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Private hire drivers accuse London mayor Sadiq Khan of 'discrimination'

Tom Belger
Finance and policy reporter
Sadiq Khan. Photo DavidJensen/EMPICS Entertainment

Private hire drivers in London are threatening legal action against the mayor of London in a row over alleged ethnic discrimination.

They are urging Sadiq Khan to scrap plans to extend the congestion charge to private hire cars, a move aimed at curbing traffic and air pollution in the capital.

The Independent Workers Union of Great Britain (IWGB) claims the changes are “discriminatory, unjust and totally illegal” as London’s black cabs will remain exempt.

It has written to the mayor highlighting official figures which reveal the majority of black cab drivers are white British, compared to just 6% of private hire drivers.

The organisation, which represents many private hire drivers at firms including Uber, is now crowdfunding for the costs of a judicial review in the high court.

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It says private hire drivers are already more likely to earn lower wages and would be “driven further into poverty” by the charge,  currently set at £10.50-11.50 a day.

But the mayor’s office has said a huge rise in private hire vehicles is worsening traffic in the capital, with the number more than doubling in the past decade to more than 113,000.

A spokesman for the mayor told Yahoo Finance UK congestion had a “crippling impact” on London’s economy, estimated at £5.5bn a year, and said the city was one of the most congested in the world.

“Our toxic air in London is a major public health crisis that is stunting the lung development of our children, leading to thousands of premature deaths and increases the risk of asthma and dementia,” he added.

Transport for London (TfL), which oversees the congestion charge, has also said wheelchair-accessible private hire vehicles will continue to be exempt when the changes come into effect in April. It expects more drivers to use wheelchair-accessible or environmentally cleaner vehicles in future to avoid or reduce the charges they have to pay.

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A report by TfL last year suggested central London would grind to a virtual standstill if no action were taken, estimating a 10km journey would take more than an hour by 2041.

The row is not the first between London’s Labour mayor and private hire drivers, with Khan taking a tough stance on the US firm Uber over concerns for passengers’ safety.

The company was refused a licence in the capital in 2017, but won back the right to operate after it promised a series of changes that are being closely monitored by TfL.