You have to give Leon Daniels credit for succeeding where others have been found wanting.
Since Cromwell licensed the London cab trade in 1654 – and in so doing making it the oldest regulated public transport system in the world – and the advent of The Knowledge after the Great Exhibition of 1851 many have tried to destroy London’s cab trade and been proved singularly unsuccessful.
The watermen plying the Thames were the first to try their luck when the first bridges were built claiming that cabs couldn’t ‘go South of the River’; in 1961 exploiting a loophole in the 1869 Carriage Act, Michael Gotla spent £560,000 buying 800 red Renault Dauphines expecting that the drivers could ‘ply for hire’. Unfortunately for Gotla within a year, the courts begged to disagree with his interpretation of the law.
His rather costly enterprise did have one consequence, and that was encouraging anyone with a rusty Datsun to attach an aerial to its roof, sign on at a dodgy ‘mini-cab’ office and chance his luck on London’s streets at the weekend. It would be many years before their act was cleaned up.
Others have called for a truncated Knowledge, fast-tracking students to increase the numbers on the road or of allowing those final year students to be let loose on the capital’s streets in the hope they know where they were going. All of these cunning plans have come to zilch.
Enter Leon Daniels, Transport for London’s Managing Director: Surface Transport. Like his namesake, he entered the lions’ den unafraid.
He had a lightbulb moment when realising the way to destroy London’s cab trade was to work with a third party – as Daniel said after encountering the feline predators: “because I was found blameless before him” – and indeed the ploy seems to have exonerated him of any blame.
After clandestinely contacting an American ‘digital disruptor’ more than 20 times a battle plan was formulated.
Using a company who uses their ‘offshore’ status to avoid paying most UK taxes; a company with close association with the then prime minister; dispensing with the cumbersome criteria of having experienced driving in England at some point; abandoning comprehensive criminal record checks; using drivers with a lack of understanding the geography of London’s labyrinthine roads; and who have limited ability in understanding the capital’s native tongue, you could flood London’s streets with thousands of rented vehicles purporting to be ‘cabs’.
After so many failures in the past, a comprehensive destruction of an independent cab service, once the envy of the world, is within grasp.
All you need is a continual supply of compliant poorly paid drivers waiting to get what scraps they can from a diminishing market as more and more enter the fray.
And for the architect of this? A knighthood has been awarded for less, though I doubt he will be going to receive his gong in a black cab.
As a footnote: Icelandic tourists recently told me that a similar scam was tried in Reykjavik with a population of less than a quarter of a million. The local cabbies objected and the American company was given the cold shoulder and shown the door.