(Here’d my edit of my article in Taxi this week. My ideas here are half-baked and intended as a bit of fun, rather than serious political comment. I’m currently deciding on my voting intention re. The EU. I might post my ideas, though like most people’s, they will be equally half-baked too):
What Has The European Union Ever Done For Us?
I’m not really a political person and I don’t feel strongly either way in the debate over Britain leaving the European Union. Britain has been part of a union since I was at junior school: I remember little else and don’t know whether we’d be best in or out. I don’t believe anyone does, it’s largely guesswork.
Many people confuse being part of Europe with being part of a political union. If you’re against membership of the EU you are seen as anti-Europe. Not necessarily so. We don’t have to salute the blue flag in order to respect our historical ties to continental Europe, and to enjoy what Europe has to offer by way of culture and entertainment. Ordinary Britons have been embracing European culture since package holidays to Spain became popular in the 1970s. Whether we’re part of the EU or not, we can still enjoy a super-strong ale in a Belgian bar, or a boozy evening in a German bierkeller. We can drink as much vin rouge, and eat as much cheese strained through an old man’s sock as we want, anywhere in Europe. Anyway, I started wondering whether the EU has helped the cab trade in any way. I came up with a couple of possible examples…
The Evening Standard recently quoted Clean Air in London as saying that tiny particulate pollution has killed a thousand people in London in less than four months. On the matter of roadside pollution I believe the EU has tried to help us by threatening the government with fines (do we actually pay them??). Without the EU expressing displeasure at our inability to control pollution, TfL might be narrowing and closing even more roads, and flooding London with even more buses and mini-cabs, if that’s possible. Tottenham Court Road, Oxford Street and Judd Street, remain open at present, but tension mounts as we wait to see if they are going to carry out their threat to close these crucial thoroughfares. With so many roads out of commission, options are limited, and roads that remain open are invariably at saturation point. During the preparation of this article I took a job from Chiswell Street to Queen Street Place. It was a tortuous journey along Moorgate and King William Street in order to get on to Lower Thames Street. When I started out in this game you could get from Gresham Street and go all the way through King Street, Queen Street, Queen Street Place, and on to Southwark Bridge. It’s not good for air quality when journeys are made longer and vehicles are on the roads longer than they need to be.
The European Court of Justice also reinforced a TfL ruling that benefitted the cab trade. Do you remember when David Griffin of Addison Lee advised his drivers to ignore the rules and to drive in bus lanes? The case went to TfL, who told him where to go. Dave then took the case to appeal at the European Court, who also told him where to go; or rather where he couldn’t go – in the bus lanes.
European rules have probably made vehicles cleaner, but this has to some extent been offset by road “modernisation”. In China, modernisation is ditching your bike and buying a car. In Europe we’re encouraged to do the opposite. I’m not saying who has the best philosophy, but here in London there is no balance. Truth be told, if I wasn’t driving for a living I’d probably be campaigning to turn most of our roads into cobbled alleys. But people need to get around, and journeys are getting longer for many of us. People have been priced out of London and have been forced further out into the outer suburbs and beyond. People need to work and deliveries need to be made. When commuters converge on London there’s unbearable strain on all our transport systems. It’s so anti-car now, and there are no sensible, workable, solutions. The desperate move to remove older cabs is a mockery when London has been flooded with hundreds more mini-cabs every week. Why we need more buses than New York, I don’t know. There’s more room in other European cities. What works in Amsterdam and Copenhagen can’t work here.
The new mayor seems serious about tackling air quality, though I’m worried about his plans to pedestrianise Oxford Street. We need to keep up the opposition to this, as there’s nowhere else the traffic can go. If this proves to be a lost cause, I hope he keeps a reign on TfL’s worst excesses and makes them more accountable.
Maybe EU could have been used more. Perhaps the European Court could have decided on the taxi meter issue? Maybe they could still make a definitive ruling on what constitutes plying for hire?
In the spirit of democracy; once the Europe issue is decided, I think there should be a referendum to decide whether taxi licensing should leave TfL. I’m sure there would be a big voter turnout for this one, and I think I could predict the result.
Copyright: Chris Ackrill, 2016.