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May 15

UCN1… John Mason’s Email.

Director of Taxis & Private Hire, John Mason recently emailed The United Cabbies Group to complain about some of the content in the first edition of United Cabbies News (UCN).

Mr Mason specifically asked that we print his comments in edition 2 of UCN, however due to the a lack of space we have decided to publish Mr Mason’s comments on our website, along with the UCG’s response.

Dear Sir / Madam

United Cabbies News, Issue No1, April 2011

I read with interest the first edition of United Cabbies News. I was encouraged
that in the “Welcome” article you stated the aim of the publication was “to
bring you a trade publication that is both informative and exiting to read, and
delivers all the facts about what is happening in the London Taxi trade”.
Having read the magazine in its entirety, and given your objective, I feel
compelled to respond to a number of the points that were made. I also want to
correct a number of factual inaccuracies to set the record straight.

Firstly, on Page 4 you report that there is “whisperings of conflict” within the
Knowledge of London examination team and that over the last few months five
examiners have resigned, some in protest at TfL’s civil servant managers
constant meddling and overruling examiners when they have not scored a student.
I am afraid the truth and the facts of the matter are, as always, very
different.

For the record, in the past year we have had two resignations, one dismissal,
one retirement. Two of those examiners were part time and we are in the process
of recruiting two full time examiners to replace them. When they are in place
we will have more full time examiners, spending more time undertaking
examinations, than ever before. It is also worth pointing out that the
examiners themselves are “civil servants” and first and foremost employees of
TfL, not taxi drivers.

To claim that we in some way are orchestrating delays with The Knowledge or
worse, manipulating results is, quite frankly absurd and without basis or fact.

Had you asked (and I hope you would agree that whilst I do not meet you formally
I have always responded to email requests from you) I would have had no problem
confirming that March was an especially difficult month for us in terms of
appearances. I am sorry to say that during the first part of the month we were
not meeting our target for appearance appointment . This was primarily due to an
increasing volume of candidates now on appearances and the examiner vacancies I
mention above. We have some measures in place to improve our performance on
appearance targets. Currently 56 days are running on target (or under time if
acceptable to the candidate), 28 and 21 days are over at 34 days but again this
is reducing and we will continue to work towards meeting these targets.

I would like to make clear that we never, ever, intentionally delay the
appearance target dates. We do absolutely everything we can to meet or exceed
them and have made lots of changes to this end. Obviously the recruitment of two
additional examiners will help in this respect the team are continually seeking
to improve efficiency without compromising quality. This has included
maximising the time that examiners have for exams by changing working hours,
reducing “out days” and removing the “initial talk” amongst other things.

Secondly, with regards to the Private Hire Consultation, I would like to make
clear that, contrary to your assertion, this was not launched as a direct result
of action and demonstrations by the UCG. The fact of the matter is that the
consultation was due to start in late 2009, but I wanted to understand more
fully the key issues of both the taxi and private hire trade. I therefore asked
for the consultation to be placed on hold and the proposals set out in the
consultation are as a direct result of extensive and significant valuable,
rational, constructive and helpful dialogue with both the private hire trade and
the very taxi drivers associations you clearly oppose.

Thirdly, and perhaps most importantly, are the wild and completely unfounded
allegations of some sort of hidden agenda behind the Safer Travel at Night
campaign. For the record the presentation you used extracts from in the first
edition of your publication is more than 5 years old and of little value in
terms of either understanding or communicating current policy.

To be clear, there is no “hidden agenda” or “secret plans” to destroy the taxi
trade. There have been no secret deals behind closed doors between TfL and
members of the taxi associations you oppose. No requests have ever been made by
TfL to trade papers not to publish anything from the STaN presentation and no
concessions have been sought from taxi driver associations for not doing so.

I remain disappointed that the UCG continues to claim that the rise of reported
cab related sexual offences is a direct result of the Safer Travel at Night
campaign and, in particular, solely as a result of licensed private hire. There
is no evidence whatsoever to support such a claim and the leaflets that you
continue to distribute can, at best, be described as misleading, irresponsible
and offensive.

