Monday 29 November 2010

Taxi For Government Regulations

At a house party on Saturday night, I engaged in an interesting conversation with a London black cab driver. Evidence that public sector interference is mostly ill-judged, inconsistent, and inherently leads to unintended consequences is thick on the ground in his industry.

For example, he regaled me with regulations being inflicted on cabbies in the environmental cause. Boris Johnson is apparently soon to implement the policy, mooted by Ken Livingstone before his being kicked out (no surprise that Tory=Labour there), of banning the use of taxis which are over 10 years old.

Now, one reason that the iconic 'jelly-mould' black cab has changed little in sixty-odd years is because they were originally built to last as long as possible. That is, to do the job intended for them, for a long, long time. As a result of cabbies driving the same taxi for decades, which was cost-effective, it wasn't as lucrative for new models to be produced for taxi drivers as it was for the domestic market. Such was a unique London sight created.

Taxis are designed to run for hundreds of thousands of miles, and their reliability and profitability reflected in the £35,000 price tag for a new one. By placing a time limit on their use, a raising of overheads will be created for cabbies, and thousands of vehicles will be rendered obsolete overnight.

In pursuit of a cleaner engine, waste is being encouraged and producers incentivised to skimp on reliability, thereby leading to more manufacturing (err, bad for the environment?) and, no doubt, higher fares to further dissuade leaving one's car at home.

Talking of which, the person I was speaking to has stated that he isn't going to bother anymore once the new rules come in. He's 63 and it's simply not worth his while to shell out for a new vehicle to replace his 12 year old one which is in perfect health.

Especially not since the congestion charge came in. That was when a quite incredibly stupid Livingstone decided that so many people would be dissuaded from driving into London that an extra 4,000 taxi licences (on top of the 21,000 previously licensed) were required to take the extra traffic. Quite how he believed a £5 charge would 'nudge' people into paying, err, about the same or more for a London cab is anyone's guess.

Of course, more supply equates to lesser demand and ultimately fewer taxi drivers, but with costs higher due to state interference, no reduction in fares is likely. Those left in the trade lose income or are forced out, but there is still no extra incentive to take a taxi instead of the car.

The 10 year policy is laughable enough without taking into account that the Public Carriage Office has strict guidelines on emissions already, so the new restrictions (forced on us by the EU, natch) will make little difference in pollution levels.

Great job, Mr Mayor.

On disability access, it appears that although all cabs must now be comprehensively wheelchair accessible, the result has been pricier vehicles but the extra time it takes for loading - along with the damage that regularly occurs when poorly-driven motorised chairs damage an expensive cab - means that most cabbies just 'look the other way' when someone in a wheelchair tries to hail them.

Even smoking regulations are half-arsed. It's illegal to allow anyone to smoke in a black cab, yet the cab itself will be failed on inspection if it doesn't have two ashtrays in the passenger area. I'm not kidding! Presumably they are required to deter littering, despite customers either jamming them up so much that they break, or just leaving their waste on the floor.

And, lastly, parking regulations. In the effort to raise revenue keep roads clutter-free, there is now nowhere in central London - according to my acquaintance - where a cabbie doesn't have to either park illegally or pay at a meter to take a piss ... that's if there is anywhere left to piss anyway since public loos have been closed down wholesale to discourage cottaging.

All this without mentioning the Olympics, the road plans for which put such burdens on black cabs that a huge number are talking of not bothering to work for the duration. Large expanses of London will consist of routinely busy roads having their capacity restricted by 50% to facilitate overwhelmingly empty 'VIP lanes'. Imagine, for example, the Limehouse Link - a car park at the best of times - being turned into a one lane highway with £200 fines for straying into the unused part of the road we pay our taxes for.

In the words of my new cabbie friend, "I could earn £50-£60 to go from Southwark to Docklands, but I wouldn't be happy doing that". Nor, I suspect, will the tourists who visit London for the event in 2012.

Remember, this is just one tiny area of state jurisdiction we're talking about here, but a perfect example of how legislation royally cocks things up - in thousands of different areas - whenever the public sector puts pen to incompetent decree.

The very best law that our government could enact would be one which requires lobotomisation of MPs and councillors to restrict their thinking, thereby stemming the resultant tide of absurd ideologically-led ideas.


Belinda said...

I really don't 'get' what's environmentally friendly about scrapping vehicles with useful life in them.

Anonymous said...

Why not also have a go at the nonsense of having two completely separate licensing systems - one for 'Hackney Carriages' and another for 'private hire'.

Outside London (with its black cabs) try explaining that nonsense to a foreigner - you lose the will to live trying to justify it.

A customer should't need to give a shit what 'type' of car it is - he just wants to be driven from A to B safely. One simple, common set of regulation should cover it all.

