(Original edit of article for Taxi magazine).
Good for London?
Last year’s Christmas traffic was the worst I’ve ever seen it: you could really feel the presence of 120,000 private hire cars, and the results of the year’s road narrowing.
I’d rather have Sadiq running London than the last chap, but if I ever had Mr Khan in my cab I’d still feel compelled to bend his ear about the traffic. I’d ask if these new road modelling schemes are good for London. I’d ask how he thought the Cycle Superhighway between The Tower and Westminster was working out. Has it got London moving? Has it contributed to cutting harmful emissions? I’d ask what he thought of the never-ending queue of traffic heading north on Blackfriars Bridge, and whether he thought the system at Blackfriars was clear and coherent for drivers, cyclists and pedestrians (if I were a cyclist I’d prefer it the way it was: it’s too complicated and too dangerous). I’d ask if he thought it was good for London to have traffic queuing all day to get past the extra set of lights on Birdcage Walk. Other crazy road schemes I could mention are available, it’s endless.
Then there are the badly-thought out roadworks. Tower Bridge was completely closed for nearly from October. I’d ask the Mayor if it was good for London to close the bridge for long-term roadworks at the same time as even longer term roadworks closed Tooley Street eastbound in the same area. On a smaller scale, how often do we see a huge pile of rubble surrounded by orange barriers blocking our progress? It’s not acceptable to allow workmen to go off for the weekend leaving a set of temporary traffic lights guarding a huge hole in the road, as in West End Lane on the busiest Saturday of the year. If you block a major thoroughfare you should be compelled to work around the clock until the job is finished.
Piccadilly Underpass is a strange one. It’s often closed on weekend mornings, and was closed for a lengthy period earlier last year. It was closed again with no apparent warning on one of the busiest weekends of the year, on the 10th and 11th of December. Every time the underpass re-opens I’m keen to see what improvements have been made, but it’s the same grimy wall and the same poor lighting and lane markings. The outside has become nicer, but these closures have been about putting in huge illuminated advertising screens rather than improving the driving experience. Talking of electricity, what’s being done to help the switchover to electric cabs next year? I hear there’s now one rapid charging point in Central London!
Threats to close off streets to us have become constant. It’s gone a bit quiet on Tottenham Court Road, but the Mayor is still keen on closing Oxford Street, and stopping us driving around Regent’s Park. The proposed closure of Bank Junction resulted in taxi demos. Closures are always accompanied by claims that it’ll make things safer, but this one seems to be about bus times. Average traffic speeds have fallen from 10.9 mph in 2003 to 7.8. Things moved faster when our ancestors drove horse-drawn cabs.
Next Christmas the traffic is likely to be even worse. If TfL carry on selling private hire licences at the same rate there will be upwards of an extra 20,000 mini-cabs on London’s roads. No doubt there will be a new programme of road closures and road narrowing too.
Traffic is the worst thing about London, and it’s the worst thing about our job. It’s getting beyond the stage now where we can happily consider it an occupational hazard and work around it. Whole road systems and whole areas are almost permanently congested. The powers that be have knowingly created this mayhem. It’s manufactured congestion.
The mayor thinks Brexit is harmful for London, but the one thing that is harming London is the road congestion that he presides over. Too many people who run London fail to fail to accept that madcap road schemes are part of the problem, not part of the solution. Businesses are more likely to desert London because their staff can’t move around the city, than uncertainty over Brexit. If any banks do re-locate, I’ll look out for their stationary removal van on the Victoria Embankment.
Tower Bridge opened eight days early giving us an early Christmas present, and at around the same time, cabs were granted direct access to Tooley Street from Jamaica Road. I hope the Mayor, and others controlling the streets, continue to see sense and halt the worst excesses of madcap road modernisation schemes and curb private hire licensing. It’s the only thing that’s going to get things moving this year.