Blaring horns and taxi-congested roads greeted tourists and passers-by at Trafalgar Square, as Unite’s London cab section supported a demonstration on Wednesday (September 24) over Mayor Boris Johnson’s failure to protect the city’s iconic black cab trade against unregulated competition.
Thousands of black cab taxi drivers, cheered on by Unite, the RMT and the London Taxi Drivers’ Association, slowly circled Trafalgar and Parliament Square, grinding traffic to a standstill, in an effort to bring to light their struggles.
From unfair competition against tax-dodging companies such as Uber to “licence and forget” satellite offices to increasingly hazardous electric rickshaws and an unclear emissions policy, the impediments cab drivers face have decimated their ability to make a decent living and best serve London’s passengers.
The taxi trade’s troubles with Uber, a software company that uses GPS mapping to connect registered drivers with passengers, have been well-publicised before. But Unite’s cab members feel that their position on taxi apps has been misconstrued.
“We don’t have a problem with competition,” said Unite cab section branch officer Peter Rose.
“We compete with private hire companies all the time, and we have our own apps like Hailo.
“It’s the way these apps have been licensed,” Rose explained. “Transport for London has licenced Uber as a private hire company, when it meets none of the criteria for private hire.
“The booking is not made in this country, let alone in this city. It’s made in Holland. Uber doesn’t pay tax here; it pays it in Holland. You can’t make advance bookings. It’s simply not a private hire company.”
Unite senior rep Peter Bond says that unregulated apps present dangers for passengers. “These regulations have been built over years and years to protect the safety of passengers—women who are out on their own at night, people with disabilities who need extra help,” Bond noted.
Bond also explained the way in which Boris Johnson’s policy of “licence and forget” satellite offices has allowed such offices to spring up everywhere in place of properly regulated taxi ranks.
“Boris Johnson made many promises to us cab drivers before his election. Instead of cutting back on satellite offices, where minicabs are booked on the street, he’s expanded them,” Bond said.
“There’s thousands more. If you have a sweet shop, you can have a satellite office. If you own a restaurant, you can have a satellite office.”
Unite branch secretary at Heathrow, Michael Samroo, comments on the problems cabbies face at the airport.
“We have a big issue at Heathrow with people pricing jobs and using Uber,” he said. “We have no record of who the drivers are, we have no control, and neither does Boris Johnson. It’s a complete free for all at Heathrow.”
More than anything, Unite’s cab drivers feel their commitment to their trade is a tradition worth preserving.
“We have a group of drivers who’ve spent two to five years learning the streets of London, so they can navigate the city without the aid of a SatNav or any other aid, quickly and effectively,” said Rose.
“We drive vehicles that are fully wheelchair-accessible. And 98 per cent of the people of London can travel in a black cab. There’s no other form of transport in the entire city that’s so inclusive.”
Samroo added, “We’ve had black cabs since Oliver Cromwell. They’re part of our history. They’re the most iconic vehicle in the world. Why would you not want to preserve that?”