Anonymous said...

Belinda - like most "green" "initiatives" there's money to be made somewhere.

As for "lobotomisation" I thought mps already were :-)

George Speller

Angry Exile said...

Anonymous, it's not that unusual. Aside from the fact that everywhere in the UK has Hackney and Private Hire (or everywhere I've lived or spent any time) we have the same thing here in the bottom right hand corner of Australia. The terminology is different but semantics aside it's pretty much the same deal - taxis can use ranks and stop when hailed on the street, and private hire vehicles can't. Taxis have to charge according to the tariff the local authority sets while the private hire mob can set whatever price they feel is right for their business. Are both forms of licence really needed? Unless you expect things like wedding cars and those horrible stretched pink Hummers for hen nights to run on a meter like the taxis then I'd say the answer is probably yes. The operators of the stretched Hummers that go round Melbourne would certainly go bust if they had to charge taxi rates, as would some "executive car/driver" type businesses I know of.

Incidentally, on the subject of Private Hire Vehicles, I heard that there were a few dozen people who'd registered their cars as such with the Public Carriage Office in London just to avoid the Kengestion Charge. Don't know if that loophole was ever shut and obviously you'd need to go into the zone enough to make the fee worthwhile, but if it's still valid it's another reason to keep the Private Hire category. The downside is that presumably you now can't have a fag in it and even have to put no smoking stickers on the fucking windows.

Dick Puddlecote said...

AE: You're right about some people registering as Private Hire to avoid the congestion charge, I think Jeremy Clarkson was one of them. They have kinda blocked the loophole a bit though. You used to just have to have your car inspected by the PCO twice a year (cost around £110 each inspection), so it was just about cost-effective.

But now, I believe, they insist only PCO operator licence holders can apply for inspections. This entails having an operating base (could be your home) which must be inspected before granting a licence. Of course, there are fees for that too. An application fee and a granting of licence fee - and you have to show a booking procedure, have a health and safety policy etc etc, even a system for returning lost property!

So it's not really worth it anymore for the general public.

Fortunately for me, being in transport, my company needs an operator's licence anyway and there's always a spare car lying around if I want to go in the zone ... so the congestion charge can kiss my arse. ;)

Smoking Hot said...

There's going to be a hell of a lot of taxis for sale the first year this ridiculous law comes in. How many of those bought will be picking up fares? :)

timbone said...
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timbone said...
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timbone said...

In 1972 my brother picked up a bargain. A London taxi which had done it's alloted 200,000 miles, still had as much life in it as an 80 year old smoker. It had a 'governor', which meant it could not do more than 40 mph. No problem for bro, he loves having time to think. Only downside was that he drove to work in it, as a lecturer in a university. Well, not really a downside, not in 1972, when you could drink and smoke and be an extrovert with not so much as the blink of an eye.

Roger Thornhill said...

IIRC 80% of the emissions a vehicle produces are from its manufacture, not operation.

So to scrap a car 10 years old is folly indeed.

Anyhow, what is the age got to do with it - just set higher emissions levels for the vehicles and as engines wear out the owner will overhaul or swap out. Simples.

Nope, one wonders if there are other brown envelopes at work here.

banned said...

@Anon 29 November 2010 15:32

Plymouth and other Councils have abandoned the differential between Hackney Carriages and Private Hire, if they can why can't others? As you say, it is a nonsense whose only purpose is to retain a cartel for the Hackney Carriages to stand on Ranks; and makework for licensing inspectors who see fit to check that Private Hire cars are not lufking around nightclubs and the like.

Angry Exile said...

Out of curiosity how are Plymouth dealing with the fact that Hackney and Private Hire vehicles actually have different functions and run quite differently as a business even though some (but certainly not all) Private Hires compete with taxis? Taxis absolutely have to have meters but in something like a wedding car, or to use an example I'm more familiar with, an executive chauffeur service (no, I don't use one myself - I wish) it'd be ridiculous and probably prevent the operator charging enough to make a profit. Taxis have to stop for if hailed and are often supposed to take even obviously drunk passengers. They basically can't turn down jobs while Private Hires are able to be much more choosy and charge accordingly. They're licensed differently because fundamentally they are not the same, and I can't work out how Plymouth is going to make it work.

banned said...

@AE "Taxis have to stop for if hailed and are often supposed to take even obviously drunk passengers."
No they don't, Hackney cabs can refuse service to drunk, aggressive or drugged up people.

In Plymouth they gave up the differential because of the cost of policing the pointless and medieval distinction which, as you rightly outline, perplexes visitors. Their licenced Taxis simply have a single licence which enables them either to ply for hire on a taxi rank or en route thereto or to accept a booking from their Taxi office.

