(Original version of article for Taxi magazine).
Every day I get the feeling we’re not-so subtly being discouraged from using petrol and diesel vehicles; but I nearly choked on my Rice Krispies when a talking head on BBC Breakfast News complained that cars are sat parked up doing nothing 98% of the time. I thought we were meant to leave them at home and cycle to work?
Transport for London have got themselves into a difficult position. They’ve zealously taken on the green agenda, but in reality little of it is a real attempt to improve air quality. It’s cost TfL – and the London taxpayer – a fortune re-directing, re-paving, and re-kerbing roads, and installing new traffic lights and road signs. Much of the recent road re-modelling is all about keeping the buses moving. TfLs precious buses can now use Tottenham Court Road to go south, while everyone else queues behind buses going north since they’ve taken two lanes out. Same with Baker Street and Gloucester Place: these two roads worked reasonably well until they made them two-way and cut the lanes. The ban on motor vehicles around Bank Junction is nothing more than a cynical ploy to improve bus times, while pursuing a very lucrative cash from cameras agenda.
There seems to be more traffic, but there’s actually less. The number of motor vehicles in London has reduced, but those of us forced to drive here are kettled into fewer streets, crawling behind buses or belching out fumes while stationary. No-one can get around, and in many cases that includes the buses, which TfL are trying to protect.
That figure of 98% of cars being inactive is alarmingly high, but don’t worry, Transport for London can help to utilise that neglected Prius on your driveway. Their remedy is to licence them all as minicabs. Even if you’re not living or working in London, TfL are happy to licence you so you can work in Wolverhampton or Brighton. Keep those wheels rolling! (minicab drivers don’t just use the Toyota Prius, of course. If you have a BMW you can earn shedloads of money, I’ve seen the ads!).
It makes a mockery of their green agenda, but getting all those under-used cars on the road raises a lot of money through private hire driver and operator licensing; plus the Congestion Charge that private hire drivers now have to pay. Maybe the idea was always to tempt people in to apply for PH licences, then hit them hard? Local authorities make a lot of money through parking and box junction fines, and using all those enforcement cameras to catch people out with complex road layouts, and complex rules involving times of operation – or the enigmatic “Access Only” rule (of course, I want access!). I think we can use Queen Victoria Street and go through Bank Junction while Cannon Street is closed, but I don’t think we can use it in reverse, even though Cannon Street westbound is closed too. We recently read in Taxi that they’re fining someone every minute in the City’s Square Mile.
Transport for London have spent a lot of money paying taxi drivers to de-licence their cabs, in the hope that they’re sold up north and become someone else’s problem. They want to bring in a shorter licence period so any London cab will have a working life of only twelve years. No, I don’t want to drive a twelve year old cab either, but the shortage of cabs to buy or rent has already started with the de-licencing scheme, and will surely get a lot worse.
I worked out that my cab is used little over 20% of the time. I thought of de-licensing it, but there’s still no affordable cab available to buy, and there’s a shortage of cabs to rent. Maybe we should all be thinking of renting our cabs out when we’re not using them? We could see a return to the tradition of drivers doubling-up: one driver using the cab in the daytime, and another using it at night. As the 2,500th electric taxi rolls off the production line I doubt their new owners will be able to afford to have their sixty-grand cabs sitting around doing nothing.
So, they don’t want us driving, and they don’t want us not driving. A lot of people make a lot of money out of motorists: a diverse selection of folk working to different agendas. Some want us to keep buying cars as it’s good for the economy, while others tax us to an inch of our lives, and fine and charge us for driving where they don’t want us to go. The government are still making money from the exorbitant taxing of petrol and diesel, but they’ll surely want to find other ways to make up their money when electric vehicles become more popular. All interested parties lose money when our vehicles are laid up on the driveway.
Ps. cycles probably aren’t being ridden 98% of the time so beware a campaign in the near future.