5 June 2020

Heidi Alexander
Deputy Mayor for Transport
City Hall
The Queen’s Walk
London SE1 2AA

 

Dear Deputy Mayor,

On 28 May 2020, the Mayor invited Licensed London Taxi Drivers to advance representations, expressing views on the proposed London Streetspace Plan (LSP) and expressly how those changes might impact working practices.

United Trade Action Group (“UTAG”) intends to make said representations on behalf of approximately 3,000 drivers, the majority of Licensed Taxi Trade suppliers and together presenting a unified position to Transport for London (“TfL”). We also believe that it is incumbent on us to make representations on behalf of our customers – the general public, especially as Licensed Taxis provide “social value” and are legally required to be wheelchair accessible. They also provide a wide range of unique features which make them better placed to play an essential role in enabling people with protected characteristics, those considered vulnerable including the elderly to complete door-to-door journeys where other forms of transport may not be available or accessible.

The whole country has of course been adversely affected by COVID-19 and we, as a Licensed Trade, recognise that it will take a great amount of effort and skill to implement “Project Restart”. As world leaders in our profession, the Licensed London Taxi Trade, with its wheelchair accessible fleet of vehicles (where 2 metre social distancing comes as standard) and highly trained drivers, want to play our role to be part of the solution, as we offer a key service that is both valuable to the city and unrivalled. Especially important in London with a population of almost 9 million, and more than 60% of commuters in the city using public transport. Compared with 7% in the UK as a whole.

Whilst we recognise that proportionate changes need to be made to the road network in an effort to support Project Restart and the proposed LSP, it is not accepted that Licensed Taxis need be excluded from said roads. This puts many travellers, especially those with protected characteristics, such as the elderly or people with disabilities at a distinct disadvantage, as most of these protected travellers cannot walk or cycle, thus excluding them from travelling at all. This cannot be TfL’s intention and we urge TfL to reconsider the needs of this special class of traveller, some of whom rely solely on the service we offer. The proposed LSP also seems incongruous with the Department for Transport’s Strategy for Disabled People which states “This Government wants to deliver a fully inclusive transport system. Our desire is to move from infrastructure design and service provision which focusses mainly on achieving ‘accessible transport’ (i.e. retrofitting existing infrastructure to meet the needs of disabled people) to delivering ‘inclusive travel’.

Such an approach removes the focus on infrastructure and takes a more holistic approach to the wide range of measures that can support people with visible and less visible impairments”.

There is concern an emerging pattern of not taking an inclusive approach to temporary measures for social distancing are beginning to emerge across London. We fully recognise the role active travel will play in this emergence to the “new normal” and support those who are able to walk and cycle in doing so, in fact many drivers do when not working. However, we have first-hand experience that in reality, not all can walk or cycle. We do believe Licensed Taxis can play a key role in supporting the measures you propose if we retain the necessary access to the road and bridges that enables Licensed Taxi drivers to carry out their jobs efficiently.

We are concerned our key services are being overlooked and in turn our passengers, particularly those the Equality Act 2010 is designed to protect. People with protected characteristics are being forgotten, as roads are closed, which in turn will limit their independence and fails to consider their needs. Further, this policy does not support the Department for Transport’s aspiration for the UK to become a world leader for accessible and inclusive travel.

TfL’s own research and figures provides us with further details. 11% of Londoners consider themselves to be disabled with other estimates of up to 24%. The Family Resource Survey 2016 – 2017 puts disability at 14.5 per cent for the whole of London. The vast majority (93%) of disabled Londoners say their impairments limit their ability to travel. The most frequently mentioned disability is that of mobility impairment (62% of disabled Londoners and seven per cent of all Londoners say they are mobility impaired). Nineteen per cent of disabled Londoners report having more than one impairment. There is more London can do “London is a major international metropolis in a wealthy country, and yet its transportation system too often makes 12 per cent of its citizens with disabilities feel them all the more” [James Moore – The Independent]. The population is also ageing, by 2040 13% of the UK population will be over 75 an increase from 8% today so the transport strategy needs to cater for this “growing market”.

The Equality Act 2010 also provides that a public authority, must in the exercise of its functions, have due regard to advance equality of opportunity between persons who share a relevant protected characteristic and persons who do not share it. It is incumbent on TfL to remove or minimise disadvantages suffered by persons who share a protected characteristic.

The elderly and the disabled (including wheelchair users and persons with restricted vision) have a distinct and particular need to be able to hail taxis which are easily visible, in the lane nearest the pavement, and for there to be ease of access from the pavement when they are flagged down.

Taxis are also recognised as a safe and quick way of making door-to-door journeys, and the 100 per cent accessible fleet is essential for disabled people at times when other public transport is scarce, does not result in a door-to-door journey or ceases to run at full capacity.

It is arguable that the exclusion of Licensed Taxis from certain roads by only giving timed access exacerbates and amplifies the disadvantage. In practice it offers a perception of universal access for disabled passengers and those with other protected characteristics without giving full access. The Knowledge of London is based on the shortest distance between two points which in practice is used to charge a metered fare calculated by time and distance, regulated by TFL.

In London where individual car ownership is low, the alternative to owning a vehicle and the need for the accompanying Blue Badge permit is often access to a Licensed Taxi service which is accessible and inclusive to enable day to day travel, be that to remain in employment or participate fully in leisure activities.

