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Peter Hendy evades London Assembly Transport Committee’s criticism of Mayor and TfL

At a packed meeting in the Chamber at City Hall today, Transport for London (TfL) Commissioner,  Sir Peter Hendy  formally responded to the hard-hitting London Assembly Transport Committee ‘Future Proof’, report into Taxi and Private Hire services. At a packed meeting with over 200 taxi drivers in the audience and many other taxi drivers unable to enter City Hall, Peter Hendy was evasive and arrogant in his response to the excellent report of the Committee.

Unite supports most of the 19 recommendations of the report and believes that if these recommendations were implemented by Tfl and the Mayor they would greatly improve the lives of taxi drivers and lead to a better, more transparent relationship with the Mayor and TfL. But it has been clear that ever since Boris Johnson was first elected Mayor he only had his sights on a return to parliament. He will be gone after May 7th and the report fully exposes the Mayor’s lack of interest in the taxi trade and TfL’s subsequent lack of response to many important issues, particularly around touting, enforcement and implementing the regulations.

Caroline Pidgeon, Chair of the Committee, opened proceedings by asking Peter Hendy if Tfl had an over-arching vision for the taxi trade. This was one of the key recommendations within the committees report. Caroline repeatedly pressed Peter Hendy to answer and set out TfL’s plan. Despite doing his best to avoid this by saying what a great job TfL was doing in the end he was forced to agree that TfL would develop a strategy for the taxi trade.

Unite has no faith that TfL and the Mayor will do this in a way that discusses these plans with the taxi trade and develops a plan that will benefit the lives of taxi drivers. Many of Caroline’s questions and follow-ups were met with applause by the taxi driver audience as she put pressure on Peter Hendy. Valerie Shawcross followed up Caroline’s questioning by asking about TfL’s engagement with the taxi trade.

Unite are part of the Cabbies Cabinet and liaise and work with TfL on a number of issues. But on many of these issues it is clear that TfL have their own agenda and often do not listen to our voice. This was a major point that Valerie made repeatedly to Peter Hendy about TfL listening to the voice of the representative organisations within the trade. It was suggested that a GLA Transport Committee member should attend the Cabbies Cabimet which eventually Peter Hendy said he would recommend it to the Mayor.

Repeatedly answering that it was the Mayors decision on many issues and the most he, Peter Hendy, could do was to bring issues to the Mayors attention. This was his standard way of stalling on questions and showing his arrogance and contempt towards the taxi trade. Peter Hendy was repeatedly questioned about TfL’s role in licensing Uber despite not fully investigating their operating procedure, particularly over their use of a meter to calculate the fare through an iPhone. Peter Hendy insisted that Uber does not use a meter ignoring the fact that the Mayor has said that Uber drivers do use a meter to calculate fares.

He tried to shift the blame to others and even said that the taxi trade must move with the times and keep pace with technological advances. The arrogance of the man had to be seen to be believed. He did announce that TfL will be taking Uber to the High Court over the use of a meter but clearly thought they would lose. He defended Uber operating licence despite all of the problems that they have created. His comments about enforcement and touting where met with outrage by taxi drivers in the room. He suggested that touting had largely been eliminated and that the enforcement teams were doing an excellent job.

He clearly has not been to a satellite office lately or any club in London late at night. He got a rough ride of the committee over this and even suggested that taxi drivers shouldn’t need to  pay for enforcement out of their licence fee. Unite wants more enforcement not enforcement on the cheap that doesn’t address any of the problems created around lack of resources. We hope he will listen to the committee’s recommendations and devote more resources to enforcement and get tougher on those that are abusing the system.

Peter Hendy also took the opportunity to announce the publication of the Taxi Ranks Action Plan and the Suburban Action Plan. He announced new measures including £600,000 investment to increase the number of taxi ranks by 20 per cent within 5 years. Although we welcome this we wait to see how this will implemented. The recent record of TfL is not encouraging with a large number of taxi ranks outstanding. Peter Hendy tried to shift the blame on to the boroughs but Caroline Pidgeon challenged him very forcibly on this much to the delight of the audience.

Peter Hendy took the opportunity to make an announcement about the Ultra Low Emission Zone (ULEZ) requirements for taxis. He said that Euro 6 taxis, to be produced from September this year, will retain a 15 year age limit. He then spoke about all other taxis having a 10 or 12 year age limit from 2020. This was new and represents a change in TfL’s thinking. He also spoke about TfL giving compensation to drivers that lose residual value due to the reduced age limit. Unite believes that reducing age limits and paying compensation is the wrong approach. The 15 year age limit should be retained and any money available should be given in grants. We will be discussing this in more detail in future articles.

Caroline Pidgeon AM,  Chair of the London Assembly Transport Committee said of the meeting;

“First, I’d like to thank the huge numbers of London Taxi and Private Hire drivers who attended the meeting at City Hall today.  The Chamber was full and many drivers were left standing outside in the rain.  This emphasised to us how important these issues are to the trade and strengthened our resolve to continue to push TfL to provide a better service for the industry.”

“The ranks action plan is a good start, if not a little flimsy – but we would like to see all our recommendations taken forward by TfL – we need more than lip service. TfL needs to put the passenger first and there is clearly a lot more work to do.”

Unite welcomes the Future Proof report from the GLA Transport Committee and fully endorses the view that we need more than lip service from the Mayor and TfL. But with a Mayor that is more interested in Number 10 than City Hall we do not hold out much hope. We will continue to work with the Transport Committee to put pressure on the Mayor and TfL to ensure that the recommendations of the committee are acted on and implemented.

We shall do everything we can to continue to ensure that the Mayor improves the working lives of taxi drivers, enforces the regulations and ensures the safety of the traveling public.

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