Traditional private hire companies in London are being driven out of business by new regulations designed to deal with the influx of ride hailing services such as Uber and by a lack of expertise at Transport for London, according to the leader of the industry’s trade body.
Steve Wright, who chairs the Licensed Private Hire Car Association (LPHCA), told the London Assembly transport committee that a lack of compliance by newcomers to the sector had resulted in additional “regulation and cost thrust upon us” when what he called “the bona fide industry” had long co-operated with the rules, and that there has been “no real expertise in taxis or private hire” within TfL in recent times.
Wright said he believed that a different type of regulation should apply to what he called the “app-only” private hire firms, pointing out that their business models and practices are different. “There is no customer care, they are very sterile, money-making offshore entities coming in with massive subsidies and tax arrangements undermining what was working perfectly well prior to their arrival,” he said.
Evidence about the future of private hire was also given to the committee by Robert Scott of the Greater London Hire company and by Andrew Wescott of Addison Lee. Uber had been asked to attend, but committee chair Caroline Pidgeon AM told the meeting that they had “refused”.
Wright said that the current regulatory situation is causing “unnecessary angst for perfectly good companies that are going out of business,” citing as “a classic example” a new requirement to demonstrate competence in spoken and written English brought in under the Mayor’s Taxi and Private Hire Action Plan.
Since October 2016, applicants for a licence to be a private hire vehicle (PHV) driver have been required by TfL to be able to communicate in English to a B1 standard, which can include a GCSE English certificate, equivalent vocational skills qualification or a Secure English Language Test pass, which is demanded for settlement or naturalisation visa applications. Under an initial transitional process to the new system, they have until 30 April next year to show that they have met the standard.
Wright, who told the committee he had been in the PHV business for nearly 50 years, said that he lacked any of the certificates TfL is now demanding and would therefore have to pass one of the tests himself if he wished to return to driving. “Tests need to be fit for purpose,” he said, stressing that drivers need simply to “be able to communicate in plain English.”
Noting that many PHV drivers come from non-English speaking backgrounds, Wright added: “When people haven’t got the skills, they shouldn’t be forced to take a ridiculous test that’s expensive. They should be empowered by training and development. It shouldn’t be about jumping through hoops. You need to be able to help human beings improve themselves.”
Explaining that he hopes to meet London Mayor Sadiq Khan next February to discuss the situation, Wright said he doubted it would be satisfactory by then, even though there had been some recent improvement in TfL’s performance as regulator, in his view. “People are being driven out of the industry,” he said. “We think next April there could be a loss of 15-20,000 perfectly good people.”
The London Assembly transport committee is investigating how best to support London taxis and private hire vehicles. See the whole of the PHV session followed by evidence from the black cab trade on the webcast here.