Maybe my thinking is sometimes too rigid and polarized but try as I might I can’t get my head around Operation Neon’s terms of reference. It’s clearly a political side step move to appease the cabbie trade while avoiding the real policy issues. This is not fair to anyone, but more than that it is an abuse of process & power that none of us should ever tolerate.
But maybe as a black cabbie you feel that the private hire trade needs to be reined in, that a crack down is over due. Maybe, but nothing justifies Tfl’s abuse of process. I don’t want to be over dramatic but lets remember the words of Martin Niemoeller and consider the need for vigilance when organs of the state are used unjustly as a blunt instrument. It’s a Pandora’s Box than should never be opened.
First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Socialist.
Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Trade Unionist.
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.
I have just one voice but I used it today to file a complaint with the IPCC against the Metropolitan Police and The Mayor’s Office for Policing and Crime. The establishment is powerful so I’m not optimistic of a favourable outcome but it’s the right thing to do. I hope other individuals and the GMB will do so also. The basis for the complaint is as follows:
- Operation Neon, a anti touting compliance operation against the private hire trade, is of indefinite duration and will continue as long as TfL, LTDA, Unite and LCDC agree that it is necessary. In other words, forever. There is no private hire representation either for a decision to initiate or review. It is simply inappropriate for a competing segment of the licensed trade to be allowed to direct enforcement against another.
- Operation Neon is not evidenced or risk based enforcement. Since May Operation Neon has detected only 47 actual touting violations and from that number it is not clear if or how many private hire licensees were involved. There has been little or no public education on how customers can easily identify if their driver and vehicle is licensed. In contrast Operation Neon has recorded non touting actions such as directing private hire drivers to move on 3,514 times, parking on taxi ranks 433 times, wrote up drivers for not wearing their badge 2,253 times. The latter figures show that inspections are being made en masse. The former figure shows the prevalence of actual touting in an anti touting detection programme is low.
- Based on the above recorded actions we can see that TfL, who administers Operation Neon, is largely responsible for creating the problems recorded above by over supplying the market with licenses. There are now 87,000 + private hire licensees in London and incomes are depressing rapidly as a result. On weekends in busy areas of London there is much congestion as all of these cars and drivers try to operate in a relatively confined area. There simply is not enough room to operate. Over the long term we can easily predict there will be a correlation between declining incomes and compliance problems as drivers fall behind on payments and their ability to support their families. There is a solution entirely in the gift of TfL, that is to cap the number of licenses issued. An anti touting initiative, no matter how hard hitting, is not going to solve the problems TfL is currently creating.
- Operation Neon is ill conceived as a political tactic rather than a real operational improvement programme. Given this misalignment on objectives, strategic intent and execution it can never be successful. In the press release announcing the initiative Garrett Emmerson gave the game away, by insisting that the introduction of the Operation Neon should head off the need for further protest disruptions from UCG:
There is absolutely no justification for this protest because we are already doing the very things they are calling for.
- Operation Neon unfairly attacks the private hire trade and TfL’s bellicose communications just serve to erode trust in the trade, endanger driver safety and damage the commercial viability of many small businesses. To continue to use the term ‘touting’ where virtually none is detected is uncalled for. Michael Liebrich’s comments where he identified private hire drivers as ‘potential sex attackers’ is simply reprehensible. Liebrich has made it known he intends to run for Mayor at some point and he should not be allowed to build his law and order political credentials making false and unfounded comments about a trade that numbers more than 87,000 innocent, hard working people while riding shotgun with Operation Neon. In fact, he must resign.
Bad policy, bad enforcement and bad regulation is wrapped up in Operation Neon. We all need to understand that the root of the problem is the Mayor and TfL’s inability to formulate sensible policy and enforcement that is fair and sustainable for all of the trade, both private hire and taxi. The political instinct seems to be not to make a decision of any kind and try to reinforce a perception of a preserved status quo through aggressive enforcement campaigns. But not making a decision is making a decision.
The industry is being reshaped by the entry of Uber, the immediacy of e-hailing apps, the failure of the black cab trade to find new recruits for KOL and the unwillingness of TfL to control the number of private hire licenses issued. I understand there is a need for primary legislation on the last point but what are we waiting for? For now, Operation Neon, ill conceived as it is must be suspended in the interests of civil liberties. Any future enforcement of this kind must include the voice of the private hire trade. If you feel minded too, please do file an IPCC complaint yourself at this link. It’s an easy and quick form to fill.
In the meantime, Tfl – just do your job.