Wednesday, 18 April 2012

AddisonLee: There's every chance that minicabs might win bus lane access. Could this spell a very rapid end to London's "cycling revolution" or is it finally time for people who cycle to play hardball?

London bus lane, masquerading as a 'cycle super highway'. Soon to be a minicab express lane as well?
There have been lots of rumblings this week about minicabs in bus lanes. Specifically, AddisonLee minicabs in bus lanes.

I want to get one thing clear. Minicabs freak me. When I'm a passenger (rare but it does happen), I find that nine times out of 10, we're whizzing along at the fastest possible speeds, cutting other people up. Why? Because the guy driving the cab wants to get on to his next job.

When I'm on my bike, they freak me out even more. Precisely because I'm at the receiving end of the minicab driver who wants to get his job done. If AddisonLee gets its way, 50,000+ minicabs will soon be racing up London's bus lanes. I can't think of a single thing that would put me off cycling more than sharing bus lanes with London's minicab fleet.

If I put my cycling cap aside, I think AddisonLee is being very clever. John Griffin, AddisonLee's founder, comes across as an articulate man who has a clear vision of where he wants to be. You can hear his thoughts in this news footage on ITV. From the perspective of someone who runs a (much much smaller) business, I think full marks to him for trying.

But from the perspective of someone who cycles, I regard bus lanes as almost the only safe patch on London's main roads. And that's a statement I make with some major caveats. As Mike Cavenett of London Cycling Campaign says: "It's a measure of the poor quality of cycling provision in the capital that many cyclists see the bus lane network as a safe haven, even though it's shared with buses, black taxis and motorcycles." I couldn't agree more.

Outside of bus lane hours, though, I often find bus lanes are intimidating places to be. Cycle down Super Highway 7 towards Clapham at 11pm on a Friday night and it's either a) filled with parked cars or b) turned into a sort of minicab express route with drivers jostling you at 40-50mph to undertake motor traffic in the main lane. In short, it can be an extremely uncomfortable place to cycle. South London bus lanes seem worse than North for some reason.

What's striking is that none of the major London news outlets has realised the bus lane story isn't just about buses. There's almost no public comment on the fact that bus lanes are the nearest thing London has to bike lanes. Listen to Leon Daniels, Managing director of the London road network on ITV news here. His criticism of AddisonLee relates solely to bus passengers, not a word about cycling. So much for the head of TfL's roads looking out for people on bikes.

Full credit, however, to The Times for pointing out: "The [AddisonLee] edict spread concern among cyclists who have grown wary of the branded cars and people carriers on London’s streets" The thing is, as Cavenett points out, it's not like those of us who cycle have many other options.

Labour politicians are, led by John Prescott on twitter, are framing a story around 'cabgate', as he calls it, and talking about the large cash donations that John Griffin has made to the Conservative party and links to cabinet ministers' road policy decisions. There may or may not be something in that.

The black cab taxi trade has some very legitimate points to make about the AddisonLee manoeuvre without needing to resort to questions about party funding. But I've begun to realise black cabs are a bit like cyclists: A broad range of very different individuals with some loose trade bodies to make noises on their behalf. The black cab trade needs to ditch the mud slinging that's cropped up on twitter this week and coalesce around core issues on this topic, rather than get too bogged down in party politics.

But my own sense is that Addison Lee might well win this battle. And my concern is primarily this: Will this make cycling even more marginalised and will it turn cycling along main roads from something that is a viable option (at least, viable during peak hours when the bus lanes operate) into something that only those prepared to stand up to race track conditions on the street are prepared to undertake?

At some point, the Mayor (who has been silent so far) will have to decide who he thinks the roads are for. At the moment, though, I don't hold out heaps of hope that he'll side with cycling. He's working on assumptions of 43% motor traffic growth (despite the fact that these sorts of insane forecasts have been fundamentally kyboshed by non-political trade bodies). Both Boris and Ken have been pretty pro-car in their electoral mandates. As Christian Wolmar put it in yesterday's Standard: "Cities such as, Copenhagen, Amsterdam, Bordeaux, Munich and even Paris have grasped the nettle, creating extensive facilities for cyclists and putting them at the heart of urban planning. They have strived to make their cities liveable as well as accessible. In the process they have sometimes had to make short-term, unpopular decisions to bring about a long-term improvement. In London, it seems, we have a pair of conservatives who can’t think beyond getting re-elected."

I think Wolmar is spot-on. I would like London to be liveable as well as accessible. John Griffin said he wants minicabs in bus lanes so his passengers can make 'quicker' journeys. We have to decide if speed and more motor traffic are the only defining factors in our streets.

Or do those same passengers actually want streets where their kids can cycle to school, where they can drop into the shops, where their older relatives can easily cross the road, where there's less congestion and less pollution? That's not an anti-car agenda but it's an anti-speed agenda and also pro a more 'liveable' city.

