Taxi cartels will be ‘apped’ to death

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EU states have made huge strides in transport liberalisation over recent decades, especially in areas such as the air industry. But one sector that has remained stubbornly resistant to change in many of the continent’s towns and cities has been the licensed taxi lobby.

Across Europe, governments and town halls have tried on many occasions over the years to break up licensed taxi unions. The constant complaint of politicians and the public is that taxi drivers in many cities are organised in cartels that use tight monopolies to impose high fares on customers.

To keep drivers busy and well remunerated, these cartels strictly control the number of taxis that get a licence, imposing long waiting times on customers. The former French president Nicolas Sarkozy said in 2008 that “Paris is the only city in the world where it is hard to find a taxi”. Many European leaders – including his successor – can say the same today.

Governments in France, Italy and Greece, among others, have tried to undermine these cartels by expanding the number of licences on offer or by giving greater opportunities for private drivers to ply their trade as is the case in London. But the licensed drivers have successfully fought back, blockading roads and calling strikes.

Now, however, the cartels face a much bigger threat in the form of app-enabled taxi services. Increasingly popular apps run by companies such as Uber, a San Francisco based start-up, link private chauffeurs with mobile phone customers within minutes. Uber has been particularly prominent, raising $258m last year from a group of investors led by Google Ventures.

These taxi apps are unsettling licensed drivers not just in Europe but the US. Under pressure from the licensed taxi unions, regulators have come up with some perverse responses to the new phenomenon of “e-hailing”. This week a Brussels court issued an order banning Uber, stating that Uber drivers will be fined €10,000 if they are caught carrying private passengers.

Reining in these apps in this way is completely absurd. Internet-based technologies are revolutionising industries and shifting employment patterns across the world. Why should taxi drivers be exempt? Neelie Kroes, the EU digital commissioner, described the Brussels court’s decision as “crazy” and “outrageous”. She was right to do so.

The views of the taxi lobbyists cannot be completely dismissed. Licensed taxi drivers in many cities have paid large sums of money to acquire their permits, often through auction. In Paris, drivers pay more than €200,000 to acquire one of the limited number of state taxi licences. In Florence, the cost of permits was recently put at €300,000. New York yellow cab medallions have been sold at auction for close to $1m. Many drivers view these licences as an asset that will guarantee their pension. Having made that investment, they will fight hard against any attempt to devalue it.

At the same time, city regulators will be wary of allowing a taxi free-for-all. A completely unlicensed taxi market has very low costs of entry. If too many drivers enter this market, urban congestion will result. Arguments about the safety of an unregulated market also have some validity.

Still, “e-hailing” is bedding in and the cartels will have to respond. Licensed drivers appeal to some as a service that is more secure and regulated. But one thing they could do is learn some lessons from the taxi-app business. Hailo, a London-based app company, now has 60 per cent of the city’s black cab drivers on its books. It has neatly fused licensed taxis with new technology.

Ultimately, however, licensed taxis will only survive if they go further. There need to be more permits, lower fares and faster pickups. If the taxi cartels fail to change, they will be “apped” to death.

Source: FT

TfL Press Release- TfL invites trades to help shape regulatory framework for taxi and private hire apps

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TfL invites trades to help shape regulatory framework for taxi and private hire apps

· Smart phone apps offer significant potential benefits to passengers, drivers and operators

· TfL sets out provisional position and invites trades to help shape regulation of this rapidly developing area

Transport for London (TfL) has confirmed that it welcomes the use of taxi and private hire apps to benefit passengers, subject to those apps meeting the high standards of public safety TfL expects.

TfL is inviting the taxi and private hire trades to provide their views on how the regulatory framework should be applied to this rapidly developing technology, while ensuring that the current highest standards of public safety and customer service in the trades are maintained.

The development of taxi and private hire booking apps offer tremendous potential benefits for customers. This includes enhanced safety and security measures – with many apps providing the passenger with a photo of the driver and their name, the registration of the vehicle and the ability to track both the approach of the vehicle and the remainder of the journey in real time.

However, the rapid pace at which smart phone based technology has been developing in recent years has led to a need for clarity about what is required in order for apps to comply with the regulatory framework in London. TfL is seeking to clarify that position and has asked the taxi and private hire trades for their input to formalise the regulatory framework and ensure there is a level playing field for all operators.

