As a report in the Islington Gazette (23 August 2012) on the recent sexual assault on a woman, who thought she was getting into a licensed taxi cab, at 3am in the morning, shows mini cab related crime is still a major problem in London. Although a City of London Police report, in 2011, reported a fall of 21% in mini cab crime, there were still 111 cab related sexual offences in 2010/11.
It’s a problem that Transport for London (TFL), the body that licensed taxis drivers, is well aware of and is trying to address. According to their website, there are major concerns over the dangers of travelling in unbooked mini cabs, (also known as illegal cabs and touts), picked up off the street. They are working with the Metropolitan Police Safer Transport Command, (STC), which has a dedicated Cab Enforcement Unit, that is responsible for enforcing the law relating to taxis and private hire vehicles in London. This unit uses both covert and high visibility operations across London, to detect and disrupt touts. Yet despite these efforts both the number of unlicensed mini cabs and minicab related crimes continues to remain high.
There are a number of reasons for the high number of unlicensed mini cabs in London, but the main one is that there simply aren’t enough licensed taxis to meet the demands of a growing population. Figures released by the Department of Transport in 2011, on taxis and private hire vehicles, showed that in London, the number of new taxi licenses issued by TFL had not kept pace with population growth in the city, while outside the capital the number of licenses issued, had outpaced population growth. Between 2000 and 2010, in the UK as a whole, the population increase was 6.8% while in London over the same period it was 12%, however outside London the number of taxi licenses issued increased by 23%, while in London by only 10%.
These figures clearly demonstrate that there is a link between the number of unlicensed mini cabs and the number of licenses granted by TFL. As the official website for the London Taxi Drivers Association (LTDA) makes clear, at least one “prominent member” of the London Taxi Board, has come to this obvious conclusion, by ‘by issuing a public statement to the effect, that the 1089 new driver licenses issued last year in London, were, “Clearly no enough”’. The LTDA disagrees though and has suspended its membership of the board, to fight any increase in licensed drivers, on the grounds that it would dilute the quality of black cabbies. They argue that watering down the famous ‘Knowledge’ exam and replacing it with a ‘quickly’ knowledge test, would flood London with licensed, but poorly qualified taxi drivers. To be fair this is a fair concern, but surely the army of unregulated minicab drivers, and the crime they seem to spawn, is a greater one. It can’t be beyond the wit of man and those in charge of our taxis to come up with a workable compromise that will benefit all of us.