You could get an awful lot more people moving much more efficiently around London if you allocated more of the street to people on buses and people on bikes. But my sense is that sort of debate isn't even on the table. TfL's response to the AddisonLee challenge says it all: Maximising motor traffic is all this is about.

If AddisonLee is going to play hardball on bus lanes, so be it. I think it's time cyclists played hardball on cycle lanes. Proper cycle lanes. Not blue paint. You have two ways to influence this. First, sign the London Cycling Campaign petition NOW (please). Second, you have no excuse whatsoever not to turn up to Hyde Park Corner, 11am Saturday 28th April. And let's get at least 10,000 of us out (on motor-traffic free roads no less) pushing the point. Make London somewhere anyone and everyone can get on a bike and use it as normal transport.

21 comments:

  1. CS2 is just as bad outside bus lane hours, but I often extol the bus lanes as glorified bike lanes. Can't believe the Addison Lee driver this morning on Twitter who suggested running over cyclists who are in his way...

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    1. Another point for the debate is advertising - why are black cabs the only ones allowed advertising outside or inside?

      Maybe Addison Lee will change this also?

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    2. Check out every cigarette butt receptacle on the street! (a.lee). Publicity

      ?

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  2. This is potentially a disaster. I personally haven't had much problems with Ad Lee drivers BUT, the increase in volume in bus lanes at peak times will be enormous and most of them have wide people carriers.

    Griffin has form on this. He told his drivers to use the M4 bus lane, which meant they risked their licences. That was scrapped, with the effect that journey times slowed for everyone. Apparently the point of it was not really to favour buses and taxis, but to stop people changing lanes, which slowed traffic. So hear we go again - a policy with beneficial side effects for all could get scrapped.

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  3. that would be 28th april. and park lane at upper brook st, not hyde park corner...

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  4. I am not quite so pessimistic about Adlee winning this argument. They say they are being discriminated against. Fine, say I, all you have to do is

    - Spend six months full-time scootering around London, and then take a tough exam, to acquire “The Knowledge”
    - Submit to an enhanced criminal records check – something which I suspect some Adlee drivers would struggle with
    - Accept the statutory obligation to take a fare wherever he wants to go to if it is within six miles of Charing Cross, even if it really, really is not convenient for you
    - Drive one of a very small list of specialist vehicles, with a hefty price tag
    - Guarantee access to disabled people and wheelchair users in your vehicle
    - Take your vehicle off the road altogether if it is damaged, even if it is just a small dent, until it is repaired

    It is also quite clear that if the population of hire vehicles permitted to use bus lanes expanded from 24,000 to about 90,000, bus lanes would simply no longer function in the way intended. You might as well invite everyone to use them, ie abandon them altogether. While Boris certainly is hell-bent on smoothing the way of the private car, I find it hard to believe that he would screw up bus provision this way. The M4 lane and its removal were not Mayor’s responsibilities – that falls to the Highways Agency, which was under “Hoverboard” Hammond’s purview at the time.

    In what strikes me as the unlikely event that Griffin wins his judicial review, I think the only conclusion would have to be that bus lanes must be closed to black cabs as well, just as they already are in the City of London. While I don’t always see eye to eye with the London cabbie, I can’t think that is really the right answer.

    Fortunately, Judicial Reviews are actually very difficult indeed for the plaintiff to win. Let’s hope this is the case here.

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    1. All very valid points and I do very much agree that Add Lee could end up scoring a bit of an own goal if they get the law changed to allow PHV in bus lanes. They only have a few thousands vehicles but once you account for the other PHV drivers that "advantage" will soon disappear as the bus lanes become just as clogged as the other lanes.

      As Danny says in the article I have also used bus lanes outside of their operational times on a few occasions and have genuinely forgot about it so ride in my usual primary position to avoid the gutter and drains only to get honked out by some impatient little twat who wants to use it to undertake the other lane!

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    2. Agree with the points Paul M makes, and also think it will make it much harder to police who is (mis)using the bus lanes.
      Bus (and black cab?) drivers are required to undergo cycle training to improve awareness - will this be the case for minicab drivers if they start sharing bus lanes?
      There are exceptions, but AdLee drivers tend to be the most aggressive drivers I meet on the road, especially when overtaking in narrow lanes, so I would not welcome this development at all.

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  5. The only way to play hardball is a show of numbers. An active letter and emailing campaign. Getting cyclists themselves to talk, and show fellow cyclists the data and info that can help them.

    You're doing a good job at promoting those three.

    I signed the petition despite not being a Londoner. I want a London I can visit as a tourist and jump on a Borisbike to see the sights. I didnt see that London the last few times I visited, so it still has some way to go... but it will happen - external factors such as finances and oil costs will push it forward just as much.

