London’s iconic taxis are an important part of our heritage and provide a vital service to people across the city. However, neither TfL nor I have control over the number of licences applied for.
I have made my support for the taxi trade and its place in London’s transport network very clear. Both my Transport Strategy and my comprehensive Taxi and Private Hire Action Plan show this support. For example, TfL is investing £600,000 to increase the number of taxi ranks across the capital. Since 2016 we have already created an additional 77 taxi ranks. TfL has introduced mandatory card and contactless payment and enabled taxis to access 18 additional bus lanes on the road network. These initiatives have made customer journeys quicker and more convenient.
TfL is promoting the benefits of being a London taxi driver to those looking for new careers by raising the profile of the Knowledge of London. Recently TfL officers discussed the Knowledge on a podcast run by the Licensed Taxi Drivers’ Association. After listening to the views of the taxi trade in the recent Tooley Street consultation, TfL confirmed that black cab drivers will continue to be able to access the road from Borough High Street.
At the same time, tackling London’s air pollution is a public health priority. Taxis have an important role to play in combating poor air quality and protecting Londoners’ health. That is why I have provided significant funding and financial incentives to the trade. I have created a £42 million fund, which offers payment of up to £10,000 for taxi owners who choose to retire their older, more polluting vehicles. £5 million of this is available to help eligible taxi owners convert to liquid petroleum gas systems. I continue to contribute a grant offering £7,500 off the purchase of a zero-emission-capable (ZEC) taxi.
To support the uptake of cleaner, greener vehicles, TfL is investing £18 billion to deliver a rapid-charging network across the capital. TfL already has more than 200 charging points, 73 of which are dedicated to taxis. London now has over 2,100 ZEC taxis licensed and I am delighted that the first pure electric taxi, the Dynamo, has just been licensed by TfL, providing taxi drivers with a choice of two ZEC taxis.
Thank you for your answer, Mr Mayor. I would like to say thank you, first of all, because one of the things I have asked you about a lot is continuing to allow taxis to go along Tooley Street and Duke Street Hill and you have listened to me and you have listened to the consultation. Thank you for acting on behalf of taxis on that small point.
However, my question was: what are you going to do to stop the reduction in the size of the taxi fleet? Since you became Mayor in 2016, the taxi fleet has gone down from 21,759 to 19,122 today. There are over 2,600 taxis that have left the fleet. The number of taxi drivers has gone down by more than that, by nearly 3,000. The size is reducing dramatically, whether that is by design or by unintended consequences.
You have mentioned some things here, but one of the biggest things that taxi drivers are concerned about is your recent announcement that you are going to reduce the maximum age of a taxi licence from 15 years to 12 years. That will reduce the size of the fleet even more. We had a motion last week in the Assembly asking for you to reconsider. Will you reconsider that point?
Let me unpack the two-minute question, Chair, into the various points.
The numbers of vehicles and drivers have been going down since 2009/10. That did not begin in May 2016. In 2009/10 there were 22,500 vehicles and 25,000 drivers. The dip did not begin in May 2016. There are a number of reasons that you are well aware of for the reduction since 2009/10: increased competition from private hire vehicles (PHVs), the general macroeconomic factors resulting in reduced public spend on taxis, as well as more taxis being decommissioned, as you have referred to at the end of your question.
The increased compensation we are giving makes it more attractive for taxi drivers to do so. We should be proud of the fact that we have more than 2,000 ZEC taxis and proud of the fact that rather than taxis contributing more toxic stuff to the air, they are now taking steps to address that.
You are right. There are challenges in relation to the numbers of new people doing the Knowledge and the numbers of new people applying for licences. That is why TfL is working with those who want to be black cab drivers to make it easier to do so and also to raise awareness of it.
You have just given a figure in your answer there and you have said that the taxi fleet was 22,500 in 2010 and, therefore, it has been going down since then. However, looking at those numbers, that means that in six years from 2010 to 2016 it has gone down by 741, but in the three and a half years since you have been Mayor it has gone down by 2,637. That is over three times as much in your tenure.
You have to be responsible for the reduction in the fleet while you have been the Mayor and it is going down at a rate that is unprecedented. Some of the things you have said there are fine but have not had any effect on stopping the haemorrhaging of the numbers of taxis.
What would you like to see the taxi fleet be by the time you finish your term here in May 2020? Would you like to see the numbers go up again?
Again, you referred to vehicles, not drivers. There are more drivers sharing vehicles now, which was not the case before. Often you would have a driver with one vehicle and now you have two drivers and sometimes three drivers sharing a vehicle. There is also the phenomenon of renting vehicles as well.
I am quite clear. I have examined the policies of the first Mayor and the second Mayor. We have the most pro black taxi policies of all three Mayors and I include myself as the third Mayor. I am happy to be examined by the previous two Mayors. We are doing what we can to try to help the black taxi trade, but it is a fact that in the last eight years before I became Mayor the number of PHVs doubled almost. You know this because you talked about it in the past before.
You cannot have selective amnesia and pretend there was a great time between 2008 and 2016 and suddenly things have gone bad since 2016. We are doing all the things we said we would do in our Action Plan: more bus lanes that can be used, increased marshalling, making sure we tackle those who are plying for hire illegally, making sure we financially assist the black taxi trade.
By the way, I am criticised by private vehicles for subsidising the black taxi trade and I am criticised by you for not doing enough.
Mr Mayor, you have a big decision to make this month, which is whether to re-licence Uber or not and that is going to have a big effect on the size of the PHV part of the trade. If you do not re-licence Uber because you think it is not fit and proper because it has not fulfilled all the conditions in the probationary 15-month licence you have given, that will help the taxi trade.
What is your position on that or are you not ready to make an announcement on it yet?
I was asking you if you are ready to make an announcement or not. Obviously, from that comment, you are not ready to make an announcement. Unfortunately, I have run out of time and so I will leave it there. Thank you, Chair.