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London’s taxi fleet has hopefully turned a corner

Close up of a side of a London Black cab with the words London's Calling written down the side.

Soaring costs and frozen pay have caused real problems for taxi drivers in London, forcing some to find other ways to make a living, while those who stay struggle to recover with the effects of the pandemic and cost-of-living crisis.

Covid-19 restrictions had a huge impact on London’s black taxi drivers, who were forced to isolate at home like the rest of the population, and missed out on the millions of tourists and visitors they would normally transport around the capital.

Despite the lifting of restrictions, the aftermath continued to be felt in the fleet last year which, combined with the ongoing cost-of-living crisis, saw Transport for London issue just 159 new public hire taxi licences – half of the 393 issued in 2019 before the pandemic. In the 2019/20 year, there were 18,504 licensed taxis operating in the capital and 19,642 licensed drivers, down on the 2013/4 peak which saw with 21,876 licensed public hire drivers and 22,810 cabs.

Last year in the private hire sector, there were 111,766 licensed drivers and 94,712 licensed private hire vehicles, down from the 2016/7 high of 117,712 drivers and 87,409 vehicles.

The latest TfL figures, which go up to last Sunday, show there are 18,215 London taxi driver licences in operation – 13 down on the previous week, although there were 2 new licences issued – operating 15,148 licensed vehicles. While this is a decrease of 3 on the previous week, Tfl reports there were 17 new licences issued.

In the private-hire sector, there are a total of 103,945 licensed drivers – an increase of 287 on the previous week, and with 320 new licences issued. This relates to 88,897 private hire vehicle licences, which is up 48 on the previous week, and there were 223 new licences issued.

The news has been welcomed by Mayor of London Sadiq Khan, who told Taxi Point that a turnaround is hopefully under way with 125 applications submitted in the first two months of this year.

Mr Khan said: “London’s taxi trade is rightly recognised as the best in the world.

“Transport for London (TfL) has carried out a review of the Knowledge of London and has agreed with taxi trade representatives to progress a number of actions.

“There are some encouraging signs that more people are entering the Knowledge of London process, with 125 applications submitted in January and February this year, compared to around 200 applications for the whole year in 2020 and 2021, as a result of the pandemic.

“TfL intends to keep this under review.”

In order for drivers to ply their trade in the capital, they must apply to TfL for either a public hire licence or a private hire vehicle licence and have appropriate taxi insurance in place to protect themselves, their passengers and any third parties in the event of a claim.

To become a London cabbie and be hailed in the street, drivers must have an iconic black cab with public hire insurance. Because they can be asked to go anywhere, taxi drivers must have a thorough knowledge of London and have to learn and pass the world-famous Knowledge, which ensures they know the quickest routes through the capital’s complicated road network.

Private hire drivers do not need to pass the Knowledge, but must comply with other criteria, including medical requirements, safeguarding and a suitable vehicle with private hire insurance that meets ultra-low emissions zone standards.

Hopefully we will continue to see more drivers joining the fleet to secure its future.

All information is correct at time of publication. Information provided within this article may have changed over time. No responsibility for its accuracy or correctness is assumed by John Patons Insurance Services or any of its employees.