Can London Take It?

(original edit of article for Taxi magazine)

If the government are to be believed and the economy is improving, it should be welcomed.  But can London cope with an increase in commercial activity at the same time as it reduces road space?

With more money around, there will inevitably be more people on the streets, and there will be more demand for places in to which to spend money:  ie. shops, bars and restaurants.  There will generally be more demand for road space and parking, and more pressure on an already overstretched public transport network.  There will be more road closures due to building work; so more lorries, skips, and more blokes in hi-viz vests standing in the road with lollypops.  We’ll frequently turn into a road to see it blocked by a giant crane.  Much of the current congestion is caused by buses, gawd bless ‘em, and we’ll need more of them once more people start moving around more.  They’re already nose to tail on Regent Street, and we’ll be sitting behind even more of them as they slowly negotiate the narrow streets of Notting Hill and Hampstead.  The bus stands on Pall Mall East and the top of Shaftesbury Avenue will be permanently occupied, and Ludgate Hill will be a slow crawl of tour buses – with no escape route at weekends due to the customary closures on surrounding roads.  There will be more vans and lorries making deliveries, more refuse trucks, and every busy junction will have a security van inconveniently parked on the corner of the road you’ve just turned into.

So what’s TfL’s response to all this?  It seems to be to reduce road space even further.  “East to West, the Embankment is Best” runs the old Knowledge maxim, but the river route from Tower Hill to Westminster is down to one lane in each direction, and looks likely to stay like that.  The future is already here in WC1:  In the last month we’ve seen the crucial westbound Tavistock Place, Tavistock Square, Torrington Place, route through Bloomsbury closed off to motorists.  All the good work making Russell Square two-way undone at a stroke, as it becomes the new Piccadilly Circus.

The authorities are making things as inconvenient for motorists as possible, but few people drive in London for fun.  They’re bending over backwards to encourage cycling, but they should be making it easier for those who really need it.  People are never going to have furniture delivered by bike.  An Amazon super highway would be of more practical use.

Do they really want permanently congested roads?  What about the harmful exhaust emissions that draw huge fines from the EU?  Eventually, electric vehicles will take over.  While initially encouraged with tax incentives, and congestion charge exemption, after a short period of time, the benefits will be eroded and electric car drivers will be in the same position as everyone else.  London will be left with the same congestion, just less pollution.  TfL won’t care about miles of traffic queuing from The Angel to get through Euston Underpass, or sat on the Cycle Superhighway watching the traffic lights change several times before moving an inch.  Lord knows what it’ll be like when Tottenham Court Road is de-commissioned, or Oxford Street pedestrianised.  Regent Street is already closed every couple of weeks for events.  Someone needs to decide whether London is a working city or an exhibition hall.  Is it fair to divert most of central London’s bus routes for American football parties or a toy shop promotion?

The green shoots of economic recovery should provide more cab customers, but the numbers of cab drivers are going down as fewer people are starting the Knowledge than are retiring.  The public needn’t worry, there are plenty of mini-cabs to take up the slack.  The remedy of our licensing body is not only to reduce road space, but also to flood the streets with mini-cabs.  Do we really need 80,000 of them?

Spare a thought also for the emergency services.  The London Ambulance Service has been put on Special Measures as response times are so slow.  I can’t say I’m surprised.

Those who are making the decisions to ruin London aren’t around at the weekends to see that it’s seven days a week misery.  Executives of powerful financial institutions aren’t normally around at the weekend, but I’m sure the head honchos will eventually threaten to pull out of London should the traffic become unbearable and affect the ability to conduct business.

I think madcap traffic schemes pose more of a threat to the taxi trade than Uber, and private hire are affected it as much as we are. Our customers will desert us if journey times get much longer. Poorly co-ordinated road closures with inadequate notification have long been a blight on London, but it’s the permanent anti-car “modernisation” that is ruining the lives of those who need to get around.  If we welcome an increase in commercial activity without addressing the issue of road space there are some miserable times ahead.  The best we can hope for is that once Crossrail is finished, some of the traffic will be able to more freely again.  I shan’t hold my breath though.

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