Capital Gain

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June 5, 2006

 

Edinburgh has become the latest city to give the green light to the Peugeot E7, which is manufactured and distributed by Cab Direct.

Following five-years of deliberation, the City of Edinburgh’s full Council voted by a resounding 38 to 18 margin to amend their conditions of fitness and allow the E7 to be licensed as a hackney taxi.  Edinburgh’s 1,100 hackney drivers are now free to choose between the traditional London taxi and more modern alternatives which meet the crucial safety standard of EC Whole Vehicle Type Approval.

Speaking for LTI, solicitor John Loudon said that the status quo should be maintained because drivers liked the tight turning circle and because the TXII is a historic icon.

Edinburgh Taxi Association chairman Eric Shade, on the other hand, made an impassioned plea to end the “one vehicle, one garage” monopoly.  This, he said, would give his members a long overdue right of choice and the opportunity to drive a modern vehicle with the advantages of safety features such as ABS and airbags, together with improved comfort and greater luggage space.

Mr. Shade, a driver in Edinburgh for the past 25 years, also underlined that the Peugeot E7 offers more room for disabled passengers and is a purpose-built hackney taxi with the highest level of European safety certification.

Local disability groups also put forward a strong case to licence the E7, arguing that it would increase choice for their members and help more disabled people – particularly wheelchair users – be able to get out and about.

In response Mr. Loudon acknowledged that the E7 offered more space for larger wheelchairs but added that wheelchair access in the TXII was “adequate”.

Also arguing for LTI, Conservative Cllr Michael Dixon suggested that disabled people who couldn’t fit in a TX might be better choosing to travel with private hire operators, rather then attempting to hail a hackney taxi. However Council leader Donald Anderson, who moved the motion for change, said that “adequate” shouldn’t be considered enough for anyone and least of all for people with disabilities.

Pointing out that changing the conditions of fitness would not prevent anyone who wanted continuing to buy a TX if that was their choice, Cllr Anderson supported the findings of the independent Buchanan Report, commissioned by the Council. The report, by one of Britain’s leading transport experts, finds that preferences for one feature or another do not justify barring the way to an open, competitive market, with a choice of more modern hackney vehicles.

Cllr Anderson commented:  “It’s no part of this Council’s responsibilities to preserve a commercial monopoly or to stand in the way of progress.  Edinburgh has plenty of historic icons – including the old-fashioned chamber we’re in today – but when we see the need for change to make things better, we should never shy away from opportunities to modernise.

“There have been many very difficult decisions to make during my time on the Council but this isn’t one of them,” continued Cllr Anderson.

“The issue here is whether we value whatever emotional attachment we may feel personally towards a vehicle we already know over the benefits of allowing a free market and a choice of modern alternative vehicles.

“Ultimately we must ask ourselves what is more important – a tight turning circle, which may or may not be a slight benefit to people who can already get out and about, or opening the way for vehicles like the E7 which, as we’ve heard, will enable disabled people who currently struggle to get out at all be better able to do so.”

Following completion of their report last December, Colin Buchanan and Partners were asked to conduct a supplementary study reviewing the PCO’s findings on the London conditions of fitness.

The Buchanan Report disagrees with the PCO’s conclusions in a number of areas.  In particular Buchanan – an independent consultant rather than a public agency – places much greater emphasis on the value to drivers and the public of having choice in the hackney vehicle market.  Buchanan finds that none of the London conditions barring entry to the market for alternative hackneys can be justified on the grounds of public safety and concludes that they should therefore be removed.

On the crucial issue of the turning circle, the Buchanan report states that any advantages which may be argued for this feature “do not, however, constitute a sufficient argument, in our opinion, to retain a condition that limits the choice of vehicles currently available or that may become available in the future.”

Buchanan continues: “The condition may prevent the driver from choosing a vehicle that meets the needs of the public as the driver perceives them.  If the turning circle is sufficiently worthwhile, then the driver would continue to purchase the vehicle that has this facility.

“We therefore recommend that the turning circle requirement should not be a licensing condition, not only on grounds of safety, but because it cannot be demonstrated unequivocally that this condition is essential in order to serve the public.”

Commenting on the Edinburgh decision Cab Direct chairman Gerry Facenna said: “It has been a long hard road but this verdict is a superb result for everyone living in or visiting Scotland’s capital city.

“This is an especially great day for the Edinburgh’s hackney drivers, for disabled people and for the environment.

“I am very grateful to all of the trade and community groups which have supported the campaign to remove this private monopoly and give the right of choice both to drivers and service users.”

Mr. Facenna added: “The Buchanan report also places a question mark over the conclusions of the PCO study, particularly in relation to permitting a competitive market.

“Following our £300,000 legal challenge to the PCO, this new reports adds further weight to our legal advice that the PCO report is fundamentally flawed. We will therefore be passing our concerns to the Office of Fair Trading.”

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