The bottom line is that the Safer Travel at Night campaign has, and continues to
be, very successful in raising awareness of the dangers of using unlicensed
minicabs or getting into licensed minicabs without booking and checking to those
most likely to be subject to a cab related sexual assault.

Despite the above, as you know we have and continue to take action and through
the consultation put forward various proposals which you responded to. This
included:

∙ Reviewing the situation of operators in venues which is exactly why I
instructed that we put a hold on issuing any more operator licenses in 3rd party
venues back in July last year;

∙ Reviewing where private hire operators in 3rd party locations such as
newsagents and shops;

∙ Looking again at the issue of planning permission / consent for
operators in such venues and a range of other issues such as driver and vehicle
identification, CRB checks etc. etc.

This consultation is clearly a major priority for us and the taxi and private
hire trades as a whole. The sooner we can progress without distractions such as
unnecessary demonstrations and responding to / correcting incorrect and
misleading statements such as those distributed in your leaflet or made in your
paper the sooner we can progress to a conclusion.

I trust you will print this response in your next edition.

Regards

John Mason
Director
London Taxi and Private Hire

Dear Mr Mason

Thank you for your feedback regarding United Cabbies News.

If we may, we will respond to your accusations of factual inaccuracies on a point by point basis.

Firstly, on Page 4 you report that there is “whisperings of conflict” within the Knowledge of London examination team and that over the last few months five examiners have resigned, some in protest at TfL’s civil servant managers constant meddling and overruling examiners when they have not scored a student. I am afraid the truth and the facts of the matter are, as always, very different. For the record, in the past year we have had two resignations, one dismissal, one retirement. Two of those examiners were part time and we are in the process of recruiting two full time examiners to replace them. When they are in place we will have more full time examiners, spending more time undertaking examinations, than ever before. It is also worth pointing out that the examiners themselves are “civil servants” and first and foremost employees of TfL

Our article on the Knowledge was written as a direct result of numerous unsolicited emails and telephone calls received from KOL Students expressing their concerns at delays in their appearances.

Clearly Mr Mason as you have never started, let alone completed the KOL you will never truly understand the arduous, monumental and laborious task of the KOL, as anyone who has completed it will testify. There are plenty of ups and downs and challenges to overcome on the long journey to gain a London Taxi driver’s license.

All Knowledge students fully expect to encounter set backs along the way, however, in our opinion it is unacceptable that students are being delayed due to the apparent incompetence of Taxis & Private Hire (TPH) and Transport for London (TfL).

Many Knowledge students have young families to feed and often have to endure severe financial hardship during their studies. We believe it is necessary to make TfL aware of the grievances the student’s have with TfL, especially when an already lengthy task is made even more difficult by TfL’s failure to keep to a schedule.

Ultimately, these delays are seriously affecting people’s lives.

To claim that we in some way are orchestrating delays with The Knowledge or worse, manipulating results is, quite frankly absurd and without basis or fact.Had you asked (and I hope you would agree that whilst I do not meet you formally I have always responded to email requests from you) I would have had no problem confirming that March was an especially difficult month for us in terms of appearances. I am sorry to say that during the first part of the month we were not meeting our target for appearance appointment. This was primarily due to an increasing volume of candidates now on appearances and the examiner vacancies I mention above. We have some measures in place to improve our performance on appearance targets. Currently 56 days are running on target (or under time if acceptable to the candidate), 28 and 21 days are over at 34 days but again this is reducing and we will continue to work towards meeting these targets. I would like to make clear that we never, ever, intentionally delay the appearance target dates. We do absolutely everything we can to meet or exceed them and have made lots of changes to this end. Obviously the recruitment of two additional examiners will help in this respect the team are continually seeking to improve efficiency without compromising quality. This has included maximising the time that examiners have for exams by changing working hours, reducing “out days” and removing the “initial talk” amongst other things.

