In your 2016 manifesto you promised “special privileges built in… for those who become a licensed London taxi driver.” In your 2021 manifesto your offer to black cab drivers read: “Black cabs and private hire vehicles continue to play an important role in London’s transport offer, and I know how difficult the last 12 months have been for the sector. I will work with them while expecting the highest safety and environmental standards.” Why was your more recent offer such a downgrade in comparison to your 2016 pledge?
My manifesto set out my determination to continue to work with both the black cab trade and the private hire industry for the good of London. I know my Deputy Mayor for Transport and the TfL Commissioner will be meeting again with representatives from the trade soon, demonstrating the importance we place on these relationships. Taxis have a proud history in London. My Transport Strategy recognises the important role they continue to play in London, providing an accessible service for Londoners and visitors and the special privileges for taxis that I referred to in the 2016 manifesto remain in place.
Since 2016, I have led TfL to support taxi drivers including through providing £30 million to support members of the taxi trade to delicence older, more polluting vehicles and support the uptake of greener, zero-emission taxis, more than any previous Mayor. Creating more than 150 additional taxi ranks, more than any previous Mayor. Providing access to most bus lanes, more than any previous Mayor. Establishing a taxi-dedicated rapid charge point and supporting plug-in taxi grants, more than any previous Mayor.
I know that many taxi drivers and their families have been personally affected by the pandemic and tragically some drivers have lost their lives. My thoughts remain with their families and friends. I would like to thank all drivers for their tremendous efforts in supporting London’s communities through the pandemic. I have heard stories of drivers offering free trips to our NHS staff, taking vulnerable Londoners to vaccination sites, delivering groceries and medication and much more. The pandemic has been tough on the industry and we have done what we can to support them throughout.
TfL has met at least fortnightly with industry representatives to understand the challenges they face and identify ways to help. TfL has handed out free facemasks to drivers and created a video to reassure the public that taxis can be safely used. They have licensed vehicles for a further period of six months when vehicle inspections were not available. They have sought and relayed advice from the London Scientific Advisory Cell on the safe operation of services.
I agree, the industry needs more direct financial support and I have written to the Chancellor to draw his attention to the plight of drivers in the capital, in particular to ensure they can access existing income support programmes. My support for the industry has in no way declined and I see taxis playing a pivotal role in London’s recovery.
No, I know you do not, but I do. You said that you are doing all you can to help the trade and I accept that you are doing some things to help the trade. But some of the changes you have made have been quite onerous on the trade, especially the older drivers and those with the older taxis.
Would you, in light of the COVID pandemic and the damage that has done to the trade, would you in light of that consider reversing your rule to reduce the older taxis’ lifespan to 12 years? Would you give that some consideration, Mr Mayor? It will not make a lot of difference and it would make a big difference to those people who have been struggling over the last year and a bit. Equally, you said you have given more access to bus lanes, but in fact you have cut down some of the routes that they traditionally use, much to the detriment of disabled people. Would you again consider making it a rule that taxis go where buses go?
Let me deal with the number of points you raise in your question. It is a fact that, unless we address the issue of NOx emissions coming from taxis, we are not going to reduce the NOx emission levels that we are required to do by law. By me giving greater financial support to the taxis to delicence, but also to have the cleaner zero-emissions capable vehicles - record sums never given before - we would be able to meet the 2025 legal requirements to reduce NOx emissions from taxis by 65% compared to the 2013 levels. To do as you suggest would mean one health crisis being replaced by another one, which we cannot afford to do. We are going to continue our generous support to the taxi sector.
In relation to the bus lanes, even you have to accept us allowing taxis to use bus lanes that are now 24 hours a day, seven days a week, is a big boon for taxis because they can use these bus lanes when they otherwise would not be able to do so. Almost 100% of bus lanes in London can be used by taxis, which means they can accelerate through congestion they would otherwise have and avoid challenges they would otherwise have.
Even you would have to accept - and I can repeat it again if you did not hear me - the progress made in the last five years with some of the changes we have made to support taxis and the support we are giving to the taxi industry. The rapid charging points reserved for taxis are almost 100 now. We have more rapid charging points than any other city in Western Europe. That being said, I accept fully the challenges they face. In the years before I became Mayor, the number of private hire vehicles (PHV) went up from 60,000 to 120,000. I appreciate the challenge that has brought for them. I appreciate those PHV drivers do not do ‘the knowledge’ like black cab drivers do. So we have done what we can within the resources that we have to support the black cab trade.
Almost, so that is not 100%. That is part of the problem, some of the very strategic routes that they need to use to get disabled people to hospitals are now blocked to them. That is something I would urge you, Mr Mayor, to think again on, especially seeing as you lost a court case on that very point.
In relation to charging points, yes, you have made some progress, although it is slow. Again, there are issues with PHVs sitting on those charging points. Can you give some assurance that there will be better enforcement of that?
No. That results in a 30-minute detour for those black cab drivers with disabled people going from Liverpool Street to St Thomas’ Hospital. That is not being considerate, Mr Mayor. If it is only one, why can you not change it? Why do you have to insist on having this one? Is this some kind of virtue signalling for you? What is it?
No, no, we have not actually, because we can start talking about low traffic neighbourhoods (LTNs), if you like. We can talk about the ones in Redbridge. We can talk about the ones in Lewisham. We can talk about the ones in other boroughs where access to cabs has now been denied. Again, disabled people are being unfairly disadvantaged by having those.
Mr Mayor, all I am going to say is that I wanted to give you the opportunity, because we had a very nice opening - perhaps I did not and I should have, congratulated you on your re-election, as many have done, Mr Mayor - to try and help a trade that is in desperate measures at the moment. They have not been able to work. They still cannot work, a lot of them. There is not the footfall in central London which they are reliant on. I just wanted to give you the opportunity, Mr Mayor, to make a few minor adjustments so that you could help the trade. Clearly you do not want to do that. I am going to leave it at that. Thank you.