Leon Daniels, TfL’s Managing Director of Surface Transport, said: “We welcome developments that make life easier for passengers. As in many other areas of transport and retail services, apps can offer passengers the potential of better and more convenient services. We are asking the trades to embrace these advances in technology, which have the potential to further improve London’s taxi and private hire services, and have asked them to be part of the formal process to help shape the regulatory framework in this rapidly developing area.”

Constructive meetings were held recently with both the private hire and taxi trades on this issue. Discussions focused on the use of apps for private hire vehicle bookings, with TfL presenting its provisional views on the use of apps, which are as follows:

· Apps can put a customer in touch with licensed private hire operators, either by signposting a customer to a choice of licensed operators or by transmitting a customer’s data directly to a specific licensed operator. Apps that deliver this service do not in themselves ‘make provision’ for the invitation or acceptance of private hire bookings. Only a licensed operator can ‘make provision’ for the invitation or acceptance of a booking.

· While it is perfectly legal for an app to put a customer directly in touch with a licensed hackney carriage driver, any app that puts a customer directly in touch with a private hire driver without the booking being accepted by an operator first is illegal. Even if the licensed driver is also a licensed operator, the booking must be accepted at the licensed premises. A booking can not be accepted by a private hire operator in a vehicle or through a mobile phone on the street.

· Certain details, such as the date of the booking, must be recorded by operators before the start of each journey. There is no obligation to record the main destination at the time of booking unless it is specified by the customer.

· There is no obligation to quote a fare when making a booking via a private hire app unless a quote is requested.

· Smart phones used by private hire drivers – which act as GPS tracking devices to measure journey distances and relay information so that fares can be calculated remotely from the vehicle – do not constitute the equipping of a vehicle with a taxi meter.

Further discussion with the taxi and private hire trades will take place in the coming weeks to help clarify the regulatory framework for this rapidly developing technology to ensure that the current highest standards of public safety and customer service in the trades are maintained.

Ends

TfL appoints a new Director of Service Operations (Surface Transport)

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Transport for London (TfL) has announced today that Peter Blake has been appointed as Director of Service Operations for TfL Surface Transport.

Peter Blake is currently Head of Integrated Transport at Worcestershire County Council, where he is responsible for public, education and social services transport, as well as the county’s highways and traffic management services. He also has substantial experience in managing community transport, dial-a-ride and taxi & private hire licensing services.

The new Surface Transport Service Operations Directorate was established in September 2013 and consists of a number of TfL’s high profile business areas:

• Road User Charging (Congestion Charge and Low Emission Zone)
• Barclays Cycle Hire
• Dial-a-Ride and Assisted Transport Services
• Taxi and Private Hire Licensing
• London River Services
• Victoria Coach Station

Garrett Emmerson, TfL’s Chief Operating Officer for Surface Transport, said. “I believe we have recruited an excellent new director to TfL’s Surface Transport Leadership Team. I have every confidence that Peter will help build on the track record of achievement, continuous improvement and operational delivery within Service Operations. His remit will be to shape a successful, joined-up directorate which will continuing to deliver exceptional service to all of our customers.”

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Suburban Taxi Licensing Consultation

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Following the Mayor’s manifesto commitment to deliver a suburban action plan and to address the concerns of Suburban taxi drivers about the availability of work and the increasing number of taxi drivers in suburban areas, we have undertaken an in-depth review of suburban licensing.

The first stage of the review was two TfL-facilitated workshops attended by working taxi drivers. These workshops let us hear as many views and ideas as possible from the taxi trade, what they saw as the problems and what changes could be made to support them. Through these workshops and subsequent correspondence with attendees and other licensees we have received a wide range of ideas which have helped to form the basis of this consultation.

Our proposals are based on feedback received from the taxi trade and cover key themes including:

Suburban sector structure: Examining the rationale behind the current structure and exploring alternatives
Knowledge of London: Addressing the barriers that the Knowledge creates for suburban drivers who want to add sectors or become an All London driver
Driver numbers: Reviewing recent trends and looking at the arguments for and against restricting driver numbers on either a permanent or temporary basis
Taxi ranks: Explaining the process for appointing ranks, the difficulties surrounding the process and current initiatives
Improving supply of taxis in central London: Addressing suggestions from the trade that would allow suburban drivers to work in central London at specific times or places
Island ranks and licence area extensions: Reviewing existing measures introduced to improve taxi supply on the periphery of central London and exploring a formal structure for extending this strategy
Radio and app bookings: Examining the current restrictions on suburban drivers and exploring options for change

To find out more about our proposals, please download and read our Consultation Document.

