TfL "Woefully Inadequate" Over Cab Regulation

Rachel Holdsworth
By Rachel Holdsworth Last edited 40 months ago
TfL "Woefully Inadequate" Over Cab Regulation

Photo by Sowiesoso. from the Londonist Flickr pool

Transport for London (TfL) has been bashed about by a London Assembly report looking at its handling of the taxi and private hire industry.

TfL regulates taxis and minicabs but Caroline Pidgeon, chair of the Assembly's Transport Committee, says it's doing a "woefully inadequate" job, continuing:

"TfL needs to get to grips with the basics — such as improving signage, installing more taxi ranks and staying ahead of the rapid technological advances, putting the passenger first — which is what Londoners and our visitors expect and deserve."

When it comes to safety, of the 1,000 passengers surveyed less than half knew how to tell if a minicab is licensed and two-thirds knew how to tell if a taxi is licensed. 58% of those surveyed said they were reassured by the sight of one of those blue roundel stickers but — and this was news to us — apparently there's a problem with fake stickers doing the rounds. Touting is also a major problem (remember: if your minicab isn't booked, it isn't insured and if anything goes wrong it's much harder to identify the driver later). The London Taxi Partnership told the Assembly that

"Illegal touting by both licensed and unlicensed private hire operators and drivers is rampant and evident across large parts of London every single evening, and this is allowed to continue unchecked."

Yet the International Association of Transportation Regulators said the numbers of enforcement officers are "outstandingly low" compared with other cities. New York, for example, has five times the number of TfL's 39 staff.

The Assembly also says there needs to be more taxi ranks, and that TfL should work to ensure all tube stations that are getting 24 hour trains have a rank by September 2015 (that's when all-night weekend running starts, nighthawks), and all suburban tube and rail stations should have a rank by May 2016. And to really add to that old joke about not going sarf of the river, 74% of rank spaces are north of the Thames.

However, it's for the conflict over Uber that the Assembly really unleashes its guns. The question of whether Uber is a minicab or a metered taxi has caused all kinds of rows this year, including go-slow congestion-causing protests in central London. The Assembly accuses TfL of, in effect, rolling over and not doing anything to properly enforce Uber's challenge to existing laws. The report says

"If TfL is seen to be publicly supporting companies that challenge its authority as a regulator, then it weakens its own position in dealing with future challenges... TfL may well have opened the floodgates to further disruption from new challengers in the industries."

Tom Edwards, BBC London's transport correspondent, calls the report "brutal... I can't remember such a critical report from the transport committee". TfL clearly needs to do more than tinker at the edges with apps and cashless payment, it needs to rapidly repair relationships between itself and those it regulates before passengers switch to other modes of transport, like unlicensed ridesharing, which may be cheaper but ultimately far less safe.

Last Updated 17 December 2014


Instead of campaigning against Uber on a technicality ("Please, protect our state-enforced monopoly against people who're using something a bit like a meter"), maybe cabbies should be more active in reminding people why black cabs are better and worth the extra money? The fact that cabbies know all the shortcuts around town, and can use bus lanes means that they can whisk you around town much more quickly than Uber drivers - a huge advantage - but rarely mentioned in their anti-Uber campaign.

Cabbies also need to sort out the quality of service offered - no more of this "not going south of the river" and "cash only mate" nonsense.

Andy Brice

The equipment used to measure a journey's time and distance is insignificant. The fundamental difference is whether the fare is decided before or after the journey.

Either TfL need to deregulate and allow all minicabs to charge by the meter.

Or they need to require all minicabs to agree the fare before the trip.

Anything else would be an arbitrary distinction.


Remember Kodak? Owned the market and then lost it by refusing to embrace technology (that, ironically, it was instrumental in developing).

I take black cabs relatively frequently but marvel at how stuck in the past they are - for a very modern, always-increasing cost. Where's the mobile wifi for passengers? (You're lucky if the heat is on.) Why don't they have a bespoke BackCab-sourced traffic avoidance system? Why are they all still filthy diesel?

I submit the reason is that (like Kodak) any modernisation would eat into their fat profits/incomes. So instead they attempt to maintain a monopoly to the bitter end. Yes, the Knowledge is a great thing, but it's much less valuable now that GPS is ubiquitous and when traffic is bad they are not magicians - just incredibly expensive. Take the Tube!

Greg Tingey

No mention here of the "licensed" mini-cab operators whom I see on the roads ...
Their driving standards are appalling.
On their mobiles at least one-thirdof the time ...
I followed one on Monday morning - he made four turns in fornt of me without signalling for any of them ....


I never thought I'd get singled out as a cab apologist!

I use both black cabs and Uber regularly. With both services I've had great drivers, and with both services I've had drivers who are rude and racist, and drivers who have refused fares for being "in the wrong direction". For me the only differences between the two are price and convenience.

UberX is cheaper than cabs. Waay cheaper. But it takes you longer to get to your destination, particularly in the rush hour. First there's the faff of the Uber driver finding you (and the five minute wait invariably becomes ten). Then the Uber driver will rely on sat nav - typically ramming them straight into a traffic jam during the rush hour, leaving you steaming in traffic.

Cabs cost more - a lot more - but you can (often) hail one in the street within minutes, the driver will know where they're going, which sneaky back routes to take to avoid traffic, and can coast down bus lanes past all of the queuing traffic. They get you to your destination more quickly.

I think both services can comfortably exist together - Uber as the budget service that takes you a little longer to get to where you're going, and black cabs as the premium service for when time's short and you need to get to where you're going to pronto.

The problem is - cabbies haven't yet realised this. They need to recognise that Uber is here to stay - and instead of whingeing about meters, recognise that if they're to stay in this game, they need to start providing a service that matches the premium charge (we're talking credit card acceptance for starters...), and start talking about why taking a black cab can be a logical choice over Ubers.