We stand by our comments that examiners have resigned because they have felt undermined. We understand there is now a new system whereby Knowledge students have an option to score or review an appearance/examiner, how can this new system do anything but undermine an examiner?

Our understanding is that the KOL was not only designed to test a student’s knowledge but also to test his character under pressure. Do you imagine that once the Student becomes a cab driver and has a bad experience with a drunk he will be able to review or score his experience?

Maybe cab drivers in the future should be required to carry out a health & safety audit before each journey commences.

As to us reporting you had lost 5 Examiners, you admit to 4, therefore on that point we stand corrected.

We understand that your current level of examiners is counted as 7.5 (this we presume is civil servant speak) and your target is 10, therefore you currently have only 75% of your targeted capacity.

It is a known fact that when the economy is suffering KOL applications rise considerably, therefore to be running, currently at 25% below strength clearly is a concern.

As we stated in issue 1 of United Cabbies News, we are fearful that potential Knowledge students, (the lifeblood of our trade) are being deterred from signing up due to the extra time it is taking to complete and are choosing to take the much easier option of becoming a PH driver instead.

We hear that the number of PH drivers licensed by TfL last year totalled over 16,000, and that Licensed Taxi’s had a net gain of less than 150 drivers, please can you confirm if this is correct?

Secondly, with regards to the Private Hire Consultation, I would like to make clear that, contrary to your assertion, this was not launched as a direct result of action and demonstrations by the UCG. The fact of the matter is that the consultation was due to start in late 2009, but I wanted to understand more fully the key issues of both the taxi and private hire trade. I therefore asked for the consultation to be placed on hold and the proposals set out in the consultation are as a direct result of extensive and significant valuable, rational, constructive and helpful dialogue with both the private hire trade and the very taxi drivers associations you clearly oppose.

So in late 2009 TPH felt there was a need to review or consider TPH policies and yet this consultation finally happened 12 months later?

How many PH licenses were issued in that 12 months?
How many Satellite Offices were licensed in that time?

Three demonstrations were held during those 12 months, all of which would have been called off instantly if we had been told that you were intending to review the monster created by TPH, perhaps the appalling rape and sexual assault figures released late last year shook your Office out of its apathy!

Mr Mason, the ‘love in’ between the LTDA, Unite, LCDC. TPH, TfL and WCC is apparent for all to see. You state you are making progress, they agree, they then state they are making progress and you agree.

You use words like ‘valuable, rational, constructive, helpful, extensive, and effective’.

Meanwhile outside Abacus and many other venues, minicab drivers are now wearing bibs identifying themselves as Minicabs. So we now have sign written vehicles and sign written drivers, what’s next Mr Mason minicab drivers wearing baseball caps with built in flashing orange lights?

Touting gets worse every day, yet you are having constructive meetings?

The situation out there at the moment is best described as a football match where all hell is breaking loose in the penalty area, meanwhile you the referee are booking the corner flag.

Thirdly, and perhaps most importantly, are the wild and completely unfounded allegations of some sort of hidden agenda behind the Safer Travel at Night campaign. For the record the presentation you used extracts from in the first edition of your publication is more than 5 years old and of little value in terms of either understanding or communicating current policy.

We beg to differ.

We find your flippant and dismissive remarks about the STaN agenda astounding to say the least!

The UCG have been gathering evidence of the agenda behind STaN, if ever evidence was needed to prove the agenda behind STaN, we suggest that you look no further than Kingston upon Thames.

Members of the UCG were recently taken on a night time guided tour of Kingston Town Centre, all of us that attended were left absolutely gob smacked at what we witnessed there.

Lines of illegally parked PH vehicles as far as the eye could see, marshalled PH pick up points outside all of the main night time venues, van loads of Metropolitan Police officers parked on almost every street corner totally ignoring the illegal activities of PH drivers, not a single traffic enforcement officer in sight to move on the PH vehicles parked on the Taxi rank outside Kingston station, PCO signage advertising PH pick up points (ranks), minicab booking kiosks all proudly displayed under the banner of Safer Travel at Night (STaN).

