Patrick Raeburn, secretary of the Private Hire Board, questions the authority of Heathrow’s ‘taxi marshals’…
A FEW weeks ago, whilst standing in Heathrow Terminal Three, I witnessed something strange. There was a man wearing a high visibility vest walking around the arrivals hall. I then realised on the back of the vest was printed ‘Taxi Info’. He made many circuits until he was approached by some passengers that wanted a ‘taxi’ to W2. He led them away to the taxi rank.
This appeared to be advertising ‘for hire’, so I reported the matter to Taxi and Private Hire on Twitter. Their answer was swift, to paraphrase: “Nothing to see hear, move along.”
“So, what am I getting so worked up about?” you might ask. Quite simply, I would not have received the same response from the licensing authority if I had reported a private hire driver walking around the terminal in a hi-viz vest, with their operator’s name on the back, acting in the same manner.
If this sounds familiar to you, it’s probably because this is not the first time the behaviour of taxi marshals has been brought into question. The actions of a thuggish sounding hackney representative were raised in PHC Magazine last year, and there have been other instances of PHV drivers who claim to have been unfairly harassed.
The Heathrow taxi marshal I am referring to did identify himself on Twitter, claiming to have the authority to patrol the airport terminals to detect and deter touting. He went on to question why I wouldn’t want to protect the legitimate trade? His definition of ‘legitimate trade’ presumably being the same as most taxi drivers, i.e: licensed hackney carriage vehicles that carry fare-paying passengers. As opposed to encompassing the many thousands of legitimate PHVs as well.
This situation raises many questions. For instance, has Heathrow Airport authorised these taxi marshals to patrol the terminals?
And if this is the case, under what legislation?
Walking around a terminal looking official does not make you a part of an authorised taxi sharing scheme – which is the only way they can legally operate. Perhaps Heathrow airport management are not fully acquainted with the law?
Or perhaps these marshals are authorised to act as airport officials? To be effective in carrying out these duties they would need the power to be able to question suspect individuals. They would also need to have the power to then detain and possibly arrest suspects. These are not simple matters and would require comprehensive arrest and restraint training. Without any of these requirements in place the marshals are putting themselves and the public in danger.
A full complement of expensively assembled Taxi and Private Hire compliance officers, authorised as airport officials already operate at Heathrow. We pay for them through our licence fees to carry out these types of operation.
There is no need for amateurs playing at enforcement, without the requisite training, to be acting as the ‘cab-police’ at Heathrow Airports Terminals? That would be akin to putting Dracula in charge of a blood bank.
Indeed, to witness these marshals in action you can only draw the conclusion that they are straying from their remit of providing information from the taxi desks. To go even further, I would say that it could appear as though they are not only seeking to drum up business for their colleagues but also possibly harassing bona fide private hire drivers going about their lawful business as well.
Now don’t get me wrong, appearances can be deceptive and I could be barking up the wrong tree. But, whatever is happening here, it needs to be questioned. It is a conundrum that even the Romans wrestled with – Quis custodiet ipsos custodes? Who guards the guardians?
Women’s Night Safety Summit: I discovered on television that the mayor’s Night Czar was hosting a Women’s Night Safety Summit last month. Disappointingly, no private hire trade representatives appear to have been invited. Especially when you consider that private hire is the only truly pan-London form of transport at night, with many operators placed inside late-licensed venues.
Having personally ran operations from such venues for more than 15 years I have vast experience of the night-trade. And there are plenty of female operators, workers and drivers within our trade to give a perspective too, but we were denied the opportunity to provide input to the debate. I will be writing to the Night Czar to ask why.