From today, all private hire drivers in London will have to pay the daily £11.50 congestion charge when driving in central London.
This is an enormous financial burden for some of the city’s lower paid workers – costing nearly £3,000 a year for a driver earning around £25,000. It's also hugely unfair for operators, many of which are being forced to increase fares so that their drivers don’t have to meet the added cost.
In fact, the entire plan from the mayor’s office and Transport for London (TfL) is ill-conceived and premature in its implementation.
Don’t get me wrong, we are supportive of the mayor’s stated aim to reduce pollution and congestion in order to improve public health in London. As a business, we use the latest vehicle technology to ensure that our fleet emits the least possible pollution.
However, the mayor is rushing towards his goal of an emission-free London without there being adequate infrastructure for, nor supply of, zero-emission vehicles. Neither London’s charging network, nor the world’s car manufacturers, are currently able to support the mayor in his ambitions.
While a lot of progress has been made, the private hire industry simply cannot keep up, and there are serious questions about whether some operators will be able to remain afloat commercially with the new rule in place.
There are tens of thousands of private hire vehicles operating on the streets of London, and we have the largest fleet of zero-emission cars in the UK. If it were possible to have a fleet made up solely of zero-emission vehicles, we would be the first to do so.
However, neither London nor our industry is ready yet. The pure electric models on the market are either too expensive, too small, or don’t have sufficient range. And for drivers whose earnings are dependent on minimising time between fares, these vehicles take too long to charge. There also aren’t enough fast charging points at the right locations across London.
Added to this, from January 2020, all new private-hire vehicles will have to be zero-emission capable. This means that from January 2020, Toyota Prius and other popular private hire vehicles, which are low-emission but not zero-emission capable, will no longer be accepted for private hire licences by TfL.
As such, all TfL-licensed operators and owner drivers will have to replace their current fleet with zero-emission vehicles that are more expensive and less fit for purpose.
We feel that companies like ours are being punished without being given the opportunity to avoid the consequences. And the irony is that black taxis, which emit 26 per cent of London’s deadly particulate matter, and whose fares are often twice the cost of private hire vehicles, are exempt from this new charge.
The proposed “electric vehicle revolution” is a great vision, but the current plan is without the necessary foundations. In reality, Khan’s new policy is unsustainable, and actually harms the broader “green” cause.
Customers will be left to bemoan the green initiative; they will doubtless equate the added costs and reduction in affordable transport options to the environmental agenda, rather than TfL’s back-to-front implementation.
If the infrastructure and vehicles were in place, we’d be the first to support this initiative. But imposing a new charge on an industry without the possibility of meaningful compliance, is nothing more than a tax.
As the pioneers of environmentally-friendly transport in London, that is a particularly bitter pill to swallow.