Tag Archives: London Driving

Access All Areas?

Original edit of article written for Taxi magazine. For hard users only: this one’s a bit technical if you’re not used to driving in London.

 

People take taxis for many reasons: for work, for pleasure; and sometimes when they have little choice. Sometimes people have luggage they need to get across London to a rail station or airport. People need to make hospital appointments, and a taxi is often chosen because it’s fully accessible. Sometimes a cab is taken in an emergency. It’s an uncomfortable feeling knowing we sometimes thrive on the misfortune of others. More positively, a ride in a cab could be part of a holiday or a Christmas treat. The common denominator in every case is that the customer expects a door to door service. This is our unique selling point. Increasingly, our USP has become impossible to deliver.

Over the last few years the number of roads closed off to us has increased dramatically. The good work in making Russell Square two-way was undermined when other parts of Bloomsbury were closed off in 2015. Many people with limited mobility need to get around the many hospitals and clinics in the Bloomsbury area, and journeys have been made slower – and consequently more expensive – for them. It’s become virtually impossible to set down passengers in some streets, notably Tavistock Place. I’ve done a fair amount of Taxicard work on ComCab recently, but I wouldn’t relish trying to unload a wheelchair in this one-way, single lane, thoroughfare. In late-2018, more roads were blocked off around Bloomsbury Square and more banned turns came in. Lord knows how difficult things could become accessing the UCH if Tottenham Court Road is closed to taxis.

Many people with limited mobility rely on taxis to get them around: you wouldn’t believe how many Taxicard jobs involve West End theatres. It’s now impossible to load a wheelchair at the door of the Lyceum Theatre.

The Ned hotel in the City is inaccessible for most of the day. Last year, certain streets around Shoreditch were closed to motor vehicles at certain times of the day. Hardly a day goes by without streets being closed off; some of them destined never to be re-opened. The whole area around King’s Cross and St. Pancras Stations is a mess. Goodsway eastbound has been closed for several months, with no indications when it might re-open. The sudden closure at the top of Judd Street has resulted in misery. There are no signs informing us of what’s happening, or whether it’ll ever re-open. Many vehicle drivers think they can use Mabledon Place to escape the misery, only to find they’re being forced to turn right. The authorities should have allowed a left turn to alleviate this problem, but no; as usual, they are keeping vehicles on the roads as long as possible, thus adding to congestion and pollution.

Things used to be so much easier. Allow me to put on my psychedelic rose-tinted specs as I reflect on the time when you used to be able to drive straight down from Gresham Street on to Southwark Bridge using King Street, Queen Street and Queen Street Place. Southwark Bridge is near enough impossible to access from the west. Blackfriars is little better. The closure of Stonecutter Street causes bus congestion in Charterhouse Street, and forces other folk aiming for the bridge to drive around the smaller streets around Tudor Street – when our progress isn’t hampered by giant cranes and orange barriers.

Al Fresco reminded us of the joys of St Bride’s Street in a recent Taxi article. Indeed, when I started out we used to be able to drive straight up St Bride’s Street into Shoe Lane from just off Ludgate Circus. St Bride’s Street is now closed to through traffic, except bikes. As I sit on the Goldman Sachs rank I watch cycles scattering the suits as they quite legally tear along the path alongside the office blocks. It’s painful watching lorries making deliveries and being forced to reverse out past the Boris Bike park, cab rank, motorcycle parking area, and huge piles of building materials. It’s a miserable road for anyone who has to access this hazardous little road.

Occasionally one-way streets are opened up to two-way traffic. Baker Street and Gloucester Place worked OK as one-way streets, but we now have to sit behind buses on a single lane and swerve in and out of Right Turn lanes. It’s probably too early to provide a definitive assessment of this system, but I daresay I could get 900 words out of it another time.

Any useful road is ruined eventually. The War on Diesel ensures that the pollution side of things will eventually lessen, but it’s going to be many years before we’ve all gone electric. By that time I don’t think there will be any roads worth using anyway.

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Real Life Scenarios

(Original edit of article written for Taxi magazine)

From December 4th, the driving test is being updated to respond to the demands of 21st century driving, and real life scenarios will take the place of some familiar features.  Following a satnav will form part of the test, and reversing around corners will become history.  Does this mean obeying an electrical device is more important than parking and reversing?

