What Has The Mayor Ever Done For Us?

(Original edit of article for Taxi magazine).

London Mayor, Siddiq Khan, has not been making himself popular. At the end of 2018 he was called up to explain the delay over Crossrail. This project is currently running at least a year late. Desperate for money to prop up Transport for London he also spent much of the £42 million that was ring-fenced to help the transition to electric taxis. Like Boris before him, the new London Mayor is losing the goodwill of cab-driving voters.

The decision to subject minicabs to the congestion charge was welcome, but was used as Christmas wrapping to hide plans to reduce the age limit on taxis and take many cabs off the roads before their time. This would have a detrimental effect on second-hand taxi values, and simultaneously slow the move to electric taxis. Middle-aged cabs will be kept on longer. Not many of us want to drive a twelve or fifteen year-old cab, but times are hard and most of us can’t afford to buy a new taxi at £57,000 (before finance costs). If a cab can get through an MOT and a rigorous inspection, that should be enough. Look at the age of some of our buses – and they’re not all going to be zero emission until 2037!

The Mayor spent a reported three million pounds on the New Year firework display – which is now only accessible to those who buy a ticket. I watched the fireworks on television this year. Very nice too; though part of me kept thinking of all that money gone up in smoke. Is it a smokescreen to take our minds off the real issues? The Mayor’s real priorities should be housing, transport and crime-prevention; not a pay-per-view firework display.

Back on the roads, the Mayor is trying to change people’s on-line shopping habits, as vans delivering goods to Central London offices are causing congestion. The number of delivery vans has increased two per cent each year.  An increasing number of deliveries, coupled with the rampant licensing of minicabs, has made London more congested than ever. Serious congestion reminds everyone that the Mayor’s cycle superhighways are partly to blame.

The Mayor’s big idea is to establish parcel collection points in suburban tube stations, supermarkets and corner shops. I’ve picked up several Amazon packages at my local Morrison’s, but only certain, smaller packages, can be sent to supermarkets. Besides, waiting around for Amazon packages has become a great tradition, particularly around Christmas. You know when a parcel has been despatched, but you don’t know when it’ll arrive. You can pay extra for same day delivery, but where’s the fun in that? The excitement comes from wondering whether to risk nipping out for five minutes knowing that a van driven by an under-paid, time-pressured, driver on a zero-hour contract could arrive the moment you close the front door behind you. Sometimes you even weigh up whether to go to work if you’re expecting something important.

I have a radical idea. Instead of home-delivery, or parcel collection hubs; units could be set up containing goods for sale. Shoppers would have no need to read through an on-line catalogue to find items, or to enter the sometimes difficult world of filling in payment and delivery details: all the goods would be on full view and available for immediate purchase – with cash if desired. These units could each contain goods of a certain type. I propose we call these units “Shops.”  Larger shops could offer a range of disparate items, each arranged in their own sections. This type of unit could perhaps be called a “Department Store”.  Department stores and run-of-the-mill shops could be sited in areas of high density footfall, perhaps on high streets. Joining shops could be pubs, cafes, restaurants, and banks. This could create a hive of commercial and social activity in our neglected town centres. Once all these businesses are grouped together in one area I really think the high street could take off. What could possibly go wrong?

Apart from engineering crazy road systems and arranging firework displays, what else does a Mayor do? In order to research this I went back to my 1960s childhood and downloaded an episode of Trumpton. I must admit I didn’t come up with much. The Trumpton Mayor wears a tricorn hat and a gold chain of office, but his activities are vague. All I can really say is that he presides over a town with little traffic, no visible parking restrictions, and a slow pace of life. The fire station is fully-manned with an efficient and motivated workforce, and the Mayor runs the show with a quiet dignity – handing out free drinks and ice cream to the townsfolk on his birthday. The town doesn’t look like a place that would be able to cope with driverless cars in the future, and there are no kamikaze cyclists tearing around. And no EU interference, some might say.

OK, I might need to go back to the drawing board on my visions of the high street, but at least I’ve had a go. Until next time…

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