(Original edit of article for Taxi magazine).
- Two days after saying I was aiming to get my PCN average down to zero a year I got a £65 fine for slipping into a box junction on Westminster Bridge Road.
London is so congested and polluted that something needs to be done. Last month I filled in a Transport for London on-line consultation regarding congestion charging – including the proposal to charge mini-cabs to drive in the Congestion Zone. Well, yes; but that’s only part of the story: in giving my opinions I also suggested they strip away the cycle superhighways as a start. I reminded TfL that there is less traffic than there was a few years ago; it has just been slowed down by ill-thought out road modelling schemes.
The consultation on road-pricing got me thinking how poorer motorists are most affected by congestion charging, as well as the fines that those of us forced to drive in London inevitably pick up by being forced to park where we’re not allowed to, or by touching the sacred yellow paint of a box junction.
In 2010 I returned to the trade after eleven years of doing other things in other towns. As I planned to tackle the Knowledge for the second time I assumed Central London would now be free of traffic! Well, they’d brought in an £8 Congestion Charge – who’s going to pay that?! I reasoned. Of course, the traffic was even worse than it was when I left London. Not only that, but there were more restrictions, and there were cameras watching your every move.
There was a TV programme on in July called Killed by Debt. It was a harrowing depiction of how things can spiral out of control when you fall foul of the powers that be. It concerned the true story of a young man starting his first job, as a motorcycle courier.
When his motorcycle lets him down, he replaces it with a new bike with the help of his mum’s boyfriend. The monthly payments seemed reasonable, but the poor chap doesn’t earn as much as he expects to, and his running costs are high. Being self-employed he is responsible for his own business, and when things go wrong it is up to him to sort out.
When he picks up two PCNs, he neglects to pay within fourteen days and the fines rise sharply. Before long he’s the subject of a computerised court case and his details are passed on by Camden Council to legalised gangsters – bailiffs. The debt builds to over £1000, but the chap is too proud to ask his family for help. He loses his bike – his only way of making a living. Unable to see a way out he takes his own life.
Whenever I get a PCN, I pay it immediately then forget about it; but what if £65 represents a whole week’s profit as in this young man’s case?
I eventually got my own PCN level down to one a year, and I’m aiming for zero this year. I need to rely on luck though, as on a few occasions I have been caught on the edge of box junctions. I also did two illegals within five minutes when I was shocked by a job down to South Wimbledon and wasn’t expecting any banned left turns. Well, what does any day man know about Wimbledon?
Well-off people don’t need to worry too much about the legalities of minor driving offences or parking infringements. A box junction infringement is an inconvenience: just get your PA to deal with it and move on. It’s the same with the Congestion Charge. This just keeps the poorer motorist out of Central London. It’s mostly commercial vehicles in Central London. Few people drive up and down Regent Street for fun. The people who are forced to drive in London are the ones that suffer.
TfL, and their allies, bring in damaging road-narrowing schemes that slow the traffic down. They allow multiple road closures to occur in the same area simultaneously; and they schedule as many road closures for special events as they possibly can. They then complain that people are being killed by pollution and claim they are doing something about it. They fail to see that it’s pollution engineered by themselves (Yes, I reminded TfL of this fact in my consultation response). Let’s not forget that cab drivers are among those most affected. We’d all support sensible proposals, and sensible proposals mean keeping the traffic moving.
If petrol and diesel-powered motor vehicles are so responsible for deadly pollution they should have been banned outright. The switch to electric vehicles should have started years’ ago. All those lumbering red monsters should be operating out of garages and should not be sat blocking West End streets. Bus stands should have been converted into ranks of electrical charging points. Instead of banning motor vehicles they levy a charge that only affects the poorer drivers. You can pump as much filth into the air as you like, so long as you can pay for it.
Anyway, the consultation runs until the end of September.