Incidentally the PCO logo’d sign next to the pick up point advertises phone numbers for three local PH firms, in addition in much smaller text is a number to call should you wish to call a Licensed Taxi.

Guess what happens when you try to call a licensed Taxi….?

“This number is no longer in service! “

Now where have we heard this before? It certainly has a ring of familiarity to it….of course, the STaN report! The very initiative that you claim is of little use in understanding or communicating current policy!

It appears that you are implying that the contents of the 2006 STaN report is not current policy?

Perhaps you would be so kind as to enlighten us with what exactly is the current policy?.

Perhaps you could also inform us as to when the directive was issued to discontinue the ‘former’ policy that was highlighted in the 2006 award winning STaN report?

Or is it simply the case that the agenda behind the 2006 report is still being adhered to by the multi agencies involved in the implementation of STaN?

Maybe the existence of a ‘new’ agenda is being kept secret from the taxi trade, just like the original was kept secret until it was uncovered in November of last year by a UCG member?

It appears to us that you are in denial Mr Mason, just like your boss Peter Hendy was in denial when he disgraced himself live on air in front of thousands of listeners on LBC radio by denying the 54% rise in sexual assaults, despite TfL publishing the very same figures on their website.

Is Mr Hendy, Commissioner of TfL genuinely unaware of the statistics? Or did he conveniently forget the highly embarrassing figures in an attempt to hide the truth from the public and ultimately protect a failing agenda?

To be clear, there is no “hidden agenda” or “secret plans” to destroy the taxi trade.

Please forgive us Mr Mason when we say, we don’t believe you!

There have been no secret deals behind closed doors between TfL and members of the taxi associations you oppose. No requests have ever been made by TfL to trade papers not to publish anything from the STaN presentation and no concessions have been sought from taxi driver associations for not doing so.

We can assure you Mr Mason that there is no mention of ‘secret deals behind closed doors’ in the first edition of UCN.

No mention of requests from TfL to the trade papers to not mention STaN, and certainly no mention of ‘any concessions’.

Where has this come from?

We simply asked the question, why has there been no mention of the STaN report in any of other taxi trade publications?

I remain disappointed that the UCG continues to claim that the rise of reported cab related sexual offences is a direct result of the Safer Travel at Night campaign and, in particular, solely as a result of licensed private hire. There is no evidence whatsoever to support such a claim.

Can we make one thing very clear; the UCG does not oppose Safer Travel at Night, any initiative that has public safety as its objective will receive our full support.

The STaN article in the first edition of UCN highlights the fact that STaN enjoyed successes in its early years, unfortunately, then came the usual TfL meddling, the removal of planning permission, the removal of the need to keep booking records on site etc. This in our opinion is where STaN started to go drastically wrong.

We strongly believe that the whole sorry satellite office fiasco MUST be scrapped until such time that TfL and the Police have the resources required to enforce the law effectively.

In our view STaN has failed and TfL should hold up their hands, admit their mistakes and go back to the drawing board.

If in future a new STaN report is compiled, we hope you will consider sending it (in its entirety) to ALL Taxi trade organisations and not just the watered down version of the report we received in 2006.

We have previously stated the reasons why we believe STaN is failing and sexual assault figures have gone through the roof, why don’t you tell us what you think the reasons are for the huge increase?

Recently we requested a breakdown of the sexual assault statistics via a freedom of information request, ie, how many were committed by Taxi drivers?, How many by PH drivers? etc, we were refused the details on the grounds of cost!

This despite the fact that you have claimed to have previously been shown these figures by the Police.

The Police say they do not have these figures, who is telling the truth?

It is fair to say that if a London Taxi driver is arrested for a rape or sexual assault the media would be all over it like a rash, and rightly so, however a PH driver committing the same crime appears to be far less news worthy.

We are sure that if 147 sexual assaults had been committed by Licensed Taxi drivers, there would be a public outcry and we and the rest of the world would have heard about it.

