The last few weeks have seen claim and counter-claim over the future funding of the vital Taxicard service – a lifeline for many thousands of Disabled and older Londoners.
Set up by Ken Livingstone when he was leader of the Greater London Council in the 1980s, the scheme is funded through Transport for London (TfL) who contribute 80% of its funding costs – over £10 million a year. The rest of the approximately £2 million funding comes from London borough contributions.
However due to an historic agreement between both organisations, Taxicard has been run and operated solely by London Councils – with TfL having very little say in its operation despite contributing the lion’s share of its budget. This is about to change with the negotiation of a new contract that will see TfL take more ownership of the way Taxicard is run, including choosing who the new taxi service provider will be.
Over the last seven years, Taxicard has been the victim of cuts that have seen the scheme become expensive for many to use. These cuts have been mainly due to London boroughs reducing or cutting their contributions to the scheme altogether. This has resulted in a postcode lottery of service provision with wildly different trip allocations across London. An example: Disabled people in Newham are being offered 144 trips whilst Harrow offers 40 trips a year.
In addition many boroughs have a strict banding system that gives different trips according to strict eligibility criteria which often force Disabled and older people to give up their Freedom Passes to get more trips.
TfL Business plan 2017/18-2021/22 – Devil in the detail?
Julian Bell, the chair of London Councils Transport and Environment Committee (TEC) and leader of Ealing Council, has written to Val Shawcross, Deputy Mayor for Transport expressing concerns about alleged cuts to the Taxicard budget in TfL’s Business plan.
In his letter he states:
“As you know we are concerned about the impact of budget cuts on vulnerable service users served by the Taxicard scheme. The proposed cut of 13% reduction in 2018/19 and a 1%, 0% and 3% increase in the level of Taxicard funding in subsequent years represent significant real terms cuts to services, taking account of inflationary fares increases”.
Cllr Bell then goes on to cite the negative impact this will have on Disabled and Older Taxicard scheme members and requests that an Equality Impact Assessment must be done if any cuts are to take place.
The claim of a cut in Taxicard’s budget was refuted in a tweet by Val Shawcross
Claire Mann, Director of Bus Operations at TfL states in an email to Disabled and older people’s groups:
“I should be clear that the Taxicard budget has not been cut and in fact no budget has yet been set for the service next year. The Mayor, Sadiq Khan, and the Transport Commissioner, Mike Brown, have categorically guaranteed that we will continue to provide the funding needed to provide the same level of service, in every part of London. We and London Councils are currently in the process of recommissioning the Taxicard service with that specification – and will pay whatever the procurement says is needed to provide that service. There will be no reduction in the Taxicard service and nobody will miss out who received support before”.
Guaranteed funding and consultation with Taxicard users
London’s growing older population means that Taxicard and Dial-a-Ride cannot be the poor family relation in our city’s transport network. Even with the most high tech fully accessible public transport network, there will always be people who need and rely on the additional support that door-to-door services like Taxicard offer.
Therefore Taxicard must have the ring-fenced funding that increases year on year to meet the needs of Disabled and older service users.
We welcome the assertion from TfL that there will be no cut in its contribution to Taxicard. We will be watching developments closely to ensure that the service continues to benefit from the funding it has had previously.
However going forward Taxicard has to change to meet the growing needs of its service users.
In the short term, with a new provider about to be chosen in the next few months, we hope that users will benefit from the scheme harnessing some of the seismic changes and innovations that have taken place in the Taxi and PHV industry of late.
In the longer term, TfA believes that the Mayor and TfL should take complete control of Taxicard. Only then can we end the postcode lottery of service provision and see a levelling up of the service. Under TfL’s control there is also a possibility that both Taxicard and Dial-a-Ride can be reconfigured and joined up so as to maximise the door-to-door options available in London.
Finally, consultation with Taxicard users has to improve. Whilst Cllr Bell’s call for an equality impact assessment on any TfL budget cuts is welcome, it has to be noted that London Councils has never conducted such an assessment for the cuts it has implemented to the scheme over the last few years. In fact, there has never been a sustained programme of involvement and consultation with Taxicard users.
With TfA’s origins as the user group of Taxicard when it was first set up, we will continue to lobby and campaign for this lifeline service to grow over the years ahead.
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