Owner of local firm says drivers already struggling to make a living
Mini-cab operators under huge threat. Picture: TfL
The owner of a minicab firm has warned that expanding London’s Congestion Charge zone would be “the last nail in the coffin” for the private-hire car industry.
London Mayor Sadiq Khan is in negotiations with the Department for Transport over TfL’s next bailout, which it needs to keep services running while its Tube and bus revenues remain far lower than in normal times.
One of the proposed conditions of that bailout is expanding the £15 daily Congestion Charge zone to areas including Fulham, Chiswick, Acton, Shepherd’s Bush and Hammersmith.
Omar Seyed, owner of Hayber Cars and Fulham & Chelsea Cars, said: “I see this as the last nail in the coffin, the end of the industry. It would be an automatic £15 a day overhead for all our drivers.
“Already it’s not worth our drivers’ time to charge £20 to take someone to places like Marble Arch or Piccadilly Circus.
“If someone calls up asking to be taken to central London I sometimes have to say ‘sorry I don’t have anyone available’.”
The extra charge would be a double whammy with the loss of trade caused by the lockdown and drop in activity at airports.
“Some of our drivers only make £60 a day sometimes now,” Mr Seyed said.
“The amount of work available has reduced because hardly anyone is going to Heathrow and there’s no trade from pubs or nightclubs, we all know what’s happening to them.”
He added, “One of my drivers is thinking of becoming an Amazon delivery driver.”
Minicabs were exempt from the Congestion Charge until April 2019. Black cabs are still exempt from the charge, which Mr Seyed attributes to the trade’s superior “lobbying and unionisation”.
The last injection of government funding for TfL was agreed in May, and was worth £1.6 billion – enough to last TfL until mid-October.
Negotiations for the next round of funding were due to be agreed by October 17, but a two-week extension has been agreed for the two sides to carry on negotiating.
A Department for Transport spokesperson said: “These discussions will ensure London has a safe, reliable network. It would be inappropriate to disclose further details at this stage.”
A spokesperson for Mr Khan said: “Negotiations with the Government continue, but suffice it to say there is simply no way any mayor could accept conditions of this nature, which would make it harder to tackle the virus and choke off London’s economic recovery at the worst possible time.”
TfL said it is trying to “minimise costs” during the two weeks before the next bailout is agreed.
Meanwhile, an online petition against expanding the Congestion Charge zone has received nearly 71,000 signatures. You can find it on Change.org.
Owen Sheppard - Local Democracy Reporter