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Patrick Raeburn, secretary of the Private Hire Board, wishes you a happy New Year and suggests now is a good time to acquaint yourself with current issues…

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• Patrick Raeburn

Operator Licence Fees:  Regular readers of this column are used to my pontificating on this. If you have not donated to the LPHCA legal fighting fund, which is opposing Transport for London’s (TfL) unreasonable hike in London PHV operator fees, do not delay. Mounting and sustaining such a legal campaign is expensive. But it is a necessary measure and one that will, if successful, save many operators from bankruptcy.

Just as important as contributing financially to the fund, operators also need to be more vocal in expressing their concerns about the damaging impact the implementation of these fees will have on their business and future. Social media commentary, during radio phone-ins and in the comment sections of media articles are just some of the places you can make your feelings known.

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• Have you donated to the fighting fund?

If you don’t express your concerns for the trade now, in six months to a year, it could be too late. For some, it might be even sooner.

Whilst it is vital that PHV operators get involved, we shouldn’t forget that they are not the only ones who will be affected if their businesses go to the wall. It is far too simplistic to suggest that this legal challenge is just about protecting the livelihoods and business interests of private hire operators, as some self-interested groups and individuals might have you believe.

The fact is that London private hire companies employ large numbers of staff to run their organisations. So, the closure of minicab offices will not only mean the loss of a so-called ‘fat-cat boss’s’ business, but also unemployment for thousands of support staff that work at private hire operating centres and possible hardship for their families and dependents.

Call centre telephonists, controllers, sales personnel, accounts staff, fleet managers and human resources operatives. These are just a few of the jobs that private hire operations cater for. And many of these jobs are now under threat.

• It’s not only minicab business owners who will suffer

If you work for a PHV operator, regardless of the capacity, you should be seriously considering lending your support to this campaign. Your voice could help to save your company, and your job!

The damage that could potentially be caused by these licence fees doesn’t stop at the door of PHV firms either, it has much further reaching consequences. Suppliers to the PHV trade and conversely their employees will be hit – some very hard. Despatch system providers, vehicle suppliers, telephony companies, insurance firms, accountancy practices, accident management consultants, payment system providers and printers, to name but a few, will all feel the effects if London cab offices close en-mass.

And of course, then there are the drivers, the absolute life-blood of the industry, without whom none of those mentioned before would have a business. They will be affected, despite the rather blinkered view that they can just go and work for one of the larger operators or for Uber.

Really? If that were so, why are they not doing so already? And why are there still over 2,000 licensed London PHV operators still trading, if this is the case?

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There are probably numerous reasons. Perhaps they do regular jobs and like that. Perhaps they get to work a particular area and they like that. Perhaps they earn decent money where they are. Perhaps they simply just like working for the company that they are at. Whatever the reason, the closure of their company does not automatically mean drivers will be ok because they can go and just pick up where they left off at another provider.

Lastly, it is also probably worth mentioning that as well as employing staff and providing the platform for a diverse and vibrant trading economy with other businesses (as outlined previously), the vast majority of PHV companies also contribute to PAYE and NIC, as well as paying UK corporation tax, VAT and local council rates. So they provide a value to the country as a whole, not just to themselves and those in the trade.

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• They could end up with fewer contributions

It would be nice to think that TfL might be held accountable for any damaged caused by its decision to impose such a massive hike on operator fees. Maybe it will reasonably recompense anyone who is adversely affected? That would be ironic, given that TfL is funded by the taxpayer, some of whom own or work at the very businesses that are under threat from their ludicrous policy-making.

ULEZ extension consultation: The mayor has announced a consultation extending the ULEZ area to all of London within the North and South Circular roads.

But it appears he has decided that private hire will not be exempt from the charge, while the taxi trade are, despite having a much older, more noxious and environmentally damaging fleet of vehicles.

Although seemingly ok about allowing taxi drivers to drive around ULEZ London in dirty diesels up to 15 years of age, without imposing any penalties, Mr Khan, who is keen to let us all know how important it is for him to help protect the health of Londoners (you couldn’t make it up), is willing to contribute thousands of pounds provided by the generous people of London, if cabbies choose to scrap their older vehicles.

To encourage this further, he has promised a number of things, including spending even more taxpayers money to ensure that black cab drivers get exclusive access to 90 of the 150 rapid charge points being installed by the end of 2018. How many of the 300 charge points that he intends to have in situ by the end of 2020 will be taxi-only, has yet to be specified. But I can tell you that none, yes none, have been designated for use by the far cleaner, newer vehicles driven by the private hire industry. The good news is that the mayor and TfL are not biased in any way – which is a relief.

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• Black cabs will get exclusive access to almost two-thirds

Although the PH industry will undoubtedly be treated fairly, judging by the even-handed nature of what has been proposed so far (that is sarcasm, just in case you failed to notice), it is very important that everyone responds to this consultation. I’d like to be able to say that you will be listened to, but probably not. It doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try though.

English language test: Round two of the legal battle with TfL over the English Language Test is set to commence. Be under no illusion, if TfL is allowed to impose this test, that the PHB considers not fit for purpose, over 50,000 drivers could be lost.

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• Thousands of drivers could be lost

Don’t think ‘I’m alright Jack’. You may be on this occasion but what new stealth capping regulations will be proposed next?

Advanced driving test: The consultation that attempts to solve a problem that doesn’t exist is imminent.The mayor has promised collision data for taxis and private hire, although at this rate of progress Brexit will happen sooner.

It seems a little pointless even having a consultation (purely to tick the legal boxes) when Mr Khan seems to have prejudged the issues and already made a decision.

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• He appears to have already made up his mind

The term ‘fit and proper’ or ‘fit for purpose’ is bandied around a lot by TfL. The laughable, some would say hypercritical, thing is that they fail time and time again to meet that criteria themselves. It might be a New Year, but it’s the same old TfL.

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