Sunday, 22 April 2012

Boris Johnson condemns AddisonLee 'irresponsible and unacceptable' about recent comments on cycling. Time for Barclays and other major corporate clients to do the same. Cyclists and black cab drivers to stage protest Monday 6pm, Euston.

The car park of one of the largest AddisonLee business account clients in London
One of the first rebuttals that John Griffin, chairman of AddisonLee, made last about the widespread reaction to his vitriolic cyclist-hating comments, was that this was just a twitter storm.

I don't think that's the case any longer. Over 60,000 people read about his irresponsible attitude to safer roads on this blog alone on Friday. Pretty much every single national paper has followed the story over the weekend. The Times took a very clear line: "Minicab chief: cyclists have to expect to be hurt on roads," it thundered. The Telegraph followed suit, saying that "There is only one way to cure this small-minded cyclophobia – get on your bike." The Road Danger Reduction Forum quite rightly dubbed Griffin's comments "a factually inaccurate and victim-blaming rant about cyclists".

Boris Johnson's media team issued a press release on Friday saying:“John Griffin’s actions are irresponsible and unacceptable, and Boris Johnson does not agree with his comments on cycling.” Then early today even the Daily Mail chimed in, calling the remarks by AddisonLee's boss 'dangerous words'.

Meanwhile, users of the AddisonLee iPhone app (used by many Londoners to order the company's minicabs) have started ditching it in favour of alternatives like Hailo, tweetalondontaxi and Green Tomato cars. CarltonReid has written a wonderful summary of the comments people are leaving on the AddisonLee iPhone app. So far, 500+ people have left reviews on the iTunes store about AddisonLee along the lines of: "this company has a dangerous approach to other road users...deleted app, won't ever use again". Or this one: "Used to use AddLee app but since hearing all about this, using this Hailo app...Well, I'm converted, just what London needed".

The company updated its smartphone app over the weekend to try and bury the bad reviews. Clever move. But as Carlton Reid points out, there's only one of them and tens of thousands of customers who are seriously angry. If you haven't done so already, add your review of the AddisonLee app to the itunes store or facebook site. I've already deleted the app so I had to re-load the updated version, review the updated version on iTunes and then press delete.

This is not, as the Guardian called it, a Michael O'Leary moment. The Ryanair boss is good at making eye-catching public statements but his comments always relate to his own product and his service. I've met his marketing director, the guy is funny and smart and cares about his business. I think that John Griffin has over-stepped the line because his comments insult and abuse his customers even when they are having absolutely nothing to do with his company. That's very different to Ryanair.

One comment that really caught my eye, though, was written by Kenneth Tharp OBE, director of the contemporary dance institute The Place in Kings Cross: "After...the callous remarks of the company’s Chair, I’m determined that The Place will cancel our business account with Addison Lee and find an alternative. After all, a dance organisation should know how to vote with its feet."

AddisonLee app gets a roasting on itunes
Courtesy Carlton Reid
I know of two large AddisonLee customers, both of which are looking into the issue and considering whether to ditch the firm. I very much hope that they proceed. I have also heard from two separate (and sufficiently well-connected in these matters) sources that Barclays may be considering the nature of its contract with the firm. And rightly so. Barclays has committed a lot of money to the Barclays cycle hire scheme and - love them or hate them - the cycle super highways. Barclays is funding the cab company to help it expand in the run up to the Olympics and is a major AddisonLee customer. If I were on the Barclays board, I'd be asking some serious questions right now about quite how Mr Griffin was using the money my bank had lent him. Is Barclays lending money to AddisonLee so that he can encourage law breaking and increased danger on our roads? And how does that square itself with Barclays's significantly larger commitment to cycling in London?

My own view is that large AddisonLee account holders should look very seriously at their contracts with this firm. I would not let my own staff use a company that deliberately breaks the law, that encourages danger on our roads and that holds me and my staff in such low regard if we happen to be on bicycles.


Around 500 people have confirmed on Facebook that they will attend a 'die-in' outside AddisonLee's London offices near Euston on Monday 23 April at 6pm. Several black cab drivers have suggested they will join in support of the cyclist action. I think we can safely expect 1,000 people to turn up.

The 'die-in' will meet at the junction of Stanhope Street/William Road then head to their office to deliver a letter to John Griffin of Addison Lee and stage a 'die-in' by lying down outside the office to highlight the real danger his drivers pose to cyclists and pedestrians. It's short notice, but this is an event that's happening now, so acting quickly is important!”

For more details, see Facebook here and for a map of Stanhope Street click here.