Anne Main speaks up for St Albans taxi drivers

18th July 2017

Anne Main speaks out against unfairness in the taxi trade in St Albans as TfL-licensed drivers are hovering in the District without pre-booked jobs and St Albans District Council doesn't have the capacity to fully enforce the regulations.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Wilson.

I like this quote from GMB section secretary, Andy Peters:

“It appears that London has become the licensing centre to send London minicabs all over the UK rendering local councils redundant in taxi licensing.”

That about sums it up. In St Albans we have reliable and heavily regulated taxi licensing, but my local taxi drivers have said, “What is the point of being licensed with St Albans if TfL can license drivers?” TfL does not seem to have such high standards. We have heard from other speakers that if someone has lost their licence in one area, they will be denied a licence elsewhere. But it seems TfL is not so picky, because someone denied a licence in St Albans was told to try TfL, which is dreadful. The cost to register with TfL for a private hire driver’s licence is £250 plus a medical fee, and registering a vehicle costs an additional £100, so that is a total of £350. In St Albans, the cost to register for a private hire licence is £420.50 plus a medical fee, and registering a vehicle costs an additional £300, so that is £720.50 plus a medical fee. There is also a driver’s knowledge test, which is £95 for a first attempt and £64 thereafter.

It does not take a mathematician to work out that someone might as well hop down the road to London and get a TfL licence if there is no way of stopping drivers coming from there to St Albans, where our drivers are heavily regulated. St Albans drivers have told me that if they infringe their driving licence in any way, shape or form, the licensing authority jumps on them. If there is no point in having our licensing regulations, everybody might as well be licensed with TfL and then work all over the place.

It worries me enormously that when I talk to St Albans District Council, it says that although it is trying to work with London, TfL and Uber vehicles are allowed to come to the district to collect or drop off pre-booked jobs. My taxi drivers have shown me an app that shows where all the Uber cars are, and they are not simply dropping off in St Albans and heading back. They are stopping there. They come first thing in the morning and hover about until someone is looking to book a taxi. I told my local taxi drivers that the problem is young people saying, “I’ll get an Uber cab. It’s cheaper.” But it is cheaper because Uber is not obeying the rules. It is outside the licensing rules and touting for business. It claims to offer a journey within six minutes, but if the driver is supposed to be in London when they start a journey, they could not possibly be in St Albans in six minutes. They hover around in supermarkets and nearby roads and offer cheaper fares.

My council has stated:

“During enforcement checks any TFL or UBER vehicles that are found in the District without pre-booked jobs are advised to go back to the area that they are licensed. We have found that the amount of TFL and UBER vehicles...has declined”

when enforcement happens. That is the equivalent of swatting a fly off the rump of a horse. A taxi driver who is in the wrong area is simply asked to go back to where they are supposed to be. Nothing happens as a consequence, so they are all back within a few days. There are not enough licensing officers in St Albans, paid for by the heavy licensing fee, to ensure that we can keep those drivers out of the area. So we have a situation in which my local taxi drivers, many of whom are Bangladeshi, are faced with losing their livelihood.

There are big complaints when Tesco or other such companies move into areas and mop up all the trade. Local authorities can protect themselves from big rapacious companies that hoover up all the vacant premises and suppress other small operators in the area. It seems to me particularly poor form, then, that London can spew out licences and the taxi drivers can go off and, in effect, operate remotely. They are not obeying the spirit of the law, and they certainly have a detrimental impact on taxi facilities in areas such as mine. It worries me that local authorities that can stop numerous shop premises being turned into coffee shops because they think that would alter the area’s feel and offer, or deny Tesco a huge superstore because they feel it would draw trade from the city centre, cannot deny a fleet of rapacious Uber taxi drivers in my constituency the right to hover around in the car park, sucking the lifeblood from taxi services.

Maureen, who operates for Gold Line in St Albans, said to me much the same as the hon. Member for Ilford North (Wes Streeting) has said: there should be strict rules that a job must be started in the area where a driver is licensed. There are obviously a lot of journeys from St Albans to Luton and Heathrow airports, and there is no thought of stopping people going out of area, but when a taxi driver turns up in an area and hovers about all day, that is completely outside the regulations that cover their licensed hire vehicle. I am told that operating outside the licensing provision also has the potential to negate their insurance, so young people who think getting into these cars is the cheap option might find, if they were in a car crash or some other kind of accident, that they were not insured.

Unite the union has spearheaded a cross-border taxi campaign against Uber. Frankly I do not care whether the firm concerned is Uber or anyone else. What I am saying is not anti-Uber; it is anti-unfairness in the taxi trade. As for just shooing away taxi drivers who are meant to be licensed and operating in a proper fashion but are found hovering where they are not supposed to be, no licensing authority in the country can afford to be shooing out Uber drivers full-time. If those drivers do not behave and Transport for London will not do anything about it, the Government need to do something. I ask the Minister to look at the matter as a serious issue of unfair business competition and health and safety.

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Earlier in the same debate

The hon. Gentleman is making an excellent point. My local taxi drivers have shown me where they can locate 15 or 16 Uber cabs sitting around St Albans in car parks. Because they are hailed from the station, that does not count as plying for hire, but it is—it is touting for business but being on another street. Surely that cannot be allowed.

I agree. Actually, in some cases, Uber cars use taxi ranks constantly on the streets of central London. There are real issues about how the existing law is enforced and there is a need to clarify it. In our report, we strongly supported those who made representations, particularly the National Union of Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers and other trade unions, including Unite, for which Mike Hedges gave evidence to our panel. We need Ministers to clarify their position on the two-tier system by issuing a formal response to the Law Commission’s 2014 report and by introducing a legally enforceable statutory definition of plying for hire.

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