rapid-charging points reserved for black taxis, more than 70, and we have a really good plan to expand that even further.
If the LTDA has some concerns, they know how to reach TfL. They know how to reach me and Deputy Mayor Heidi Alexander. However, we will not always agree. You would not expect us to always agree with what has been said by representatives of various groups. Sometimes we will agree. We will try to work through them to make sure we find a solution that works for everyone.
You are being a bit disingenuous here by claiming that under the previous Mayor there were zero electric taxis and under you there are 2,000 because there were no electric taxis to be bought. Also, you promised five electric taxis and there is only one.
Let us not get into a row about this. Are you prepared, if the evidence is there for you, to reverse this reducing the life of these older taxis if they can be retrofitted and their life can be extended and it becomes economical and they pollute less?
I have been quite clear that we need to clean the air in London. How we get there is up for discussion, but you have had three years in relation to plans from 2016 until 2019. We still do not have a solution from you as how we address the issue of the diesel taxis adding to the air quality crisis in London. Your friend of eight years before then made no progress in relation to electric taxis, in relation to a more generous delicensing scheme and also in relation to other things that are helping the black taxi trade.
There are more bus lanes since I became Mayor, more taxi ranks since I became Mayor, more encouraging the Knowledge since I became Mayor and more stuff around how you pay for your fare with contactless cards. We can talk about some of the challenges faced by the black taxi trade and they are big challenges and I accept that, but even you would have to give some credit to the current Mayor for the steps taken to assist the black taxi trade since 2016 at the same time as cleaning up the dangerous air in our city.
I will put this question to you. First of all, I have been working over the three years to help the taxi trade and put forward the idea - along, I believe, with Assembly Member Pidgeon - around LPG, which took a long time to get accepted. That was very slow there. I put it to you that the bulk of the people driving those black cabs at the moment will not say that you have done a good job for them. In fact, there is a load of reasons why they would not agree with that, but I do not want to get into an argument and I would like to finish the session there, please.