Wednesday 28 January 2015

Under Siege

Imagine for a minute, that you run your own business as a sole trader. Imagine that your chosen business is under threat by "the powers that be" because the conditions under which you operate are being changed. Imagine also, that the specialist equipment you have spent a small fortune on is obsolete and your regulator will be changing the rules so you have to invest in a new set of equipment.

If I were a cabbie in London, I would be a bit worried and possibly quite annoyed at the moment. The Mayor of London has decided to press ahead with the North-South and East-West cycle superhighways and diesel engines which power the taxis are helping to ruin our health and so controls may well be on their way. Not only that, there is competition to contend with and so perhaps we might forgive them for being prickly.

I have been inside a black cab twice. Once as a punter years ago and once "on the job" going round with the local LTDA rep to look at what improvements could be made to some taxi ranks. My other experiences with black cabs have been when riding my bicycle or walking. This has varied from the drivers being utter tools by not giving me room when overtaking or bullying when I'm crossing the road to being the absolute height of courtesy. Do you know what, yes, they are people too!

In the last day or so, we have had rumblings from the LTDA (Licenced Taxi Drivers Association) that they might be seeking a judicial review on the Mayor's decision on the cycle superhighways. Unsurprisingly, the LTDA don't have much sympathy from many people who cycle in the Capital. Their Chairman, John Thomas, went into a demented rant back in March last year with this gem spotted by Cyclists in the City - have a read, it really is entertaining. My favourite bit (naturally) is this;

"the ‘experts’ in traffic, who are so cycling centric that they are blind to the consequences of their actions. Or is it that they just don’t care?" 

Really? I think 'experts' in traffic have been anything but cycle-centric for decades which is why our urban areas are just hell-ridden traffic sewers. I am pleased to report that bit by bit, my profession has woken up from its slumber and is rubbing its eyes. 

The LTDA has form of course, in this 'expert', 'scientific' observation, they were able to conclude that 53% of cyclists ignore red lights or that 'marshal law' was imposed in London for "Ride London" in 2013. Yes LTDA, we get it, you don't like cycling or people who ride bicycles and are happy to lump us in a group. Over on Twitter, I did my own little bit of gentle baiting, including calling for a boycott of black cabs. Actually, I was being daft, I don't use them. Perhaps some of the big businesses who supported the superhighways might rethink their custom?

In the final analysis, I don't really have an axe to grid against the cab trade as a whole; after all, I am the first to moan about being lumped into this group called "cyclists" (see above). I think the LTDA are being stupid and if I were a member, I would be questioning their motives. Cab drivers don't have anything to fear from providing for cycling and they are attacking the wrong targets. They should be questioning why we allow unrestricted (Congestion Charge acknowledged) use of private vehicles in the centre of our City taking up valuable capacity.

Taxis provide a service to people who are willing to pay for it (and it is not cheap) and for people who rely on them for their mobility as they are unable to use buses or other modes. This does not have to change and I cannot see people switching from black cabs to bikes. But, things are starting to change and those who cannot adapt will ultimately slide the way of the dinosaurs, possibly into a diesel-chocked tar pit.


  1. Quite agree. The taxis would do better to get people who ride bicycles on their side, rather than alienate them.

    People who ride bicycles often manage to not have to own their own cars. So when the weather's atrocious, or they need to carry a lot, or they're accompanying a visitor, or they're visiting somewhere by train, or they're just not feeling like a bike ride, they might well take a taxi instead.

    The competition for the taxis comes almost entirely from private cars, not from bicycles.

    The LTDA would perhaps be well advised to take a step back from their knee-jerk "cyclists are bad" reaction to everything, and do some research into (a) how urban transport is changing, (b) what the real problems are (motor congestion, pollution, danger) and (c) how taxis can position themselves to be part of the solution.

  2. There's of course a difference between treating cyclists and cabbies as a group given what's going on - cabbies elected and tacitly support the LTDA's leadership - despite that leadership repeatedly going on bonkers crusade and tilting at windmills.

    Cabbies behaviour increasingly looks to more and more people like the out-of-touch behaviour of a "metropolitan elite". The cost of hiring a black cab, compared to uber or a minicab is vastly inflated, they get to use bus lanes for no clear purpose and they'll clearly fight tooth and nail to keep smothering us in diesel fumes. Yet we're the ones apparently distorting policy?

    I also called for a boycott, despite effectively having been engaged in one for years already. But I'm now seeing cyclists increasingly and rightly calling for them to be chucked out of bus lanes. If taxi drivers think they'll win this one, they're insane.

  3. I think TfL have shied away from trying to reform the taxi industry and they probably see it as lower priority than a lot of other issues on their plate. I've heard that a lot of black cab drivers would only be too happy to ditch their expensive, polluting cars in favour of some nice new Merc or Nissan, so I think it is up to TfL could relax their requirements here.

    But yeah, the cabbie leadership seem to be dinosaurs from another era rather than people who see what way things are going regarding transport and technology trends and use this to their advantage.