We have all read in the trade press that LTPH are proposing to do away with the current method of testing London Taxis in favour of the same test procedure that Private Hire vehicles currently undertake. This would mean that you will no longer have to take your vehicle to SGS for a full annual test but would firstly obtain a MOT test and once passed you would then present your taxi to SGS for a vehicle safety check and this you would have to do twice per year.
Now is this a good thing for the London Taxi trade or not, at first you may think it to be a good thing as taxis will no longer need to be fully tested by SGS under what some see as their draconian test procedures and rules which you may think is good for you. Also the cost of putting a London Taxi through the test would obviously be reduced due to not being compelled to have as much work done to the Taxi before presenting it for it’s test, but is this a good or bad thing?
Personally I think that this is a backwards step for the London Taxi trade for a number of reasons, those of you who know me obviously realise that I also run a Taxi repair garage so for the purpose of this post I will disregard that fact and write this as though I do not run a garage.
There are a number of reasons why I personally feel that this would be bad for our trade and those are:
- The lowering of our standards
The standard of taxis in London will deteriorate
The dubious origin of some MOT certificates
Some Taxi garages doing their own MOT’s
4 Test visits per year rather than the current 1
The blurring of the difference between London Taxis and Private Hire Vehicle
More vehicle inspectors out on the road
Now do we as a trade really want this to go ahead? do we want to lower standards down to those of the Private Hire trade? yes I know that for years we have all cried that the PCO and then later the SGS tests are unfair and draconian but you do have to admit that it the current status quo does mean that taxis in London are maintained to quite a high standard! If the current system is replaced with 2 MOT’s per year the standard of Taxis in London will most certainly deteriorate quite dramatically of that you can be sure, there is no requirement within the MOT test for a vehicle to be free of rust on its exterior panels unless of course the corrosion is so bad that the MOT tester deems that panel to be insecurely fixed to the vehicle rendering the vehicle unsafe to drive without remedy.
We have all heard of so called “sympathetic” or “fair” MOT testers where some people prefer to travel to an MOT test station some distance from their home so as to gain an advantage from one of these testers, I am sure many of you have heard the phrase “dial an MOT” where the said vehicle never actually enters the MOT station but an MOT certificate is presented to the owner for a fee over and above the normal MOT costs. LTPH cannot state that this will not happen as we all know that it most certainly will happen hence we will then have taxis driving the streets of London that are unsafe to be on the road let alone convey fare paying passengers.
I recently managed to get a sneaky view of some pictures of a Taxi that was presented to SGS for it’s annual test, now this Taxi had passed and MOT test 2 days before being presented to SGS, why did the owner bother with an MOT test before presenting it to SGS? well who knows, maybe he thought he was being clever and was going to try and complain if his Taxi failed the annual inspection. Well the whole thing backfired on the owner and may well have ramifications for the MOT test station who tested and passed the taxi 2 days prior as the vehicle had some serious suspension defects with bolts hanging out and nuts missing, this particular vehicle was an accident waiting to happen, this was not a minor defect, but one where the whole back axle could well have parted company with the rest of the vehicle!
On a personal level I have presented a Taxi for an MOT test before selling it in a condition that I would not have even thought of presenting it to SGS in and there was no reason for the Taxi to fail the MOT test as it was fully compliant but I am fully aware that the same taxi would have failed the SGS test miserably! There were dents in some of the panels and obvious corrosion to some of the exterior panels which did not make the vehicle look too pretty, obviously not the sort of Taxi that we would want to be plying for hire around London representing the London Taxi trade.
There will also be a lot of Taxi garages that will set up their own MOT test stations which they are well within their rights to do, these garages will obviously test their own and customers vehicles. Now this will not give the garage in question an objective perspective of the test, they will be able to be as harsh or lenient as they please on a customers vehicle when testing it to MOT test standards which would mean that the customer will have to take the garages word that the Taxi would have failed on a certain mechanical item. This I think where the testing of vehicles that convey the public is concerned is not on, there does need to be some form of objectivity when testing a vehicle such as a London Taxi.
