Sunday, 9 May 2010

Taxis at Heathrow.

Heathrow airport is one place where there seems to be a type of "mystique" when it comes to taxis. Many town drivers who never "put on" at the Heathrow are convinced that all airport drivers are involved in some kind of taxi trade mafioso! But nothing could be further from the truth.

An act of parliament has given the London taxi trade a right to ply for hire at Heathrow Airport in the form of taxi ranks on all Heathrow's terminals. Taxi ranks were accepted as a necessity when the only forms of transport were buses, taxis and private motor-cars.

This situation has changed over the years as Heathrow has evolved into the modern airport that it has now become. In the early years there were no underground or mainline train links into Heathrow, and the only way travellers could get to the airport was by road.

There were two coach services to Heathrow from central London; Victoria air terminal and the West london Air Terminal. Victoria air terminal was in Buckingham Palace Road, and the West London air terminal was located on the site of the Sainsburys supermarket on Cromwell Road. The nearest underground station to Heathrow was Hounslow West, but this would involve either a bus or taxi ride to complete your journey to Heathrow airport. So taxis were, and still are, an essential part of the transport infrastructure of Heathrow airport.

Today passengers have many more choices when travelling to Heathrow in the form of buses, taxis, minicabs, private cars, London underground, coaches, and the Heathrow Express from Paddington Station in West London. But it is not just the choice of transport that has changed, the running of Heathrow airport has also changed in many ways too.

In the early days Heathrow airport was under the control of the British Airports Authority, which was set up by the government with the introduction of the Airport Authority Act 1966. In 1986 the Thatcher government passed the Airports Act and created BAA plc. This allowed stock market funds to be raised, however in 2006 BAA plc. was sold to a consortium headed by Grupo Ferrovial and became BAA Ltd. which in turn created the subsidiary known as Heathrow Airport Ltd.

These changes completely altered the operating dynamic from a government owned agency to a commercial company with all the responsibilities to shareholders that such changes bring about. Since the privatisation of Heathrow Airport the various facilitities and services at Heathrow have been scutinised by Heathrow Airport Ltd. (HAL) with a view to maximising profits for the parent company.

The taxi operation at Heathrow was one of the services that came under the spotlight of BAA's accountants, but as previously mentioned, taxis have a legal presence at Heathrow under the terms of the Airports Act 1986, placing them in a unique position. This right to ply for hire, coupled with the commercial imperatives placed on BAA, has created certain tensions upon the taxi trade at Heathrow.

I shall explain how the taxi trade has attempted to respond to these changes in more detail in part II.

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