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.