The leaflets that you continue to distribute can, at best, be described as misleading, irresponsible and offensive.

The UCG totally refute these allegations! The leaflets were designed to warn the public of the dangers of getting into un-booked minicabs, for you to describe the leaflets as you have is ‘at best’ laughable.

Below is what we perceive to be misleading, irresponsible and offensive.

Misleading – Peter Hendy the commissioner for TfL recently denied the 54% increase live on LBC radio, describing it as the work of militant blogists.

Who is being misleading here?

Irresponsible – TfL saw fit to issue convicted wife killer Shamshul Haque with a PH license and deemed him a fit and proper person to begin studying the Knowledge of London, with a view to becoming a London Taxi driver, despite his previous convictions for exposing himself in public, assaulting his daughter and a police officer.

And you accuse us of being irresponsible!

Offensive – 147 sexual assaults categorised as ‘cab related’, besmirching the world renowned reputation of London Taxi drivers.

We believe this to be extremely damaging and downright ‘offensive’.

The bottom line is that the Safer Travel at Night campaign has, and continues to be, very successful in raising awareness of the dangers of using unlicensed minicabs or getting into licensed minicabs without booking and checking to those most likely to be subject to a cab related sexual assault.

We would have thought that the last thing you could describe 147 sexual assaults in a year is ‘very successful’.

The unfortunate truth is that rapes and sexual assaults will continue until more resources are provided to enforce the law and effective deterrents are introduced.

Do you think just four dedicated night time enforcement officers in a city the size of London is enough to cope with a problem that has reached epidemic proportions?

Four officers to police 70,000 plus PH drivers and 25,000 licensed taxis!

On an actuary type basis you probably have more chance of getting run over by a jumbo jet whilst shopping in Oxford Street than you do for getting nicked whilst touting.

Despite the above, as you know we have and continue to take action and through the consultation put forward various proposals which you responded to.

Bearing in mind the figures above, the touts know there is very little chance of ever being caught, there appears to be very little fear amongst them.

As you aware, it has taken more than a year to get the clipboard operator that was arrested by your under cover officers outside Embargo’s night club in Chelsea to be prosecuted, as far as we are aware, this case is still ongoing?

This included: Reviewing the situation of operators in venues which is exactly why I instructed that we put a hold on issuing any more operator licenses in 3rd party venues back in July last year; Reviewing where private hire operators in 3rd party locations such as newsagents and shops; Looking again at the issue of planning permission / consent for operators in such venues and a range of other issues such as driver and vehicle identification, CRB checks etc. etc.

With all due respect, it is all well and good reviewing and looking again at the issues, however, we don’t want reviews, we want action, real action, real deterrents, because frankly you can introduce as many laws, rules and regulations as you like but without the officers to enforce them it will remain a pointless and futile exercise.

This consultation is clearly a major priority for us and the taxi and private hire trades as a whole. The sooner we can progress without distractions such as unnecessary demonstrations and responding to / correcting incorrect and misleading statements such as those distributed in your leaflet or made in your paper the sooner we can progress to a conclusion.

To suggest that the epidemic of touting that goes on in London every day, and your office’s inability to deal with the monster that it has created is because of our magazine and a demo at the Bank belittles the Office that you hold.

With all due respect Mr Mason, the sooner TfL and the Police start doing their jobs properly and enforcing the law in a meaningful and effective manor, the sooner we can go back to work.

Trust us Mr Mason, none of us want to be giving up our time, for free, in an attempt to highlight the problems we face, however, we feel we have no other option as there is very little coming from the other taxi trade organisations that are paid to represent and protect their own members.

I trust you will print this response in your next edition.

Please remember we are not part of the United Trade Group (UTG) and we have certainly not signed up to your ridiculous engagement policy, so unlike those that have signed up we are under no obligation to print your response.

However, due to the fact that we are already over subscribed with articles for the 2nd edition of United Cabbies News, we have decided to publish your comments, along with our reply on this website.

We look forward to your reply

Regards,

United Cabbies Group.

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