This week I was lucky enough to attend this year’s inaugural Professional Driver magazine conference. Billed as a one-day conference aimed at bringing into focus the threats and opportunities that face private hire and chauffeur operators in London, I felt it would be the perfect opportunity for me to learn a lot about this intriguing industry. And it definitely didn’t disappoint.
It took place on the hottest day of the year so far, and, in the cool air conditioned conference room at Heathrow’s Renaissance hotel, I was somewhat taken aback at how quickly temperatures started rising. It was a case of Transport for London versus the industry, which left me, at times, sitting on the edge of my seat wondering whether the TfL director presenting would make it out of the room in one piece.
The bone of contention was the new regulations for London operators that TfL introduced in June of this year. Sixteen months in the making, there were those in the room, albeit a rather non-vocal minority, who had been consulted about the new rules that have now been brought into force, but there were many for whom the new regulations have been a rather unwelcome shock.
From what I understood, the new rules and regulations range from insurance changes, vehicle advertising and driver language standards through to technological changes that see all operators having to legally provide car, driver name and photo identification for all jobs. Since I work for a technology company that offers such solutions, you think I’d feel elated … after all, that means business for companies such as Magenta and our fellow competitors. Instead, I felt a huge amount of pity for those companies, especially the smaller operators, who are now faced with having to make costly changes to the way they operate in order to stay legal. TfL has given operators until October to conform, but everyone in the room knew that for those who have yet to start doing so it must seem like an insurmountable challenge, and possibly an unachievable one.
The mood in the audience was one of frustration; the mood on the panel was one of defensiveness – after all, these regulations should not be news to everyone in the room, or at least that was the message from the TfL team. As someone who specialises in marketing and communications, I wonder whether TfL’s efforts to share information about the new regulations have been as effective as they think they have. I’m sure there are those operators who have chosen to ignore what’s going on, maybe hoping it would all go away, but there were many who seemed genuinely concerned about the future of their business once the changes become enforceable.
As an approachable, technologically advanced dispatch software company, I hope that challenged operators reach out to me and the team to see if we can help. Yes, it will be good for business for us, but I wonder about the future of the industry in general. These are trying times … I wait impatiently to see what happens next!