Private hire vehicle company Green Tomato Cars is to increase fares in response to the upcoming changes in the London Congestion Charge.
From April 8, drivers of mini-cabs and private hire vehicles (PHVs) will have to pay the daily £11.50 charge while driving in central London during charging hours (Monday to Friday, 7am to 6pm) for the first time.
Green Tomato Cars says this meant its 400 drivers would have faced a reduction in earnings of up to £2,500 per year, so in order to prevent this from happening, it has decided to increase fares by 4-6%.
The impact of the congestion charge would see fares in and around central London increase by as much as 50%, so the company decided to implement a general review of fares, with customers traveling in central London during chargeable hours paying a fixed top-up on a journey by journey basis, while the company will absorb some of the cost to avoid Central London fares increasing disproportionately.
Jonny Goldstone, co-founder and managing director of Green Tomato Cars, said: “The cost of the new charge will be so significant that there is just no other sensible option if we hope to retain and recruit drivers of the calibre that our clients have come to expect.
“We could not contemplate our drivers taking a pay cut of up to 10% and so have taken the decision to protect them from the impact of the new charge.
“Based on initial conversations with a number of key clients we are confident that, while nobody likes a price increase, our customers will support this decision.”
Green Tomato Cars’s management team believes that the Mayor’s singling-out of the private hire industry as part of his stated aim to reduce pollution and congestion in the capital has been poorly thought through.
It said one of the implications is that drivers who have to pay the new charge themselves may end up earning less than the London Living Wage, another of the Mayor’s flagship policies.
A new, phased cleaner vehicle discount (CVD) will also be introduced on April 8, replacing the existing ultra low emission discount.
The first phase of the CVD discount will mean only certain zero-emission capable vehicles are exempt from the congestion charge.
To qualify, a private hire vehicle must be Euro 6, emit no more than 75g/km of CO2 and have a minimum zero-emission capable range of 20 miles. The restrictions discount will tighten in October 2021.
Established in 2006, Green Tomato Cars was the UK’s first all-hybrid private hire operator and in 2018 it added 25 hydrogen fuel cell cars, creating the largest zero-emissions fleet of PHVs in the UK.
However, Goldstone said this is punishing PVHs such as Green Tomato Cars, as the technology is not available to comply with the requirements.
He said: ““We are in complete support of TfL and the Mayor’s admirable mission to reduce emissions and improve air quality in London, which is the very dream that Green Tomato Cars was built on.
“So of all companies, we really do understand how vital this work is, and if it were possible to have a fleet made up solely of zero-emission and zero-emission capable vehicles, we would be the first to do so.
“However, the infrastructure and technology for these cars is just not there, and in any case manufacturers just aren’t producing enough of these vehicles.
“The pure electric models on the market are either too expensive, too small, or don’t have sufficient range to make them viable options for us.
“Additionally, there aren’t enough fast and rapid charging points in London, and those that do exist aren’t suitably located nor readily accessible for busy PHV drivers.
“The irony is that black taxis, which emit 26% of London’s deadly particulate matter and over 200g/km of CO2 compared to under 70g/km for our cars – and whose fares are often twice the cost of a PHV – are exempt from this new charge.
“Green Tomato Cars was the first private car operator in London to promote green vehicles and yet it feels like TfL and the Mayor are punishing companies like ours without any meaningful dialogue with our industry, which carries Londoners on over 100 million journeys a year.”