Have your say
TfL is keen to hear from drivers and taxi users, especially those in suburban areas, to help form future policy ensuring drivers can continue to match the demand for the world class service

Online Survey Click Here: https://consultations.tfl.gov.uk/tph/suburbantaxis/consultation/subpage.2014-02-06.0007629207/view

You can read TFL’s
Suburban Taxi Licensing Consultation here : https://consultations.tfl.gov.uk/tph/suburbantaxis

LONDON must hang on to its TAXIS

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London: the world’s most visited city. Home to the red double-decker bus, Big Ben, Tower Bridge, Changing the Guard and the black taxi.

That “most visited city” tag, which caused a recent flurry, is a little dubious. It is based on the International Passenger Survey, which is based on a sample of interviews with passengers coming and going from the UK. The Office for National Statistics candidly describes it as an “estimate”.

Still, London draws millions of tourists and has become a global capital while maintaining its traditional symbols – except for that boxy black taxi, which is now the whatever-colour-you-like whatever-shape-you-can-think-of taxi. No city competing for tourists would throw away something as distinctive – except for London, which has.

This week BYD, the Warren Buffett-backed Chinese carmaker, announced it would introduce “minicabs” into London, with the intention of eventually selling proper London taxis that are available not just for private hire but can ply the capital’s streets for fares.

It is the latest of a slew of potential competitors to the London Taxi Company, builder of the TX4, the classy, roomy traditional-style cab that says “London” to potential visitors from all over the world.

BYD follows Nissan and Metrocab – part of the Frazer-Nash group – which plan to sell taxis in London, and Mercedes-Benz, whose Vito people carriers are already ploughing through the capital as licensed taxis.

The Vito taxis remind me of the Monty Python sketch in which John Cleese claims to have a cat licence and a post office clerk says: “That is a dog licence with the word ‘dog’ crossed out and ‘cat’ written in, in crayon.”

The Vito vehicles are not London taxis. They are vans with yellow lighted “taxi” signs jammed on their roofs. They are infuriating proof that London has lost its way.

There are mitigating factors. While the traditional London taxi is a design beauty, its manufacturer has had one financial prang after another. Once a consortium of manufacturers and dealers, it became a division of engineer Manganese Bronze, which went into administration and was taken over last year by China’s Geely. So the London Taxi Company cannot claim to be a reliable monopoly.

Second, Boris Johnson, London’s mayor, is trying to cut the capital’s air pollution by insisting that its taxis produce zero emissions by 2018.

The offerings of BYD, Nissan and Metrocab will be electric, but then Geely says it plans to produce electric cabs too.

So what is wrong with the new cabs? London has not achieved its international pre-eminence by standing still but its genius, indeed the British genius, is to build on what went before. The London Underground’s logo, trains and map have modernised without losing the look that made them so recognisable.

The same is true of London’s buses. The new Routemaster bus, one of Mr Johnson’s pet projects, updates previous models while, in design terms, quoting from them. Mr Johnson has banished the dreadful single-decker “bendy buses” from London’s streets.

Nissan seems to understand London’s way of doing things. Pictures of its NV200 taxi, which it plans to build in Coventry, home of the London taxi, suggest it will pay homage to the traditional design while giving its cab a modernised, but still recognisable, look.

Metrocab’s design appears to be based on similar principles, but BYD’s e6 looks set to follow the Mercedes “cat licence” route.

This could have been avoided if Transport for London, which licenses taxis, had insisted on a recognisably London design for new entrants. That would not be over-intrusive for an authority that already specifies the distance between seats and the maximum tint of the windows.

Failing that, it could have insisted that all London taxis be black. The traditional cabs have been allowed other colours for years now, but if taxis are permitted to be different shapes, they should all be London’s traditional colour. (Black Mercedes Vitos are marginally less ghastly than the blue or grey ones.)

New York’s taxi rules state that “the exterior of the vehicle must be painted taxi yellow” – and who could imagine the Big Apple agreeing to anything else?

We can still win London’s battle. If you approach a taxi rank or hail a cab in the street and an interloper offers you a ride, say: “Sorry, mate, I want a real London taxi.”

