When I arrived in Coventry yesterday, there were no taxis to be had, but weirdly lots of black cabs parked in the way. Thanks to Twitter and the driver of a scab cab I eventually used rather shamefully – the bus was never going to arrive and I had a lecture to give – I found out what it was all about.
Apparently, until the cabs were deregulated in the early noughties, there were around 100 which was clearly not enough. Now there are nearly 1,000 and the cabbies are demanding that the council stops issuing any new licences. For its part, the council says that it is unclear about how much demand there is and does not want to restrict the numbers. So the cabbies – or most of them – went on strike and are now due to meet the council tomorrow, Wednesday, to try to get a survey to establish local demand. Certainly a thousand cabs for a town of 300,000, given there are also minicabs, does seem a lot.
It is one of those thorny issues. In London, TfL effectively limits the number of black cab drivers by enforcing the demand that they should get The Knowledge, a process that takes on average 2 years. In these days of satnavs and mobile communications, it is hardly necessary, but it does the job as a restrictive practice. Cabs in London are, too, ridiculously expensive and have just gone up by 2.7 per cent. I certainly never use one except in extremis while if they were half the price, I might. Moreover, at the risk of being run over next time I cycle into town, there does seem to be too many of them despite The Knowledge.
So what is the right number for Coventry? And should the market determine that, which is effectively what is happening, or should there be some controls to ensure there is not a surplus and that those who do get a licence make a decent living? In a sense, if there were not money to be made, then there would not be more newcomers coming on to the market. Then, on the other hand, if there is a surfeit, it must take ages for the poor fellows to make enough money to live on. Given the loss of manufacturing jobs in the local area, it is no surprise that there is a steady stream of applicants. I must be getting old, but for once I have no clear idea of what is the right policy.