The Unite National Taxi Conference met to discuss the important issues facing the taxi trade. Delegates arrived from all over the country to join together to lead the fight back against the many threats to our livelihood. Top of the agenda was the battle for better, enforceable regulations to keep in check booking apps such as Uber as well as the on-going battle over the governments De-Regulation Bill and London’s Ultra Low Emissions Zone (ULEZ).
Bobby Morton, Unites National Passenger Officer, welcomed everyone to the conference and outlined the successful campaigns that the Unite Cab Section has lead over the last five years of this government. The defeat of the Law Commission was a highly successful campaign that Unite ran, in conjunction with a number of allies, particularly the Labour Party. The defeat of the Law Commission cannot be over emphasised as it has become even clearer that the de-regulation agenda of this vicious Tory government would have had even greater effects than we realised at the time. The freeing up of private hire from any sort of local authority control would have been disastrous given the current rise of private hire booking apps. Bobby also outlined Unite’s campaign against the De-Regulation Bill and the defeat of the dangerous clause 11 that would have allowed any person to drive a private hire vehicle. Although the other two clauses were passed, Bobby explained that all is not lost. Unite’s campaign meant that the Tories could only pass the Bill at the end of the parliament so it still needs to be enacted into law. A change of government can still stop the De-Regulation Bill becoming law. Bobby also highlighted the successful demonstrations in London that Unite were instrumental in building and getting tens of thousands of taxi drivers to protest against TfL’s lack of action. The fruits of the demonstration can be seen in the GLA’s Transport Committee ‘Future Proof’ report condemning TfL’s lack of leadership.
The conference then elected two delegates to represent taxi drivers on Unite’s National Passenger Committee. The elected delegates were Mike Hedges (London) and Dave McCloud (Liverpool). This is an important decision making body in Unite overseeing Unite’s strategy in the passenger section, including taxis.
Jim Kelly[London] introduced a discussion on Uber and booking app regulations. In London there is the question of whether or not Uber’s smartphone was essentially a meter. It was pointed out that meters are commonplace in the provincial PH trade. TfL are finally taking Uber to the High Court to determine if the iPhone is a meter. This is an important decision as there are many other companies who are looking to follow Uber’s lead and adopt the same business model.
There is no knowledge test for PH in London and after 10 years of licensed PH numbers had levelled off at about 60,000. Since Uber there had been a surge to 70,000 and now the London trade are looking at ways to stem the flow. This could include some form of knowledge test, VRQ, working knowledge of English, incredibly PH in London are not required to be attached to a company!
Tommy McIntyre said that although Uber had applied in Liverpool they could not meet the Liverpool standard and had so far withdrawn their application for an operators licence. The Liverpool standard – drivers licence, operators licence and vehicle licence all issued by Liverpool, this should be the same for all licensing authorities, with the addition of each driver obtaining a VRQ before commencing taxi work and an NVQ within a year of starting
Other ideas came forward including imposing a cap on PH [Abolished in the 1976 Act] Apparently they don’t pay tax in the UK so are they fit and proper?
Bobby Morton summed up saying that a motion had been carried opposing the practices of UBER in the NISC, that there had been a worldwide ITF conference on Uber and he explained some of their tactics to get around licensing conditions around the world
Conference agreed to set up a working party to look at this and the implications for the UK trade
A presentation of roof top advertising on Taxi’s took place. A new company has started business and are keen to work with Unite to ensure that taxi drivers get the best deals from roof top advertising. A discussion took place regarding the locations where approval has been given and the best way for drivers to get involved. Everyone agreed this is an exciting new initiative from this young, new company.
Tommy McIntyre (Liverpool) told delegates that the De-Regulation Bill was now law and that the two remaining taxi clauses ie sub-contracting and three year licenses would have to be enacted by ministers in the new Parliament using statutory instruments. This could mean that if the Tories are returned this would happen possibly in October but if Labour get in it may get dusty on a shelf somewhere, showing why taxi drivers need a Labour government.
Peter Bond [London] introduced a session on air quality. The mayor wants an Ultra Low Emission Zone [ULEZ] in the congestion charge area. This would involve only zero emission capable taxis [ZEC’s] being licensed as new vehicles from 1st January 2018. LTC, along with a number of other manufacturers, are developing a ZEC taxi. They would need to be able to operate on a battery for 30 miles and possibly have a small petrol engine for recharging. Such a system would need a lot of infrastructure in place and although the timescale for implementation is 2018 the question still remains where is enough money coming from. Delegates pointed out that some grants are available but it was thought that these are woefully inadequate. The conference heard from a number of contributors including from Dundee where a private hire company has started to run electric vehicles.
The new Cab Trade News was welcomed and thought to be a good recruitment tool. Mike Hedges explained the importance of the website www.cabtradenews.org and the app that is being developed. Delegates praised Mike and Peter Rose in particular for the work that they had put in to get this off the ground
In any other business the SE delegates raised the issue of the price of station permits arguing that if Labour are unwilling to bring the railways back into public ownership or even bring back franchises when they are up for renewal that the new government should insert a clause into the franchise contract outlawing such practices. Mike Hedges explained Unite’s free and open access policy and said that we had been close to achieving this with the last Labour Government. He thought an overall approach may be a better way to go, although we should still explore the possibility of inserting a clause into future franchises ensuring free and open access at all railway stations and interchanges (including airports).
Delegates left the conference knowing that we have a lot of hard work ahead of us to ensure a bright future for the taxi trade. The single most important element in this is to ensure a Labour government after May 7th. A Conservative victory would be a disaster for the taxi trade with de-regulation certain to be on their agenda. Unite saw off many of their threats this time but we may not be able to stop them next time.