By Ken Livingstone
London’s cabbies are an important part of our transport system, providing a service that millions rely on every year.
But everywhere I go I hear cab drivers telling me things have got to improve. We need a new deal for cabs. I am setting out here today some early ideas to help achieve that.
First, as I have already set out this summer, the Olympic Route Network as it’s currently proposed isn’t right: for example, many pedestrian crossings are to be removed. The current proposals would have elements of the restrictions in place for one hundred days during the summer of 2012.
The Games last from July 27th to August 12th and from August 29th to September 9th, yet the Mayor’s own transport officials show considerable changes in force from June 2012 throughout the entire period. And for the cab trade and Londoners more generally, we need clarity on who is currently likely to be permitted into the network and who is not; athletes and IOC members and those vital for the Games must have access, but we need to be clear about who else may get access. The danger is that Londoners will be facing transport problems whilst lower-tier pass-holders swish past in the lanes.
Part of rebalancing this arrangement needs to include permitting cabs to use the network. I will continue to press for changes to the ORN to make it more Londoner-friendly
Secondly, the government’s unacceptable plan to water down Criminal Record Bureau checks on taxis must be fought every inch of the way. The Tory-led government, with London MP Lynne Featherstone leading the charge, is trying to end the practice of enhanced CRB checks for taxi drivers. I cannot find anyone in the cab trade who thinks this is a bright idea. Under the guise of cutting red tape – but really to make ideologically-driven spending cuts – the safety of the travelling public is being put at risk.
I will campaign all the way against the removal of enhanced CRB checks and if elected lobby for legislative change to ensure enhanced CRB checks are sacrosanct.
Thirdly are the road-works and traffic chaos. Everyone knows this is getting worse. The ultimate solution involves lane rental, which I have long-supported. That would be the way to ensure utilities co-ordinate effectively and keep disruption to a minimum. But there is much that could and should be done to bang heads together and to make the utilities and transport authorities work better together.
However, there are another set of issues that must be addressed.
I am concerned about the stories I am hearing from cab drivers about the changes that have taken place to what was formerly the Public Carriage Office, now ‘London Taxi Private Hire’.
There is a sense that the reformed PCO has lost its unique identity within the larger TfL organisation. Moreover, the cost-cutting drive of the Conservative party is manifesting itself in problems for cab drivers, and is undermining the Knowledge.
Usually a knowledge student graduates from testing every 56 days, then to 28 days, and then – as they move up the Knowledge scale – to fortnightly tests. By failing to replace examiners in a prompt manner, with less than fifty per cent having been in place during the spring and early summer, Boris Johnson has caused many trainee drivers to wait much longer between examinations. Some are reporting waits of over 90 days for appearances that should take place every fifty six days. I am committed to sustaining the number of examiners so that knowledge students can proceed at the fair and agreed pace.
Tory-led government cuts to local government mean councils are tightening their belts. One victim is spending on cab ranks. Cab ranks are good for local businesses, particularly night time businesses, enhance public transport links, and support our green agenda by reducing idling. The supply of new ranks is drying up because many local councils are struggling to find their share of the resources to pay for them. City Hall must ensure that its transport priorities include more new cab ranks and must get a grip of this problem so that the supply of new ranks continues to grow.
Across the public sector privatisation and cuts threaten worse services. In terms of the cab trade there are reports that even the complaints procedure is to be hived off. The drive towards even more needless tendering, outsourcing and privatisation has to be curtailed.
Cuts have led to the end of the popular shared taxi scheme such as in Cranbourn Street. That is a false economy. We should be about providing value for money for Londoners, a safe journey home, and work for cab drivers. I want to work with the cab trade to bring back schemes like this that make a real difference to everyone.
A failure to invest in the work of cab enforcement is leading a boom in complaints from Londoners, including cab drivers, that the rules are not being pursued vigorously. We should be clear that a minicab must be pre-booked. The practice of wild-west style mini-cab operations – effectively touting – particularly in the West End must be dealt with. Mini-cabs are an important part of the industry but the current Mayor has failed to keep up standards of enforcement and it is starting to show. Enforcement must be actively pursued in order to provide the best possible service.
Cabs are part of the fabric of London life. The industry is suffering under a combination of Conservative-led cuts and mismanagement from the current mayor’s office. For the cab trade, as with London, we need an administration that puts London first, is genuinely in it for London, and will get a grip.