The black cab is in danger of going the way of that other city icon, the red telephone box, without continuing support, the London Assembly’s final Mayor’s Question Time session of the has heard.
The warning came from Sadiq Khan himself as he promised a “new vision” for the capital’s taxi industry. He was responding to the concerns of Liberal Democrat Assembly member (AM) and transport specialist Caroline Pidgeon.
“London’s taxis and their drivers are the envy of the world, with their instantly recognisable vehicles and their drivers’ unparalleled ability to navigate our complex city,” the Mayor said.
He added that the service has also been an innovator, with more than half the 14,700-strong black cab fleet now “zero emission capable”, helped by £50 million from Transport for London to support vehicle upgrades. In addition, the entire fleet is now wheelchair accessible and all cabs accept card or contactless payment.
Despite challenges, including replacing older drivers taking retirement, the cost of buying a new cab – highlighted by Pidgeon as up to £100,000, including financing – and the imminent end of government “plug-in” subsidy, the trade has been seeing some increase in demand, Khan said.
But he agreed with Pidgeon that action was needed on costs and wider challenges, such as continuing pressure on the trade from hailing apps, to “clearly set out” the role taxis would play in the future. “You’ve either got to make it attractive or we are going to see the progress we’ve made in the last year reversing very quickly,” said Khan.
The Mayor also expressed his interest in suggestions from the Port of London Authority (PLA), raised with him by Conservative Nick Rogers, for three new electric ferry services across the Thames in east London. “It’s very exciting,” he said, albeit without making specific commitments: “The Thames is one of our big untapped assets. We have very little locus over the river, but we would like to get more involved.”
The PLA study suggested potential routes for a new service between North Greenwich and the Isle of Dogs, Royal Docks and Charlton and Barking Riverside and Thamesmead, supporting housing development and, at a cost for each option of between £120 million and £132 million, significantly cheaper than bridge or Docklands Light Railway extension options.
There was less cross-party Christmas spirit in evidence in irritable exchanges between Khan and his Tory opponent in next year’s mayoral election Susan Hall, on crime, the expanded Ultra-Low Emission Zone and, in particular, national government’s support for the capital, as evidenced by recent announcements on transport funding.
Short-changing Transport for London on capital funding, with a one-year-only deal, was an indication of a government “unable to grasp the concept that a successful capital city is key to a successful country…powering our economy, generating prosperity and creating jobs and growth,” said Khan.
He went on to highlight the government’s withdrawal of £6.5 billion funding for the HS2 Euston terminus and its allocation of £235 million over 11 years to London’s boroughs for tackling potholes compared to the £500 million every year in road tax contributed to the Treasury by Londoners.
“Over ten years that’s £5 billion, and we are getting some £200 million back,” he said. “Thank goodness they are giving it to the boroughs because it can’t be squandered by you,” Hall responded. Khan already had an “awful lot of money, “she added.
In a further foretaste of what seems set to be a long and possibly acrimonious campaign running up to the the vote on 2 May, Khan warned that London, “if we’re not careful”, could “end up with a Mayor who is in the pocket of the government, who is not willing to argue for our city”.
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