A personal view of the current state of the London taxi trade from Peter Bond
For any trade to continue and prosper it needs two essential, fundamental ingredients: tools of the trade renewed and modernised, and the workforce replaced when the incumbents leave or retire.
TfL have overseen a drastic reduction in the numbers of people on the Knowledge, jeopardising its future. Geely, albeit a seemingly all singing all dancing one, are offering a vehicle, the only one currently available, which is an enormous up-front price hike from its diesel predecessor, claiming the savings will outweigh the cost over five years.
London needs clean air, but who pays?
Unite Cab Section have been supporting the move to ZEC/electric vehicles from the very beginning of the debate, after all it is us, Taxi Drivers, the most vulnerable in the middle of the road inhaling dangerous emissions, let alone our families and society in general being affected.
But, it only has our support if it’s a financially viable transition!
We have taken part in the consultation process in good faith. We have given our support when justified but always pointing out the obvious pitfalls of going too far too quickly, which are: insufficient infrastructure, on-street charging points, and, the likely scenario of another manufacturing monopoly.
The previous Tory Mayor confidently displayed a number of potential Taxis at City Hall four years ago, subsequently announcing the 1st January 2018 as the start date where only ZEC or fully electric vehicles would be allowed to be licensed as new vehicles. How naïve to believe such a small market could sustain more than a couple of manufacturers and that sufficient infrastructure be in place by that date, i.e. now!
The £7,500 subsidy announced by TfL and the Government which had been painstakingly squeezed out of both, meant nothing until the actual up front cost was announced, and how they made us wait: it is £63,000!! Making the subsidy, as predicted, relatively small.
The de-commissioning scheme to encourage older Taxis off the road rather than being sold and continuing to work in London was also grossly underfunded, again as we predicted. Why on earth would you go down the de-commissioning route, £5,000 for a 10-year-old Taxi, when it’s worth twice as much on the open market?
With the cost, £63,000, for a new Taxi, the £7,500 subsidy needs to be doubled, at least. Also, the £1,000 – £5,000 de-commissioning payment for 10-15-year-old Taxis should be at least doubled to allow for a genuine incentive.
Even as late as 29th November 2017 TfL had to admit, as we predicted, they would miss all their targets for Rapid Charge Points (RCPs), especially in the centre of London. Even the RCPs already in place, and those due in the near future, are mainly outside the North and South Circulars. No wonder Nissan, whose vehicles are fully electric, pulled out of the process and are now only tentatively testing the ground.
Add to this the unfair competition, particularly from Uber, allowing for virtual plying for hire. Mayor Sadiq Khan has finally shown a semblance of guts by refusing to renew their licence, which led to the CEO of Uber apologising for their mistakes and promising reform. What mistakes? What reform? TfL and Uber kept telling us they were complying with all regulations.
And who are the biggest ‘PR’ firm criticising TfL and Labour Mayor Sadiq Khan for standing up to Uber, the Tory Party, led by Prime Minister Theresa May and supported by most of her Cabinet.
Uber and other private hire operators are still opposing adequate safety standards and refusing to adhere to the Employment Tribunal decision to apply workers’ rights for their drivers.
Recently the numbers on the Knowledge have fallen drastically; without renewal of the workforce our trade will struggle in the medium and long term.
Students will only re-join the Knowledge training when there is a stable buoyant trade where drivers know they will have a reward for their sacrifices.
It’s simple. More, much needed, regulation for private hire; and a level playing field, means more work and more income for Taxi Drivers.
It must be said the new LEVC cab, seems like a fantastic vehicle environmentally, moving the Taxi ahead of the game, leading the way for all London’s vehicles in general to become clean and green.
But the ZEC Taxi is £20,000 more than we paid last year for a Euro 6 cab. In near 30 years driving a cab no-one ever offered me a ‘cleaner’ petrol cab to buy! The up-front cost means drivers must be sure that the pronouncements on the savings on fuel are correct. At £63,000, the subsidy is not only far too low, eaten up by the up-front cost but that subsidy is only temporary, probably only the first 9,000 cabs will be covered.
Taxi or van?
The clue is in the company name, LEVC, London Electric Vehicle Company. Previous incarnations of this company were LTI and LTC. The ‘T’ in both was for Taxi.
There was much fanfare at the opening of the gleaming new factory in Ansty. The then Tory London Mayor and the then Tory Prime Minister both in attendance, having sanctioned a huge £17,000,000 subsidy to the company to help save the famous London Taxi Trade. Geely have made much of the same.
But, is their aim really only to save the London Taxi Trade?
Their sister company, Volvo, are way down the line in ‘driver-less’ vehicles.
It’s no secret that LEVC are planning to sell the backbone of this Taxi to the commercial van market and the mini-bus market, although they claim never to the private hire trade.
In the wider scheme of building and selling commercial vehicles the Taxi market is tiny. There is no way Geely/LEVC are in this to sell Taxis to make their fortune. They are in this to sell this vehicle in a slightly different form to the huge market in vans and mini-buses. We are being used to help get them to their goal.
We, London Taxi drivers, are going to buy and drive this Taxi along the streets of London, amongst the most expensive advertising space in the world: The Mall, Pall Mall, Piccadilly Circus, Oxford St, Bank, Tower Bridge, Bond St, St Pauls. The list is endless. LEVC are getting this advertising for free. Maybe they should be paying us! Certainly they should be adding to the paltry subsidy currently on offer.
Imagine the slogans, ‘Good Enough For The London Taxi Trade, Good Enough For All Trades’, or the like.
As for the so called huge savings to make up for the £63,000 outlay, this is gradually being unravelled.
£100 per week savings on fuel?
Already the cost of charging is far more than predicted.
There’ll be many companies supplying RCPs and they plan to charge a monthly membership fee, £15-£20 a month, to get a discounted charge. We may need to join two or more of these to guarantee getting a space at a time that suits.
Once these companies have got the majority of us buying their electricity, how much will it cost?
Insurance companies are quoting £300-£500 more than we pay now. Some are refusing to insure this vehicle.
To add insult to injury, the Tory Chancellor has kindly put this vehicle in the luxury bracket for excise duty, meaning we’ll have to pay an extra £310 per year for five years, that’s a whopping £1,550 in total. He’s realised his mistake but will only exempt us from April 2019, meaning if you buy one up to March 2019 you’ll still pay the extra for five years! If clean air is the government’s goal, why not take off the VAT?
Geely/LEVC are a private commercial company and are perfectly entitled to make as much money as they can but they should be honest about their long-term plans, and shouldn’t patronise the London Taxi Trade by claiming it’s our interests behind supplying this very expensive Taxi.
It’s not Geely/LEVC’s fault there’s a virtual monopoly, again, but they didn’t help by taking Metrocab to court regarding the shape of their vehicle.
As for their treatment of the trade: silence on why delays on delivery from November to January; and, extending that silence to one of our members, with a deposit paid, expecting a new Taxi in November. He was only contacted when we at Unite approached LEVC in the middle of January! We would hope we had moved a long way from the old M&O culture of, ‘It’ll be ready when it’s ready’. We need assurances that the incidents highlighted above are not a regression to the bad practises of LEVCs predecessors.
If the London Mayor, Sadiq Khan, can continue to show guts and stand up to Uber, bring in the reforms outlined above for the whole of the private hire trade, adding his support to the legal change that all fares must start or finish in the area a driver/vehicle is licensed; limit the number of PHV licences in order to help reduce congestion and emissions, then maybe drivers would be more confident of a decent living from the London trade.
Peter Bond is a senior London Cab Section Rep.