You don’t need me to tell you that the threat to the taxi cab trade is real. But too many MPs, particularly some at the top of our Government, don’t seem to realise that the iconic black cab will be driven off the streets unless politicians take action. That’s why on 22nd March I presented a 10 minute rule bill to the House of Commons. The Bill sought to put these issues on the political agenda by putting fair competition and passenger safety at the heart of the taxi and private hire vehicle industry in London and across the country.
At its best, disruptive technology drives innovation and increases competition, with enormous benefits for businesses and consumers alike. However, as we have seen on the streets of London, it also brings significant challenges, and some of those challenges have been neglected for far too long.
The debate about the future of London’s taxi industry has been unfairly characterised as a debate between those who support competition and innovation on the one hand and those who want to cling to the past on the other.
But the cabbies I represent are not afraid of change and innovation, they are not afraid of new technology and they are not afraid of competition. The development of apps like Gett and Hailo prove this. But, as I told MPs, cabbies are finding it increasingly hard to compete in a changing marketplace with both hands tied behind their backs.
My constituency, Ilford North, was once known as “Green Badge valley”, and it is still not unusual to see taxis parked on the driveways of Gants Hill, Clayhall, Barkingside and Woodford. I also represent hundreds of minicab drivers and drivers who work for new market entrants such as Uber. I’m in favour of competition and choice as much as anyone else, but I also recognise that the explosion in the number of private hire vehicles and cheap and quick apps like Uber present real challenges that pose a risk to passengers as well as the traditional black cab industry.
There’s also an issue of basic fairness. Is it really fair to expect cabbies to compete on fixed fares while apps such as Uber are able to drive their prices down, as profit-shifting allows them to avoid paying their fair share of taxes here in the UK? I’ve seen too many examples of people hanging up their green badges and leaving the trade because they can’t make ends meet. This is bad for competition, bad for passengers, and bad for London.
I believe we need action in three key areas:
Firstly, to increase the training requirements for PHV vehicle drivers, to help groups who often have problems with PHV drivers such as the disabled and make sure they understand plying for hire and touting regulations.
Secondly, we should switch to an operators insurance model so passengers know they are safe and TFL can check insurance easier.
Finally we should make sure that fair and proper taxes are paid in the UK by multinational companies.
Unfortunately, my bill will not get a second reading due to pressures on the parliamentary calendar, but I hope that the government will listen to the issues it raises and take action. The campaign does not stop there though – you can see what you can do on Here and I’ll continue to raise this in parliament on your behalf.
Wes Streeting is the Member of Parliament for Ilford North