Though taxis can do a lot of things, like getting one from A to B, emptying out bank accounts, and even transporting BSODs, we suspect that preventing the spread of COVID-19 is not one of them.
It appears the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) would agree because an ad by the the Licensed Taxi Drivers Association (LTDA) has been banned for overegging the effect black London cabs might have on reducing the risk of coronavirus.
A complaint was lodged with the UK watchdog about a radio spot heard on 9 July, when the country was happily pretending the first lockdown never happened and that things would be back to normal by Christmas.
The ad went as follows, replete with taxi sound effects in the background:
Me, I'm no different to anyone else right now. I'm concerned about my well-being so I always hail a black London cab. The permanent screen keeps me divided from the driver, it's like being in my own bubble back here. Sat on the back seat, they're over two metres from me. And with contactless payments, it's even safer. I'm a black cab customer and I'm confident I'm safe. Oh, just here please.
It's easy to sympathise with the taxi industry, not least for its struggle to compete with the meteoric rise of Uber and its ilk, but also because government rules this year have seriously damaged the whole public transport sector.
But to intimate that a black cab magically protects the rider from infection in a hermetically sealed bubble would seem a bit rich to most.
The complainant challenged whether the ad was misleading, and the ASA upheld that complaint after meticulous investigation.
In its defence, the LTDA pointed to the partition common to black cabs, saying that where there were any gaps in the divide, it would be simple to seal them. To prove the presence of a two-metre distance between driver and rider, the group provided the watchdog with internal dimensions of three cab models. It also said the interiors were made of wipe-clean plastics that were disinfected between rides.
Conceding that people would be aware that "the risk of contracting COVID-19 when taking a London black cab could not be negated entirely," the ASA added: "However, we considered consumers would understand from the ad that while using any London black cab, they could sit completely separate, and over two metres, from the driver."
So they pored over those measurements. "The internal dimensions showed that in two of the three models there was a distance of exactly two metres or more between the driver and passengers sat on either side of the taxi's backseat. However, the third model showed that the distance was either two metres or less. We were therefore concerned that it was not always possible to sit 'over' two metres from the driver in the way the ad claimed."
With regard to claims about the protective properties of partitions, the watchdog cited Transport for London guidance saying that "while it was possible that partitions may reduce the risk of transmission of infection, the risk would not be eliminated entirely."
It added: "We also understood that there was no requirement on drivers to install the additional seal. We therefore considered it would not always be possible to sit in a 'bubble' completely separated from the driver, as implied by the ad."
Wrapping up, the ASA said that although it recognised the intention was merely to talk up features of black cabs that "might be particularly attractive to consumers in the context of COVID-19", because it could not be guaranteed that riders would be "over" two metres nor "completely separated from the driver", the ad was deemed to exaggerate its coronavirus-stymying properties.
It therefore was found in breach of UK Code of Broadcast Advertising articles 3.1 (Misleading advertising), 3.9 (Substantiation), and 3.12 (Exaggeration).
The ad was banned in its current form and the LTDA was told not to exaggerate black cabs as a mode of transport that prevents the disease spreading. ®