The Motion, as printed in the Agenda was proposed by Councillor J Kent and seconded by Councillor Gerrish. The Motion read as follows:
Thurrock taxi trade is under huge pressure at the current time. Much of this pressure is being caused by the proliferation of Uber in the borough and there needs to be a level playing field for the long standing Thurrock Licensed Taxi Trade and Uber alike. To help achieve this Members call on the Authority to work with Uber London Limited and Transport for London to achieve a redrawing of the boundaries of Uber’s geo fence which, currently, includes Thurrock as part of Greater London.
Councillor J Kent introduced the Motion by stating that the Thurrock Licensed Taxi Trade were under pressure and that having spoken to local drivers their takings were significantly down with some drivers leaving the borough and not being replaced. That there were a significant rise of Uber drivers in the borough who were not licensed or regulated by Thurrock Council. Councillor J Kent stated he was proud of the rigorous checks undertaken by the Licensing Team with vehicles being checked and drivers being vetted to protect the public. That currently there was not a level playing field for those Thurrock Licensed Taxi drivers with Uber drivers not abiding by the rules and parking up in Thurrock and accepting fares when being approached. Cllr J Kent summed up that the Motion accepted would demonstrate Thurrock Council supported the withdrawal of the geo fence around Thurrock and provide a level playing field for all those Licensing Taxi drivers in Thurrock.
A proposed amendment to the Motion had been submitted by Councillor Maney and seconded by Councillor Gledhill. The amended Motion read as follows:
Thurrock taxi trade is under huge pressure at the current time. Much of this pressure is being caused by the proliferation of Uber in the borough and there needs to be a level playing field for the long standing Thurrock Licensed Taxi Trade and Uber alike. To help achieve this members call on the Council to undertake a review of Uber’s operations in Thurrock. In particular, officers are asked to:
1. Investigate the Thurrock Taxi Driver Association’s assertion that Uber is acting unlawfully in Thurrock.
2. Consider the merits of inviting Uber to seek an Operator’s license in Thurrock.
3. Explore whether the council should make representations to Government in respect of the need for a national licensing standard for taxi drivers / operators and consider whether this could be done in conjunction with neighbouring licensing authorities.
4. Consider whether representations should be made to TfL so as to encourage it to raise its licensing standards, to the extent that they better align with the higher tests set by Thurrock Council and many other local authorities outside of London.
5. Evaluate whether the Council should enter into dialogue with Uber over Thurrock’s inclusion in the Greater London geo fence zone.
That having undertaken the said review, officers bring a report to the Authority, including Members, before the end of the municipal year.
Councillor Maney introduced his amendment by thanking Councillor J Kent for raising this issue into the Council Chamber and giving Members the opportunity to debate.
Councillor Maney agreed that the local taxi trade was under pressure and that a level playing field was required. Councillor Maney stated the Amendment was not based on anti-Uber but the Council recognised a need for a level playing field and to ensure the local trade thrived but the Council needed to recognise that Uber was part of an established market. Councillor Maney stated the Amendment went a lot further to ask the Council to take an examination of the Uber operation in Thurrock and to report back on a wider range of issues. That the Council should be listening to local trade and obtaining clear legal barrister opinion that Uber was acting lawfully in the borough. Councillor Maney stated that the Council should be approaching Uber for formal discussions and the Council would expect Uber to apply for an operator’s licence and be under the same regulatory control as the established trade and be based in Thurrock on a level playing field. That the Government needed to provide clarity on the current law and have representations being made with TFL stating that their standards need to be raised. Councillor Maney stated that it would not be enough to tell Uber to pack up and go away, the Council needed a reasonable argument to do this. Councillor Maney summed up by stating that he had asked Officers to prepare a more detailed response to this issue that will be brought back for Members attention.
Councillor Holloway stated that Uber were valued at $92 billion who did not pay their drivers properly who recently went on strike in support of this. Councillor Holloway stated that taxi firms who pay their drivers properly should be encouraged into the borough so that those drivers could live properly in the borough.
Councillor Halden stated his support to the Amendment and to ensure that those that operate Uber in the borough are operating on a level playing field. That Thurrock Council had rigorous standards that apply to all operators. Councillor Halden stated the original Motion only called on the good will and charity on those that the Council had no legislative power over to withdraw the geo fence.
Councillor G Rice stated that the Motion identified the heart of the problem and that a clear message should be sent for this to stop as Uber were illegal and not licensed by Thurrock Council.
Councillor Spillman stated he would not be supporting the Amendment and stated that Members did not need to raise a Motion for this but to let the Licensing Team do their job. That Members should be supporting local taxi drivers and with the Uber business model not being encouraged anywhere in the country, Thurrock Council should not be supporting the business model as it stands.
Councillor Hague stated his support to the Amendment and agreed that the consultation should take place with local taxi firms, Uber and TFL to ensure the safest and best taxi service locally.
Councillor Redsell stated her support to the Amendment with the Licensing Committee playing more of a role and be able to monitor progress better.
Councillor Coxshall stated his support to the Amendment and it was crucial to have the facts right before Uber was approached and the five points of the Amendment would enable this information to be provided.
Councillor Johnson stated his support to the Amendment that a level playing field was required to ensure that other driver’s trade was not being restricted.
Councillor Gerrish stated he was aware of Uber operating in Thurrock and the main concern had to be to keep residents safe. Councillor Gerrish stated the motion was no criticism of those that used Uber or a criticism of those that drove for Uber but had concerns on the Uber business practices and that Thurrock Council should take the lead on protecting the licensing regime in Thurrock. The Motion proposed would have the capability to undertake a wider consultation and would not be supporting the Amendment.
Councillor Gledhill stated his support to the Amendment by stating that residents had a choice but acknowledged that local taxi trade were at a disadvantage. Councillor Gledhill had concerns with the taxi rules being so outdated. Councillor Gledhill stated that residents of Thurrock were protected when using local taxi trade and agreed that Uber should apply to have an operator’s license so they operated under the same standards as local taxi drivers. Councillor Gledhill stated that Officers had already engaged with Uber in January 2018 and encouraged Members to vote for the Amendment.
Councillor Maney stated that the Motion as it stood would have no affect and Members should look long and hard in supporting the Amendment. That a sensible and evidence based approach would be the way forward, seeking the appropriate legal advice and with the Licensing Committee playing an active role.
Councillor J Kent summed up by stating that some interesting debate had been heard this evening and it was clear that Members want the same thing. That more faith should be given to Officers who would be expected to obtain that evidence before agreeing any policy to work with Uber. Councillor J Kent stated that the geo-fence did not include Southend.
The Mayor called a vote on the Amended Motion.
Upon being put to the vote 21 Members voted for the Amendment with 22 Members voted against, whereupon the Mayor declared the Amendment lost and the original motion carried.