In addition, Part 3 of the Equality Act 2010 gives disabled people a right of access to goods, facilities, services and premises and makes it unlawful for service providers to treat disabled people less favourably than non- disabled people for a reason related to their disability. The exclusion of Licensed Taxis who provided door- to-door services, from parts of the road network or to only permit timed access e.g. outside the hours of 7.00am to 7.00pm, when passengers have previously had universal access would give rise to the provision of a far diminished service by restricting the number of wheelchair accessible Taxis in specific areas of London at specific times.

TfL has previously justified its policy allowing black cabs certain privileges and should do so again. In the The Queen on the application of Eventech Ltd v The Parking Adjudicator [2012] EWHC 1903 (Admin) it justified black cabs to travel in designated bus lanes. It was recognised that Licensed Taxis should be easily visible in the lane nearest the pavement and for there to be ease of access from the pavement when they are flagged down, particularly by disabled passengers. TfL emphasised that Licensed Taxis are required to be wheelchair accessible and that its policy documents make clear that the needs of the disabled are one of its primary concerns – again, we anticipate that it will be TfL’s primary concern when considering the proposed LSP.

Licensed Taxis can and should be part of the solution and its very nature distinguished from others when considering the proposed LSP. In the Eventech case Mr Justice Burton set out the material differences between private hire “mini-cabs” and Licensed Taxis. Inter alia this included its ability to be hailed, ’ply for hire’ and that all Licensed Taxis are required to be adapted for wheelchair access – there being no such requirement for other taxis. The Eventech case provides good authority that Licensed Taxis can be prescribed privileges in terms of road access and usage.

You shall be aware that as of 1st January 2018, the Licensed Taxi Trade has been transitioning to Zero Emission Capable (“ZEC”) vehicles, with approximately £180 million invested at the time of writing. You are probably not aware that in the preceding two-years (2016-2018) the Licensed Trade invested approximately £140 million into a new diesel class, namely EU6 Standard. TFL recognised this high standard at Question 4 of its own Taxi Age Limit Consultation 2019, collectively these latest vehicles now make up one third of the Licensed Taxi Fleet.

Due to the recent change in Taxi Age Limits, following the 2019 consultation, more than circa 4000 older taxis are now due to retire within the next two-years owing to the recent re-calibration. Assuming only 2000 were actually replaced with ZEC due to difficult economic conditions and driver age profiles (see Taxi Age Limit Consultation 2019), the Licensed Taxi fleet would shrink to just 17,000 vehicles, with approximately fifty percent of Licensed Taxis using the cleanest available fuels in their class by November 2022. This would significantly reduce NOx levels and meet TfL’s targets (albeit it through fleet shrinkage that will negatively impact travellers with protected characteristics and cost industry jobs, rather than the take-up of 9000 ZEC). Given time, support and access to all roads, the Licensed Taxi fleet shall make the necessary adjustment to support the Mayor’s Clean Air Strategy, whist diligently serving the travelling public. No driver wants to be spending the working day in an unhealthy environment and subjecting others to the same.

However, the problem we face as an industry is one of economic confidence. Without economic confidence, one cannot reasonably expect drivers or taxi fleet owners to continue to invest into cleaner ZEC vehicles that are substantially more expensive to purchase. Confidence is built on stability which is undermined with major policy change(s), such as road exclusions. If Licensed Taxis were to be excluded from vast tranches of the current road network, it would be amiss of TfL if it believed that investment would be maintained at the previous levels, as set out herein. We have serious, justifiable concerns that the over 360-year-old Licensed Taxi Trade could survive, such is the seriousness of the measures under consideration with the proposed LSP.

The already shrinking Taxi Fleet should be of concern to TfL now, if not later owing to it having a material negative affect on the ability of travellers with protected characteristics to access areas they wish to do so and puts them at a disadvantage. This shrinkage cannot be allowed to continue.

If TfL wishes to maintain a Licensed Taxis service, they need to take into account economic viability and on that basis, they will have to recognise that the job becomes unviable if we are unable to access infrastructure, excluding the driver from taking the most efficient route and diluting the value of the Knowledge of London. Notwithstanding these issues, drivers have compellability conditions of licensing and will be unfairly restricted from serving customers with protected characteristics. This is arguably a wider issue to grapple with and could have far reaching social consequences.

As we have set out, there are many legal considerations when considering excluding Licensed Taxis from the road network, even on a temporary basis and it is arguable that TFL, under the proposed LSP, would be:

 

  1. failing to meet legitimate expectations by fettering Licensed Taxi access to roads they have always enjoyed plying for hire;
  2. being discriminatory towards people with protected characteristics, such as the elderly and those with disabilities.
  3. failing to consider Licensing conditions such as compellability;
  4. failing to consider economic viability of an industry that depends on the road network to serve our customers – the general public;
  5. proposing disproportionate means to achieve a ‘legitimate’

 

As we have set out herein, it is our desire to engage proactively with TFL and be part of the Project Restart solution and the LSP. We welcome the opportunity of engagement (as per the Mayor’s invitation on the 28 May 2020 during discussions with the GLA Transport Committee), at your earliest convenience. We suggest in the first instance; this should be via video conferencing. Should TfL decline our invitation to engage in good faith, we will have no other alternative than to seek a statutory hearing to present the issues as we see them, owing to the potential to bankrupt our whole industry and the disproportionate harm caused to not only the Licensed Taxi industry but also to persons with protected characteristics.

 

We look forward to hearing from you within the next 7 days. Yours faithfully

 

 

Angela Clarkson and Trevor Merralls

Directors (UTAG)

 

In coalition with Grant Davis (LCDC), Steve McNamara (LTDA), Trevor Merralls (UCG)

 

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