If you were in London the other week you would have had a tough time getting around Oxford Street as hundreds of taxi drivers staged a protest against Transport for London (TfL). It is no secret that the London taxi trade has a difficult relationship with TfL as they feel that the government body is not doing enough to protect the industry and recently branded them as “woefully inadequate”.
However, it seems as though the taxi trade feel like their views are not being heard which is why they arranged their “maximum visibility, minimum disruption” demonstration earlier this month. Discussing the protest, Len Martin, chairman of the United Cabbies Group, said: “The trade is basically being exterminated by TfL, we are being driven out of town and TfL is doing nothing about it.”
Mr Martin added that the main goal of the protest was to raise visibility of the issues affecting taxi drivers in the capital, particularly the fact that TfL are failing to stop illegal touting and plying for hire throughout the city. However, he went on to say that the protest was not organised to demonstrate against the controversial taxi App Uber, and added: “There’s nothing wrong with competition, it’s healthy … We just want a level playing field. We want TfL to uphold the law.”
Uber has raised a number of concerns from London taxi drivers who claim that its drivers are operating illegally as they do not have the required licences. However, protesters have claimed that illegal touting has also contributed to a 30 per cent drop in trade over recent years which is causing real problems for drivers. Harry Candler, a black cab driver who attended the demo, said: “TfL wants to get rid of the last iconic thing in London, which is the black cabs.
“They just want to fill it with minicabs, they just want to get rid of us because we’re too much trouble and probably not making them enough money.” Len Martin added: “TfL are desperately trying to deflect attention but this is about their woeful performance. Times are very hard for taxi drivers, it’s causing health problems because they are having to work such long hours, and affecting their family life. If TfL enforced the law, there would be plenty of work on the streets.”
However, despite the organisers’ claims that the demonstration had nothing to do with Uber, Garrett Emmerson, TfL’s chief operating officer for surface transport, argued the exact opposite. He said: “This protest is about Uber and has been organised by a small group of taxi drivers outside of the main, recognised taxi trade bodies and associations.
“As the regulator of taxi and private hire services, TfL welcomes the introduction of new technology that benefits taxi passengers, as long as it meets licensing and regulatory requirements. TfL applies the relevant regulations equally and any suggestion that Uber has been treated any differently to any other private hire operator is a nonsense.
“As the GLA’s Transport Committee recently heard – the capital’s taxi licensing and regulatory process is the envy of the world. Customer satisfaction rates are high and our robust enforcement work with police colleagues continues to bear down on touting and bogus cabs.” Mr Emmerson also claimed that illegal touting has fallen in the capital from 66 per cent in 2003 to 15 per cent today.
However, Mr Emmerson’s claims may be thrown into doubt by the London Assembly’s Transport Committee who earlier this month sent a letter to TfL stating: “It seems to us that TfL has contributed to the current situation by failing to fully consider the implications of licensing Uber London without establishing a clear legal grounding for this decision.”
Whether it’s Uber or illegal touting that taxi drivers are protesting against, it seems as though TfL are still standing by their opinion that the industry is currently doing well and that they are supporting it adequately. Unfortunately, this means that it’s likely we will see more protests across London in the future as taxi drivers try and protect their trade.