SPECULATION IS growing that Transport for London (TfL) is planning to the take away the £11.50-a-day Congestion Charge exemption from private hire vehicles.
The number of bus passengers in the capital has fallen by 5.6 per cent in the last two years and TfL desperately needs to plug a £100 million black hole in its finances.
The licensing authority also needs to cut costs or raise extra revenue as the government plans to axe TfL’s annual grant, worth £591 million in 2015.
PRIVATE HIRE CHARGE CONSULTATION? – At a meeting of local authority licence and enforcement officers in Leeds, TfL’s head of policy for cabs Tom Moody, said the licensing regulator was looking to propose the removal of PHV congestion charge exemption within months.
He said: “We will be looking at the congestion charge potentially for private hire vehicles. In summer next year we will likely be consulting on that and other policies.”
It is thought that “other policies” being considered by the mayor of London Sadiq Khan, include extending the congestion charge from 6pm until midnight and applying it on Saturdays for the first time and perhaps some public holidays.
The mayor of London and TfL should ensure that taxis remain exempt from the ULEZ, in recognition of the trade’s efforts to tackle air pollution. However, when reviewing the congestion charge, TfL should introduce the congestion charge for private hire vehicles.
The possibility that TfL is looking to make owners of minicab vehicles pay the congestion charge was also underlined at a trade meeting of the Licensed Private Hire Car Association.
Guest speaker David Beamer, founder and managing director of the Brevia Consulting public affairs agency, said: “I think that congestion charging for private hire vehicles is an absolute no-brainer for TfL. And if you don’t do the legal challenge (against TfL’s rise in licence operator fees) now, then it will be even easier to bring in the congestion charge.
“I think the requirement for the owners of private hire vehicles to pay the congestion charge is very much the next step and it will be the big hurdle that you will all face next year. And I think that when the consultation does come out, it will be a massive challenge to your trade and the more that come together to fight it, the better.”
CONGESTION CONFUSION – Minicabs were granted exemption from mayor of London Ken Livingstone’s £5-a-day congestion fee when it went live in February 2003 after the private hire trade lobbied hard that disabled and vulnerable passengers should not have to bear the brunt of the new charge.
Members of the Greater London Assembly also warned Mr Livingstone that making minicab vehicles liable for the charge would be a double whammy for Londoners who had been forced out of their own cars, because of the daily fee, and yet penalised again for switching to private hire vehicles.
Fast forward to January 2016 and mayor of London Boris Johnson, unable to get government powers to cut the number of PHVs in Londons, said he wanted TfL to look again at congestion charge exemption for minicabs.
Private hire vehicles now represent over ten per cent of vehicles entering the Congestion Charging Zone on a daily basis and I have asked TfL to investigate the impact and feasibility of removing the congestion charge exemption for private hire vehicles.
Are PHVs to blame for a rise in London traffic congestion? Not according to transport experts INRIX, who published a report that said PHVs and taxis made up only three per cent of vehicles in the capital.
Instead, INRIX pointed the finger of blame at traffic light phasing, the cycle Super Highway and an increase in delivery vans because of e-commerce activity.