In terms of dead mileage alone this is clearly a better way.

ps DP All Private Hire cars have to be unlicenced after 8 years but they do tend to be run -of-the-mill sallons or hatchbacks.

Dick Puddlecote said...

Banned: Yes, I've heard of the same time limitations in other areas too. But it's never been about environmentalism, normally it's to do with safety for kids etc. (still over-weening and unnecessary but at least not counter-productive).

Angry Exile said...

"Hackney cabs can refuse service to drunk, aggressive or drugged up people."

Agressive, yes, but only that. I'm told by a former Hackney plated driver that drunks specifically are not excluded, which really surprised me. Apparently you're expected to get them home safeIy. I doubt drugs are mentioned. If someone is aggressive because of alcohol or drugs, sure, but it's the aggression that makes the difference. Only that can keep them out, though my source also told me that in practice it's not hard to avoid taking them. You just ask where they're going and then say you've got a booking in the other direction in ten minutes time and can't take them. I'm sure every cabbie does it and gets away with it but apparently it's not playing by the letter of the rules.

"In Plymouth they gave up the differential because of the cost of policing the pointless and medieval distinction which, as you rightly outline, perplexes visitors."

That's why but it doesn't tell me how they make it work. As I said the two are licensed differently because they are not the same, and I can't understand how anyone can find it confusing. Australia does it the same way as the UK and the more I think about the more sure I am that every city that has both taxis and any form of regulation for limo or chauffeur services will also do it that way. Terminology may be different but that's just semantics. The two are as similar as a carpenter and a kitchen fitter - both tradies with some skill overlaps but not the same thing. I can't imagine how Plymouth is going to avoid affecting business for one or other trades unless they're simply deregulating the hire side completely. That mightn't be a bad thing but in Nanny Britain it'd be pretty unusual too.

Angry Exile said...

"Their licenced Taxis simply have a single licence which enables them either to ply for hire on a taxi rank or en route thereto or to accept a booking from their Taxi office."

As I understand it a Hackney plater has always been able to do all that anyway. So maybe they did just deregulate the hire mob then?

banned said...

I'll answer both your last two posts in one AE.
Hackney Carriages may not take 'bookings' and do not have an office from which to do so.

They can only be hailed at, or on their way, to a rank.
They may not hang around hospitals or nightclubs (unless there is a rank there) and they may not return to a private address to take someone back to the train station.

In deregulated Plymouth all Taxis can now either be hailed or booked which, in my view, is to everybodies advantage except the former holders of the old Hackney Carriage plate. That plate while issued by the Council was the private property of the plate holder, to be bought and sold at will and not many years ago you could get a mortgage on the strength of owning one.

Councils that issue Hackney plates are, in effect, facilitating a price rigging cartel; Plymouth has abolished this.

Angry Exile said...

I suspect this must have been a Plymouth thing because everywhere I've lived in the UK Hackney Carriages certainly were allowed to take bookings, pick up at private address and generally had an office if there were more than a few vehicles in the company. Of the times I've booked taxis what actually turned up has been a mixture of HC and PH, but mostly HC. And as I said my HC driving friend definitely did both. I can't believe this was not permitted since the phone number for bookings was written down the side of his taxi - as on many other cabs in the town - and the unless the council's taxi officer was Stevie Wonder he couldn't fail to have noticed that all the Hackney Cabs there were taking bookings when so many of them advertised it prominently on their vehicles. Yet there were still Private Hire vehicles being licensed as well.

That plate while issued by the Council was the private property of the plate holder, to be bought and sold at will and not many years ago you could get a mortgage on the strength of owning one.

That sounds like the situation in Melbourne where a taxi plate is worth nearly half a million dollars. Might even be more - that estimate came from Wikipedia and said Oct 08. But this isn't due to Hackney and Private Hire vehicles (to use British terms for the Oz equivalents) both operating here so much as the authority capping the number of plates issued and artificially inflating their value. With a cap there's a ready market for any plates that become available, without they're not worth a penny more than the LA charge and effectively non-transferrable. No cartel as such, just the economics of artificial scarcity at work. Removing the cap is all that's needed to fix it and no need to lump vehicles for hire in with vehicles that ply for hire, though I'm sure the cabbies who got in the game years ago and have watched the value of the bit of tin screwed to their car appreciate will look at it as a retirement fund and pressurise the local authority to maintain the cap on vehicles. I think this is what many UK councils have done, and it doesn't get rid of the Private Hires so much as hide them from casual view. They're still there doing the weddings and hen nights and airport runs for company CEOs, and unless Plymouth have washed their hands of regulating that area at all they're probably still in Plymouth too.

Anonymous said...

Dick, up here In Edinburgh the local authority stipulates Hackney cabs can be no more than maybe 5 or 7 years old, before they are retired.

I'm guessing at the age but there is a limit.