Dear Prime Minister,
I am writing to you on behalf of the United Cabbies Group ( UCG ) in particular and the London Taxi trade in general.
We are an organisation that represents many Licensed London cabbies, whose livelihoods are under threat as is our iconic trade.
The licensed taxi trade was introduced by Oliver Cromwell in 1654 in an effort to protect the public by ensuring that all cabbies were of good character, licensed and posed no threat to their passengers.
For 361 years we have adhered to a very strict regulatory standard ,both for drivers and vehicles and are proud that we still do. The reputation of the ‘London Cabbie’ is recognized as the very best in the world,bar none; a reputation we treasure and live up to on a daily basis.
Unfortunately we now find ourselves in a situation that threatens not only our very existence but also the safety and well being of the public.
This is simply and solely because of the negligence and abject failure of our regulator Transport for London ( TFL ) who seem to have abrogated all responsibility for the safety and duty of care to the travelling public in our City.
Last year the Greater London Assembly ( GLA ), cogniscent of certain problems in TFL, undertook an independent and in depth investigation into their competence and ability to regulate not only the Licensed London Taxis but also our Private Hire (PH) colleagues.
The conclusion of their thorough investigation was that TFL are ‘ Woefully Inadequate ‘ and ‘ Not Fit For Purpose ‘ , a view they still hold some 9 months later.
The GLA produced a document called Future Proof in which they identified problems and made 19 recommendations to be implemented ASAP.
TfL ignored the first deadline and the second. Still none of the recommendations have been implemented.
When questioned by the GLA Transport Committee on July 8th 2015 as to why they have done nothing , Leon Daniels ,Director of Surface Transport Strategy replied they will comply by the end of the year.
The GLA hold out little hope of this and made their dismay at the ‘Laissez faire ‘ attitude of TfL.
In 2012 a new Private Hire company were issued an operators licence to work in London. That company is UBER.
They obtained a licence under ,shall we say, very lax conditions as an Executive Car Hire service. Within a few months the Executive side was succeeded by a basic mini cab service.
Within a short time Uber were found to be far from the model company their PR machine would have us believe and actually a ‘Gung Ho ‘ company running rough shod over Private Hire regulations to the detriment of many people that registered details with them.
When questioned about the failings and legality of Uber, Boris Johnson told Grant Davis ; Chairman of the London Cab Drivers Club , that……..’ He had been told by David Cameron to leave them alone ‘ !
Mr Davis reported this conversation on live radio ( LBC ) very recently, yet Mr Johnson has not refuted it.
Of course we do not know the veracity of this statement but if true we are sure you did not know the amount of complaints leveled at Uber , their propensity to ignore regulations and the possible danger many of their drivers pose to the public; they are involved in many accidents in London on a daily basis. This is due to two things.
1) A large proportion of Uber drivers have never undergone a British or European Driving Test. They simply exchange the licence from the country of origin for an International License, then exchange that for a European Licence. No stringent test ever taken to prepare them for the difficulties and challenges faced in London
2) The vast majority rely totally on Satnav to guide them on every journey. As you will appreciate one cannot concentrate on the road and the Satnav at the same time; this actin is fraught with danger as many hundreds of motorists, cyclists and pedestrians have found to their cost.
The safety of the travelling public is a prime responsibility of Transport for London yet they do nothing to address it. Indeed they continue to license with alacrity.
We hold an archive of in excess of 12000 complaints made by Uber passengers. They range from overcharging to fraudulent use of bank and credit card accounts, sexual assault, homophobia , threatening behaviour and discrimination against disabled passengers A fairly serious and unsavoury litany of complaints, I think you will agree.
On March 18th 2015 the UCG offered TfL unlimited access to our then 8000 complaints against Uber, an offer they roundly ignored. Ignored that is until on June 15th
we were invited to meet Tom Watson MP in a committee room at the Palace of Westminster..
At that meeting I and colleagues from the UCG and other trade organisations gave Tom an overview of Uber and TfLs abject dereliction of duty. To say he was shocked would be an understatement. He assured us that he would do all he could to look into the problem. His investigation is still ongoing and we are extremely grateful to him.
It speaks volumes as to the mismanagement and ineptitude of the Mayor of London that TfL has to be investigated by an MP from West Bromwich !
Mr Cameron,Transport for London are not enforcing their own regulations and have lost control of their responsibility toward Londoners who use PH vehicles.
An average of 2000 PH licences per month are being issued, many with NO background checks whatsoever if the applicant has either Asylum Seeking or Refugee status a certificate of good conduct is then used. This is madness, not only from a safety aspect but also to congestion and pollution problems. We fail to understand how a an Asylum seeker who by definition is on the run from a regime under threat of imprisonment, tortue or perhaps even death sentence could ever be granted a certificate of good conduct by such a regime, a similar situation to a refugee on the run from a war torn country whose infrastructure is likely to be damaged resulting in little ability to check the status of an individual.
The Mayor said he would like to cap the numbers asap but does little about it. We have sought our own legal advice on this matter and provided it to Isabel Dedring the deputy Mayor for transportation. TfL have consistently stated they cannot cap numbers, Our advice offers potential solutions to this.
Earlier this year we called three protests to highlight the failure of TfL, not because we object to competition, we have worked alongside Private Hire for over 50 years and PH are working with us to resolve the problems that affect them too because of the danger this poses to the public and the envisaged demise of the best loved taxi trade in the world.
We suspended them (protests) temporarily on July 1st at the request of Tom Watson to give him time to investigate TfL and the Uber model.
However we are now seeing an unprecedented level of anger toward TfLs unwillingness to enforce the current laws. Consequently our members asked that we reconsider our suspension.
As a democratic group we gave all members a vote. The result was 90.2% in favour of Direct Action.
Our grievances are as follows.
1) Immediate implementation of all GLA Future Proof recommendations
2) Cessation of e-hailing through structured clear defined policy introducing mandatory time lag between hail and dispatch
3) Strong and effective on street enforcement by warranted TFL Enforcement officers
4) Abolition of Satellite Offices
5) Bob Oddy’s position on the TfL transport committee to be subject to a trade nominated and elected candidate
6) Hire and Reward insurance to be in place when any vehicle is licensed by TFL or inspected by NSL .
7) Capping of Private Hire licence numbers in London
8) Cross Border Hiring in London to be made illegal , in line with other Counties.
The UCG do not seek disruption or confrontation but feel that if we don’t give a controlled vent of feelings to thousands of cabbies by official demonstration the alternative could be reflective of the Parisian taxi civil disobedience.
We request an urgent meeting with you and Boris Johnson, not only to diffuse the palpable anger but also to enlighten you as to the true failings of TFL and the danger posed by the continued ‘Don’t touch ‘ approach to Uber