I did say that I was not going to mention my garage but I will for the purpose of a comparison, due to my geographical location I service and maintain a few Medway licensed Taxis, these are all LTI vehicles and to be perfectly honest they fall way short of our standards. I have to some extent manage to get the owners to change their attitude towards maintaining the vehicles but even so they still fall way short of the standards here in London, we have sent one of them for a test with the brake compensator valve leaking and the taxi passed its annual inspection, now this item controls the amount of brake fluid to the rear brakes and it was leaking quite badly resulting in a substantial loss of brake fluid from the reservoir, even so it still passed.
If LTPH do change the current system to 2 MOT’s per year there is one thing that you can be sure of and that is there will be far more vehicle examiners out on the road doing spot checks and issuing unfit notices for taxis. So lets look at a scenario, you present your taxi to your garage who are also an MOT test station for its annual test, the garage pass it through the MOT test and you then present it to SGS for its vehicle safety check, it passes as very few vehicles actually fail this safety check. So off you go to work with your newly plated taxi only to be stopped at the side of the road be a LTPH vehicle examiner, the vehicle examiner issues your taxi with an unfit notice for a defect! so where do you know stand.
LTPH by doing this will blur the differences between the London Taxi trade and the Private Hire trade even further, do we really want this to happen? do we really want to go this road of lowering our standards, personally I think that this is a bigger threat to our trade than the 15 year age limit that Boris is proposing to implement, this will tarnish our reputation that we have so rightly earned over the last few hundred years until we are considered no better than the private hire trade whom most of us despise.
One last thought for you, most small garages will not be able to install a MOT test facility either due to space implications or due to the financial costs associated with its installation so a lot of these will disappear. also many garages subsidise their servicing charges as they know they can earn out of undertaking an overhaul on a Taxi, they also do a lot of things free of charge like adjusting rear brakes, topping up fluid levels etc. Well this will all come to an end, the only ones that will survive will be the larger garages who will then dictate costs and also you will be at their mercy as to whether than can fit your taxi in or not, servicing costs will rise to a more market cost so it could mean that maintaining your cab will not actually be reduced that much and could even rise slightly.
I would urge everyone to reject and campaign against this change, I would rather see some amendments to the current testing procedure that will make the test a lot easier on the owner and will make the testing process a lot fairer to everyone.
I have learnt today that one of the reasons that TfL may want to change the way in which Taxis are tested is that they do not want the responsibility, and all that comes with that, of testing taxis. The argument being that should a recently tested taxi be involved in an accident and that accident be caused by a mechanical fault then TfL could be, to some extent, held liable. TfL would therefore like to pass over the responsibility to VOSA! this would obviously be done by requiring all taxis to pass an MOT test twice yearly the same test as any other normal car would go through! Followed by a twice yearly safety check of the Taxi by a company like SGS, much the same as Private Hire now have to undergo.
Now this brings about another worrying aspect to this change! and that is currently VOSA tend to leave London Taxis alone viewing them as the domain of LTPH or the PCO as they used to b known. Now with the onus of mechanical safety being put on VOSA this would probably mean that VOSA examiners, who can regularly be seen out on the road, would probably take a more keen interest in London Taxis, this in itself is not too much of a problem. The problem comes in that VOSA are usually accompanied by the Traffic Police and should a serious defect be found on your Taxi then you are more than likely to find yourself with a nick and a costly fine which is a vast difference to the current situation where the LTPH vehicle compliance officer would merely issue an unfit notice for the vehicle. An unfit notice issued by LTPH does not have a fine attached to it but is more of an inconvenice by way of the fact that you need to get the fault remedied and then present the vehicle to SGS for the unfit notice to be removed.
This is another reason why we need to make sure that this change does not take place and that the status quo remains in place. We could end up with a dramatically increase in the number of roadside inspection for taxis with us being scrutinised of both VOSA and the LTPH vehicle examiners. I know who I would rather have inspect my Taxi on the side of the road!