Certainly not.  Anyway, removing reversing from the test was something of a media scare story in the lead up to a quiet Easter break.  The radio stations I listened to neglected to say that although reversing around corners, and three-point turns, won’t be tested; bigger and better additions are on the menu.  Reversing in and out of a bay, and parallel parking, are new features that could be asked for.  As most people have to reverse into a parking bay at some time or another the changes seem a good idea.

I’m less sure about the satnav element of the test though.  Many people use a satnav, but it’s not essential.  You can drive perfectly safely without a satnav – in fact I’d say it’s safer without the distraction.  One in five driving tests will feature a satnav, supplied and set up by the examiner.  The daft thing about it is that you’ll “be able to ask the examiner for confirmation of where you’re going if you’re not sure.  It won’t matter if you go the wrong way unless you make a fault while doing it.”  In this case, I don’t see much point.

The Drive

Driving tests bring back both good and bad memories from my past.  I passed my regular driving test at the second attempt nine months after I started the Knowledge.  As for the taxi driving test, these days you take the “Drive” when you are still on the Knowledge.  Back in the eighties this was the final hurdle before gaining your badge.  I’d finished the Knowledge, but still had the Drive hanging over me.  I didn’t know it at the time, but I was to have an even longer gap before I was let loose on the public.

The taxi driving test centre was in Southgate Road at the corner of Balls Pond Road (predictably now a block of flats).  As I drove out of the gate with the examiner in the back, someone stopped me and asked for directions.  This threw me, and I ended up making mistakes and failing the test.

I failed the next one too.  Reversing around cones evidently wasn’t my strong point.  I was also told off for driving above thirty miles per hour on what the examiner called the “Turkish Sector” on Green Lanes.  I’d apparently run a red light to boot.  I swear it was amber guv.

Advanced Driving Test for London

If things continue, most cars in London will be mini-cabs before long.  I wonder if this is the idea behind the satnav test?  The GOV.UK website says the changes to the driving test “are designed to make sure new drivers have the skills they’ll need to help them through a lifetime of safe driving.” Perhaps there should be a special advanced test for London driving?  I can think of some real life scenarios that could be incorporated into future taxi tests, and in any future private hire driving test.  Here are some scenarios that could be used (no satnav allowed):

  • You’ve never driven in London before. Make a left turn on to Blackfriars Road without accidently driving into the oncoming cycle lane
  • You’re heading west along the Cycle Super Highway intending to turn left on to Westminster Bridge. You then realise it’s a banned turn.  Can you work out how to make it over the bridge?  Please explain to your examiner why on earth the left turn on to Westminster Bridge should be outlawed.  Extra points will be awarded if you can say how much more time and mileage you’ve wasted, and how much pollution the extra mileage has caused
  • You are in Museum Street aiming for the City. The traffic is turning right into Bloomsbury Way, but the signs are indicating Ahead Only.  Do you go straight ahead as directed or follow everyone else?
  • Both outside lanes on New Bond Street are blocked by vans and mini-cabs. Try to stick to the middle lane the whole length of the road without letting other vehicles push in
  • Attempt to drive between Ye Olde Swiss Cottage and Platt’s Lane on Finchley Road (either direction). You will be required to remain in the Bus Lane at all times.  A taxi will be provided for the test
  • Emergency Braking section: from a steady thirty miles per hour, brake when the light turns amber and stop before the advance cycle srea
  • From Cranbourn Street, go straight ahead as if to drop a passenger off at the Hampshire Hotel in Leicester Square. This section tests how you deal with surly rickshaw drivers, and how you negotiate crowds of pedestrians looking at their phones
  • From Cartwright Gardens you are bound for St Pancras International. There’s a giant crane blocking the whole of Mabledon Place.  What do you do?

In this section satnavs can be used:

  • Set your satnav from Manor House Station to Gibson Square. Your mission is to make the journey in the estimated time.  Take care with the speed bumps and twenty miles per hour speed limit
  • While listening to difficult jazz, use any combination of map, satnav, or direction signs, and find your way to Trafalgar Square, Parliament Square, Hyde Park Corner and Marble Arch on a Sunday afternoon. Oh, there’s a march and rally starting right now on Park Lane.  It was too late to tell you, sorry.

Writing as a self-styled consultant I reckon I have the essentials of London driving covered.  I’m now working on a driving test for driverless cars.

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