Changes to Congestion Charge – PHVs Targeted To Raise Money

The Mayor of London and TfL have announced proposals to change the Congestion Charge (a.k.a. Tax) so as to raise more money. The main change is that PHVs (minicabs) will no longer be exempt from paying this tax. Uber and other drivers will no doubt be up in arms about this and it will mean their clients pay a lot more.

Another change is that the Ultra Low Emission Discount (ULED) which currently applies to vehicles that emit less than 75g/km of CO2 will need to have zero emission capability by 2019 and by 2021 only electric vehicles will qualify. That means that many of the 20,000 vehicles currently registered for the ULED will need to be changed if the owners wish to continue to qualify for the discount.

A Blatant Lie

What’s the justification for these changes? The consultation announcement says that the Congestion Charge “was a huge success”. It claims a reduction in traffic and a 30% reduction in congestion as well as improvements in air quality since it was introduced. These claims are simply spurious. There was a short-term reduction in some vehicles entering the central zone, but the numbers of taxis, PHVs and buses increased. The result was that congestion soon returned to what it was before the tax was introduced and has since got substantially worse. Neither was there any improvement in air pollution which was never expected to happen and did not. See this web page for the facts: http://www.freedomfordrivers.org/congestion.htm

The claims made by TfL are downright lies. But traffic delays have been increasing which is the justification put forward by TfL for the proposed changes.

Why Should Taxis Be Exempt?

One controversial aspect of the original scheme was that registered taxis (black cabs) and PHVs (private hire vehicles) were exempt from the congestion tax. It was never very clear as to why some vehicles should be exempt while others are not. Why should private car occupants pay the charge while people using other vehicles for similar journeys should not? Even more puzzling is why PHVs are now proposed to be taxed while taxis are not. What is the logic of this? Note that the increase in PHVs due to the popularity of services such as Uber has led to many more vehicles entering central London of late and hence have contributed to congestion significantly in the last couple of years. But will the tax now proposed actually reduce their numbers? That is surely unlikely for the same reason that the congestion charge scheme did not reduce congestion. The unsatisfied public demand is such as to soon soak up the capacity released by people unwilling to pay the tax. You cannot solve congestion via taxation!

It’s About Money

The conclusion must be that these proposals are more about raising money for the Budget of Mayor Sadiq Khan. He desperately needs it. See previous blog posts for coverage of that topic.

A Timely Announcement

One might ask why the Mayor chose to announce these changes on a Friday lunchtime when the news channels will be dominated by the Brexit decisions and the England World Cup match for the next 48 hours. This might enable him to escape the opprobrium of PHV drivers for a few hours but not much longer I suggest.

More Information

See this web page for more information and to respond to an on-line consultation: https://consultations.tfl.gov.uk/policy/private-hire-charge-exemption/?cid=ccyourviews

You may also wish to tell us how the ABD should respond to the consultation as we will certainly be doing so.

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Is Khan Trying to Kill the Private Hire Industry?

Gareth Bacon, leader of the Conservatives in the London Assembly, has published a revealing article on the policies of Mayor Sadiq Khan under the headline “Is Khan trying to kill the private hire industry – or is he just incompetent”. It suggests that Khan is pursuing short term flashy policy gimmicks but he is hampered by his election promise to freeze public transport fares. This means he is “scrambling around to make savings and raise money”. One victim of this is the private hire (minicab) industry where proposed increases in license fees are astronomical. This could force hundreds of mid-size PHV operators out of business.

The costs for larger operators such as Uber will rise enormously – as much as 102,500 per cent the article suggests. That’s assuming they even manage to retain their license which is under threat.

The recently published Mayor’s Transport Strategy indicates he wants us all to walk, cycle or use public transport as it’s more “healthy” than getting in a car or PHV. So his tactics are certainly consistent if nothing else. He not just wants you to stop owning and driving a car, he wants you to stop using private hire vehicles and taxis also no doubt.

But like all good politicians, he is not proposing a simple ban, but attacking them indirectly by raising their costs and getting tough on licensing conditions.

The full article is here and it’s well worth reading:

https://www.conservativehome.com/localgovernment/2017/11/gareth-bacon-is-mayor-khan-trying-to-kill-the-private-hire-industry-or-is-he-just-incompetent.html

Roger Lawson

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Uber Kicked Out of London

Transport for London (TfL) have announced that Uber’s licence to operate in London will not be renewed. That means their service will terminate in a few weeks and 40,000 drivers will be put out of work. There are as many as 3.5 million Uber users in London and a petition to reverse the decision has already been established on Change.org which has collected 450,000 signatures in about 24 hours – see https://www.change.org/p/save-your-uber-in-london-saveyouruber

TfL, supported by Mayor Sadiq Khan, claim Uber is not a fit and proper organisation to hold a license due to its failure to report incidents, failures on vetting drivers and other grounds. Uber have 21 days in which to appeal, and no doubt there will be a legal challenge as well if TfL do not back down.

TfL previously announced that license fees for Uber to operate in London will rise from £3,000 to £3 million for a 5-year license, so it is clear that the Mayor is attacking Uber via more than one channel. Why is he doing this? It is clear from the Mayor’s recently published Transport Strategy (see http://www.freedomfordrivers.org/against-mts.htm ) that Private Hire Vehicles (PHVs) such as Uber operate are contributing to traffic congestion in London in a big way. But it is also clear that the Mayor objects to all private vehicles whether you drive them or someone else drives them for you.

Are there alternatives to Uber? Lyft is a big similar operator in the USA but does not operate in London yet. Taxify launched in London recently but then had to suspend operations after TfL queried its license. There is a service called Hailo that operates to call conventional taxis (don’t bother trying to use it in outer London though in my experience), and numerous local PHV operators plus larger operators such as Addison Lee who have a ride hailing app.

Comment: I am not totally convinced that the allegations against Uber are serious enough to warrant refusal of a license. Perhaps Uber should up its game in several areas, but is it any worse than other PHV operators? As a relatively new service, with lots of new drivers, there are likely to be some teething problems. Other penalties could surely have been considered. For example, a grant of a new license for a limited period on certain conditions being met.

I have used Uber a few times and the service is both efficient and low cost (Uber loses money in a big way I understand). For example, I called Uber recently to take my wife home at 3.00 am in the morning from an outer London hospital. The driver arrived in about 3 minutes. Great service at very reasonable cost.

Many people will see this act by the Mayor for what it is. A simple attack on a service that the Mayor and those in TfL would like to put out of business so that people have to walk, cycle or use public transport (i.e. use many less safe alternatives) if you read his Transport Strategy. That is why the ABD is so opposed to it.

It is true that the number of PHVs is contributing to traffic congestion, but there are other ways to ration their numbers and usage (e.g. on price).

I recommend that you sign the petition, as I shall be doing.

Roger Lawson

Twitter: https://twitter.com/Drivers_London

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