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TfL is looking at ways of bridging the growing abyss between what they’ve got and what they need and you’re earmarked to help them do it! Simon Rush, PHV driver and president of the GMB Pro Drivers’ branch, explains…

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• Simon Rush

In 2015 it was announced that our austerity government would be cutting Transport for London’s (TfL) operational budget by almost £700 million a year – in effect removing TfL’s subsidy in its entirety by 2020. This means that future funding will have to come from its commercial investments, cuts or fare increases.

So where will TfL find the additional money it needs?

Well, you can forget fare increases for a start, because tube and bus prices are frozen until the start of the next decade, making London the only European city without a subsidised transport system.

And cyclists won’t be contributing anything anytime soon, despite the fact that the mayor has pledged funding of £154 million a year.

So it is of little surprise that  TfL and the mayor have decided that picking the pocket of the good old private hire trade is one of their best options.

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• 40 down and counting…

Recently we have seen extortionate  increases in private hire operator fees which, according to some, has already resulted in 40 operators going to the wall. Some large operators are happy with this as less competition means more work, but from our perspective this means less choice for drivers.

TfL and the mayor aren’t stopping at operators either. The private hire driver is also set to come under fire in the coming months when the Congestion Charge (CC) consultation gets into full swing.

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If this goes according to plan, private hire vehicles will lose their exemption from Congestion Charging. TfL and the mayor claim it’s because our growth has caused London’s gridlock and the pollution caused by this is affecting the health of Londoners. But they conveniently forget to mention about constant roadworks that can take up to 15 per cent of London’s road space and the ever-expanding Cycle Superhighway.

Aligned with these issues there has also been a surge in demand for parcel delivery services over the past decade. In November the GLA issued a document entitled ‘Understanding and Managing Congestion’. It runs to over 70 pages and points out that vans within the zone are increasing, and this has added to congestion.

Vans have always been subject to the Congestion Charge and it has not stopped their growth. So it is possible that the effects on private hire could also be equally negligible. But, perhaps this is how it was always intended to be – a revenue raising scheme hidden inside a public health/congestion-reducing Trojan Horse.

After all, just think of all that lovely cash that TfL would lose if the CC reduced van numbers or has that effect on PHVs. They will then need to go and find another cash cow.

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• Charging money to reduce congestion does not appear to work

Whilst I am not suggesting that the pollution from congestion doesn’t give cause for concern over health, charging money in an attempt to reduce it clearly does not seem to work.

It is for this reason that I believe legislation to cap driver numbers is the way forward. Imposing further financial burdens on a trade which has seen little growth (if any) in terms of revenue increase for drivers, is not the silver bullet to congestion.

Saddling the PHV trade with more charges will ultimately have a knock-on effect, as operators will have little option but to increase rates so drivers’ pay is not driven down even lower.

For instance, local authorities will  be hit as many use small operators for school contracts. Some of these operators employ drivers, and they will have little choice but to pass additional costs onto the local authority – leading to budget cuts elsewhere within the borough.

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• The cost of patient transfers will increase

The NHS will also have to find extra money, as they too will be hit via patient transfer services.

We have spoken to Cambridge Economic Policy Associates (CEPA) who are working on behalf of TfL and looking into the impacts of removing PHV Congestion Charge exemption.

It has been suggested, that in order to cut costs, an operator could send one driver into the zone with a paying punter and tell them to stay there to cover any other work that may be on offer in the City or West End.

How do they expect the driver to earn if there’s only a minimum fare every three hours?

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TfL and the mayor need to think through their plans very carefully. Continually penalising PHV businesses and drivers will eventually destroy the trade. This will put tens of thousands of people out of work and leave Londoners and visitors struggling to navigate the city on a public transport system that is already massively over-burdened. Although by the time that happens it won’t be the problem of the current mayor or many of those now in power at TfL – so why should they care?

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PHC Magazine

PHC Magazine