Source: FT

Letter to TFL Re: UBER and our concerns regarding using a taxi meter to calculate fares.

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Mr Steve Burton

Head of Compliance,TFL

Private Hire Vehicles (London) Act 1998

 

Dear Mr Burton,

I write to you concerning the above Act, and in particular section 11, prohibition of taximeters.

I wish to bring to your attention the following points: Section 11 (1) states that “No vehicle to which a London PHV Licence relates shall be equipped with a taximeter” a device for calculating the fare to be charged in respect of any journey by reference to the distance travelled or time elapsed since the start of the journey (or a combination of both)

Uber ( https: www.uber.com/cities/London) advertise their charges as a “base fare” of £3 and then either £0.32p per minute if below 11mph, or £1.75 a mile if above 11mph, the time and distance being calculated via the app on the Uber drivers smartphone.

It is my strong belief that the drivers using the Uber app are indeed in breach of section 11, at a trade meeting on 4th February I discussed Uber with the Mayor and also with Isabel Dedring and also showed them a Uber app receipt on my iPhone.

The Mayor agreed with me that the way Uber charge their passengers is indeed by using a meter, albeit on a smart-phone.

I look forward to hearing from you in the near future.

Yours Sincerely

Grant Davis

Chairman

Minicab attacked in Paris taxi go-slow protest

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Policemen stand by as taxi drivers demonstrate in Paris against the rise of private chauffeur services in the city.

Paris taxi drivers attacked competitors in a civil war of sorts yesterday when five trade unions declared a day-long national strike to protest against the rise of private chauffeur services, particularly the US company Uber, which is also present in Dublin.

The most graphic description was tweeted by businesswoman Kat Borlongan. “Got attacked in an @uber by cab drivers on strike near Paris airport,” Borlongan wrote at 9.54am. “Smashed windows, flat tires, vandalised vehicle and bleeding hands.”

Ten minutes later, Borlongan tweeted again: “Attackers tried to get in the car but our brave @uber driver manoeuvred us to safety, changed the tyre on the freeway and got us home.” Ms Borlongan’s story was confirmed by Uber’s Paris office.

Powerful lobby
“Operation snail” disrupted traffic in Paris, Bordeaux, Marseille and Montpellier, despite the presence of police reinforcements. Tens of thousands of French taxi drivers represent a small but powerful lobby which has for decades thwarted attempts to reform the profession.

Passengers reported seeing roadblocks where taxi drivers stopped private chauffeur-driven cars, known as VTCs (véhicules de tourisme avec chauffeur). “First they threw paint,” Ms Borlongan’s companion Renaud Visage told Le Monde. “They broke passenger windows and tried to force the doors . . . I saw people taken out of their car by taxi drivers. I don’t know what they did with them.”

Sixty taxi drivers harassed VTC drivers at the Hilton hotel at Orly airport, breaking several rear-view mirrors. When the driver of a “moto-taxi” attempted to defend himself with a pepper spray pistol, he was arrested.

At Porte Maillot, 30 taxi drivers pelted VTCs with firecrackers, eggs and flour. Similar scenes were enacted at the Porte de Clignancourt and the Porte de la Chapelle.

Taxi drivers met at dawn at Roissy-Charles de Gaulle and Orly airports. Two convoys totalling about 1,000 vehicles then converged on Les Invalides, after creating traffic jams on motorways.

Licences capped
Paris taxi licences have been capped at 17,000 for decades, a fraction of the number in other European capitals. G7 and Taxis Bleus, the leading companies, have a near monopoly. G7, which owns Taxis Bleus, was founded by the socialist André Rousselet, who was François Mitterrand’s cabinet director. His son Nicolas runs the companies today.

A Paris taxi licence costs between €50,000 and €250,000, while VTCs pay only a small fee. With a subscription to Uber, present in Paris for the last two years, or the French companies Chauffeurprivé, SnapCar or Taxiloc, one clicks on a smartphone app to order a taxi. The screen displays the car’s location, arrival time, and the driver’s name. There are 2,500 such VTCs in Paris.

A communiqué from the taxi drivers said they are fighting “VTC multinationals, financed by Google and Goldman Sachs, organised in a lobby that is destroying jobs and creating economic hardship without concern for French legislation.”

The taxi war has been described as a conflict between old and new economies.

Source: Irishtimes

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