This week I was reading my Sunday paper. Usually the financial pages are littered with tales of people losing their life savings, the result of Ponzi schemes, junk bonds, or just fraud. So it came as a surprise to find nearly a full-page devoted to the demise of the London Licensed Cab Trade.
Most passengers have, at some time of another, received a tirade of the woes from their driver.
[I]n fact one common expression ‘The game is finished’ much repeated was actually written into Jack Rosenthal’s play The Knowledge. The demise of what is by some distance the finest cab service in the world has been predicted way before I joined the ranks. Reassurance from a Government minister as to the trade’s future were given in Parliament before most of our passengers were born:
The Minister of State, Home Office (Mr Dennis Vosper): The Home Secretary has, in fact, already made clear, in Answer to a Question on 15th March, that according to advice he has received, a procedure under which a vehicle could be hailed in the street and thereupon engaged for an immediate journey by means of a booking placed over a radio-telephone installed in the vehicle, amounts to plying for hire; and if that vehicle is not licensed as a taxicab an offence would be committed.
I am advised by the Commissioner that, so far as the Metropolis is concerned, if evidence is forthcoming that this procedure is being operated by unlicensed vehicles prosecutions will be brought. It is recognised that “plying for hire” is nowhere defined by legislation, but there is ample judicial authority which shows what kind of activity is within the meaning of this expression.
. . . ‘Nevertheless, it has been represented that the expected large increase in the numbers of these vehicles on the streets of London following the entry into this field of a major proprietor later this month will result in an undesirable state of affairs. It is argued that the licensed taxi service will inevitably suffer from such competition; that the presence of these additional vehicles on the streets will gravely accentuate traffic problems; and that their presence on parking sites in the central area while awaiting further instructions from their headquarters will result in a substantial withdrawal from the private motorist of the parking facilities at present available.
. . . My second qualification concerns the possible impact of the minicabs on the taxi service. The Government acknowledge that the taxi service bears a burden in the standards which are required in the construction of vehicles in the interests of the safety and convenience of passengers and the standards of knowledge which are required of drivers, and that; in return, they are entitled to some protection. This protection is provided by the ban which the law imposes on unlicensed vehicles plying for hire.
Hansard 7th June 1961
This year is panning out to be the worst for business, whether you are a black cabbie or a licensed private hire driver. Every week you say to yourself it will get better with business booming (or so we were told in the run up the election) and with tourists flooding into London.
It wasn’t until last week, according to Vicki Owen in her Mail on Sunday article that the rumours circulating around the trade seem to have been confirmed.
Boris Johnson, concerned about traffic flows for his precious cyclists and not the livelihoods of tens of thousands of drivers (both black cab and private hire), garages, ancillary services, radio circuits, confirmed to LBC Radio a 18 per cent increase in licensed minicabs. Transport for London is allowing 250 extra minicabs on to London’s streets every week; and in addition Uber is recruiting 1,200 new drivers a month.
We had heard rumours of many drivers returning their badges and leaving the trade, in fact taxi license renewal applications are down 20 per cent on last year. It would seem even Transport for London employees are not immune from the cut-backs. The number of applicants looking to commence The Knowledge has fallen more than two-thirds this year, therefore fewer examiners are required in the future.
It would seem that the hon. R. J. Mellish, MP was correct when he opened the Commons debate with these words:
The subject which I wish to raise is of paramount importance to many thousands of men who earn their living as taxi-drivers in London. We expect that the Minister when he replies to the debate will make a statement which will relieve them of their anxieties. I think that there may well be a serious position on the streets of London unless the right hon. Gentleman is clear about what he has to say.
I will explain the story for the benefit of those who have taken the trouble to stay and listen. I speak for over 10,000 taxi-drivers in London and I am also putting forward the views of many owner-drivers. I speak, also, on behalf of proprietors of taxicabs. It is unusual for me to speak on behalf of employers, but I am doing so on this occasion. There is a united view on this matter, not only among the owners and drivers but also among many hundreds of thousands of workshop staff and clerical workers and people employed in ancillary industries associated with taxicabs.
It just seems to have taken over half-a-century for his predictions, with a little help from Transport for London, to come to fruition with the demise of London’s cab trade.