Follow that Bus!

(original edit of article written for Taxi magazine, with original title).

We were told access to Bank Junction was denied to taxis because of safety concerns, but we all know it’s really about TfL protecting bus timings – and making a bit of money on the side.  If it was about safety they’d realise it was more hazardous having taxis, mini-cabs and vans tearing around Lothbury and Bartholomew Lane to by-pass Bank Junction, than to have vehicles forming an orderly queue at the lights at Poultry.

The authorities won’t tell us how many cabs are involved in accident statistics, but bus accident figures are high.  Twenty-five people have died in bus-related incidents in London over the last two years, mostly pedestrians.  Around 12,000 people were injured.  Incredibly, the bus companies have targets for punctuality, but not for reducing accidents.  Driving a bus must be the hardest , most hazardous, job in London.  Their drivers are under immense pressure, and have many distractions as they go about their work.

I’m not sure if buses still have an Inspector Blake-type figure telling drivers to “Get that bus out!”, but bus operators clearly have their work cut out keeping to timetables.  Timings are affected because of madcap road remodelling projects, and by allowing multiple road and building works to close roads at the same time.  The bus companies are controlled by TfL, who have allowed the chaos in the first place.  TfL licence cabs as well as buses, but we get few concessions:  they only look after bus drivers and cyclists.

Timings are important to the bus companies because they are losing customers.  Half empty buses crawl along like a solid block of red on Regent Street, then queue to clear junctions like Oxford Circus, or to block everyone else at Piccadilly Circus.  Many of the roads buses use have been narrowed, making it impossible to get past them.  It’s not their fault, it’s the system.  I shudder when I see a bus bound for Streatham or Crystal Palace.  We sometimes grumble about going into the Deep South, but imagine what it must be like dragging a bus through Camberwell and Brixton.  Or sitting on one as a passenger.

I’m more a West End than a City man, but the closure of Bank Junction impacted on me when I took an account customer from St James’s Square to the Mansion House for a function.  I didn’t panic because I knew I could swing around into Bucklesbury before being confronted by the blue warning signs.  However, Bucklesbury was closed and I had to discharge my dinner-suited gent next to a building site, and amongst a gaggle of mini-cabs that had done the same thing.  If there’s another entrance to the Mansion House outside the exclusion zone I’m not aware of it.  How do we access Number One Lombard Street or the Ned Hotel?  How do we get a wheelchair there?  We’d been making great strides in making buildings accessible, but things are being reversed in the misguided name of safety.

Further west I’ve noticed bollards blocking the entrance to the Lyceum Theatre too.  And where does safety fit in with allowing the drivers of the number 3 bus to park up for their break on the cycle Lane in Jermyn Street?.

I’m dismayed people have been fined for driving into Cornhill from Leadenhall Street.  I also thought the warning sign referred to the section further towards Bank Junction.  The City of London notification concerning the closure features a map.  It’s in different colours.  It reminds me of the maps we received prior to the Olympics.  Maybe I’m being over-cynical but both maps gave the impression they were designed to confuse us.  The exclusion zone is in red, and the “Access Only” sector is coloured blue.  This looks like you can drive into Cornhill to access the Royal Exchange.  The map also gives the impression you can drive into Cornhill and leave by Finch Lane before you hit the red section.  I sincerely hope those drivers fined will get their money back with an apology.

You can do what you want at the weekend, so for the purposes of research I drove around there the other weekend.  It seems you can access Cornhill from a left turn from Threadneedle Street.  I couldn’t check the signage coming into Cornhill from Leadenhall Street as the road was closed.  It’s only open two days a week, and it was closed!

Motorists have lost an incredible amount of road space over the last couple of years.  The East-West Cycle Superhighway is congested most of the time, even at the weekends.  If the traffic is bad driving from Westminster to the Tower we need to think twice before diverting away into quieter streets.  With Bank Junction out of bounds, we know we are likely to get caught in heavy traffic in Eastcheap.

The recent spate of road closures are meant to be about safety, but the congestion is causing pollution, which is killing people.  The Ambulance service has complained that they can’t get past on emergency calls.  This is also killing people.  It’s not for safety, it’s against taxis – and other motorists. The closure of Bank Junction is only a trial, but from day one it was a cash from cameras scheme, bringing in a whopping 16K an hour!  It’s generating money for nothing, and we’re paying for it.

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