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  6. Yes, we need a petition going for this to not happen!

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  7. Addison Lee are some of the worst drivers out there, definitely boycotting them. If they're allowed to muscle their way in on bus lanes as well it'll be a disaster.

    On a different topic- I've seen two vehicles today belching black smoke in to the air, it'd be nice if something was done about it, but I am pessimistic it will be.

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  8. It would be interesting to know what mini-cab passengers think of this. Based on the fact that they're using a cab at all presumably many of them are not car owners, so may be very sympathetic to the needs of cyclists. I do already find mini-cabs frightening when I'm cycling though - I can almost always predict that when I hear a car revving loudly behind me and then squeezing past on too narrow a road or cutting in front of me to park or turn left, then it will have that tell-tale sticker in the back window - more often than not on residential streets which only have space for one way traffic though rather than main roads with bus lanes. Grrr!

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  9. I am a minicab passenger, quite a lot. In fact, I am an Adlee customer as my firm has an account with them, and a policy to use Adlee in preference to black cabs in most circs. (I bike it when I can, but you need cool dry weather to do that in a suit, and you need to be travelling alone - I can't tow a colleague behind me on roller skates!)

    To be fair, many Adlee drivers are fine, but the number of bad ones is large enough to be significant. As a passenger, it is often quite uncomfortable as they are heavy footed on accelerator and brake, and bad news for anyone who gets travel sick. Some are really scary, and that is seen from inside the car so god knows how it looks from outside.

    The point is that the business model incentivises bad driving. The drivers are "self-employed" (yeah, right) and get paid by the journey, with a charge for the use of the vehicle, a bit like chair rental in a hairdresser (except that I have never met a homicidal hairdresser). The charge paid by my firm is a flat fare in a couple of distance bands, so while a journey at the short end of band is dearer than a cab, at the upper end it is a fair bit cheaper. More to the point, the structure encourages drivers to get the trip done as fast as possible so that they can move on to the next call. Taxis are under less pressure as they are paid on a meter which measures distance - and time, so they needn't fret so much about slow progress.

    I raised the Griffin letter with our transport manager and corporate social responsibility director. Adlee responded to confirm that they had *instructed* drivers to use bus lanes (not merely told them that it was OK, note). I thought the response was unsatisfactory and so did my CSR guy, but I don't know whether the transport guy will take it further. As we are an accounting firm I hope so - I have to complete a queationnaire every year to confirm that I have no convictions, bankruptcies, disqualifications as a director, or censures/reprimands etc, and I would expect any supplier to the firm to be asked the same.

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  10. Quite so. When the petition has been handed in (33,000+ and counting!), when the Mayoral election is over, and when the Times campaign has ended - where do we go from there?

    Answers on a postcard for how cyclists can play hardball.

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  11. Let's not forget it was Boris who ditched the M4 bus lane, as one of his first (few) acts. And why? Because Addison Lee supplied free minicabs to his campaign (as exposed in Private Eye). What a surprise.

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  12. I agree with those calling to make this the subject of a petition, but I think the petition should be to ban all taxis, including black cabs, from all bus lanes.

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  13. -banning taxis would be good, but a real problem here is that bus lanes are still scary. Cyclists may like them according to some surveys, but that's really a survey that says "do you want to ride in a lane that has HGVs, buses, taxis, minicabs, white van drivers and general motorists on the phone" vs "a lane that only has buses, taxis and where lane blocking by parked vehicles is camera enforced". Doesn't mean it's good.

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  14. There is no doubt that private hire cars are the worst drivers on our streets. My annual trip to Heathrow T3 confirms this as a passenger not just through the many close calls I have on the bike. You just know that 'that car' just inches away is a taxi, confirmed by the yellow disc in the rear window of the Ford Galaxy as it flies past. There will be more injuries and possibly deaths because of this. The next Mayor better take notice.

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  15. What will happen when an addi lee driver hits a cyclist, will griffin be charged as well as the driver? I say when not if as I feel it will be a matter of time as 90% of addi lee drivers are nuts. I see a black ford Mpv and I give it an extra wide bearth

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  16. Hardball?

    Addison Lee means to subvert the deterrent effect of Fixed Penalty Notices (FPNs) by paying them on behalf of its drivers.

    But FPNs are not fines. They are an administratively cheap way to punish people who would prefer to pay rather than be prosecuted.

    Key point: no one is _entitled_ to an FPN as an alternative to prosecution.

    If TfL is willing to stand up to Addison Lee on this, it should ask the Met to _prosecute_ every AL driver caught in a bus lane, leading to criminal convictions and eventual removals of licences. That should restore the deterrent effect.

    SJT

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  17. Remember that Boris also scrapped the western extension of the congestion charge as soon as he came to office - I'm guessing that he relies on a lot of drivers for his core vote :-(

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