Transport for London’s Safer Travel at Night initiative has without doubt been instrumental in reducing sexual assaults on women in minicabs. Since it launched in 2002 cab-related sexual offences have fallen from an average of 15 to eight offences each month and the number of women using illegal cabs has also fallen from 19 per cent in 2003 to four per cent in 2009. Source, Transport for London, November 2009.
Over the years Transport for London has put resources into getting the message across that taking illegally hired minicabs are a danger to the travelling public, particularly lone female passengers. Campaigns have been ongoing across many media outlets, including television. They have even set up marshalled taxi ranks across the capital to encourage the use of licensed taxis and established text messaging schemes for the safer booking of minicabs.
All of this is to be welcomed by the taxi trade, after all its what we have been saying since the first minicabs took to the streets nearly fifty years ago, using terms like ‘’Be sure be safe, always use a licensed taxi’’, on our receipts. And the one thing passengers could take for granted was the fact, that if it looked like a taxi, it almost certainly was a taxi.
However times move on, and over the years the minicab trade has been trying to make themselves like us, the licensed taxi trade, as they possibly can, you only have to look at Addison Lee with their fleet of all black minicabs, trying to foist the black cab imagery away from the taxi trade. Now it would seem the minicab industry would like to take it one step further, not only do they want to look like us from the outside, now its the inside as well! We are now seeing the licensing of private hire vehicles with petitions which have the look of the inside of a licensed taxi.
In the November issue of CTN, the UNITE Cab Section stated that it would be opposed to the introduction of such vehicles saying ‘’The UNITE Cab Section feels that this proposal would be a ’minicab touts charter’ that would give them the opportunity to mislead the public into thinking that they are legally plying for hire’’, an opinion that remains.
Over the years since minicabs became licensed, UNITE (formally T&G) Cab Section has argued with TfL over basic personal safety issues regarding private hire, the main one being the use of overly tinted windows. How many times have we seen a minicab with windows so dark that you cannot make out the license disc in the window, would anyone be able to tell if something untoward was happening inside? At the time UNITE was fully supported by all the main women’s groups, but to no avail. TfL sided with the private hire lobby – business before safety it could be argued.
Is the partitioned minicab just symptom of ‘’what private hire wants, private hire gets’’ regardless of the passenger safety implications. We would argue that as well as these vehicles being confusing to the general public they are potentially unsafe for the vulnerable. It would be a shame if the declining figures quoted at the top of this article started to increase again because TfL neglected to see what would seem obvious to many.
Story by Peter J Rose. Secretary UNITE Cab Section, London Branch.