Tag Archives: road closures

For Richer For Poorer

(Original edit of article written for Taxi magazine.  I like to cover the political spectrum, but this one would make Jeremy Corbyn proud):

During the EU referendum debate we kept hearing that the UK has the fifth biggest economy in the world.  I find that hard to believe as I watch hospitals closing, the police and fire service cut, mental health care slashed, and a myriad of other austerity measures brought in. We’re actually living in a world where department stores are sold for a pound.  If this is the fifth biggest economy, God knows what the fifth poorest economy is like.  And we don’t hear about the recession any more:  surely it’s not really over?

During our work we are uniquely placed to observe society from all angles.  Driving along Brompton Road and around Sloane Square we can see the wealth, but we can see it is in the hands of a lucky few.  We work here, but we know we don’t belong to this world.  Our world is where the NHS is overstretched, medical waiting times are increasing, and there’s fierce competition for school places.  Transport workers and firefighters have been on strike, and even junior doctors taken industrial action after changes to contracts were forced on them.  We’ve seen soldiers at Chelsea barracks moved to less fashionable Woolwich, far from Central London, and their barracks converted into housing and shopping.  Police and fire stations are sold off and boarded up, only to return later as blocks of luxury flats, ironically named something like “The Old Station.”  This is London’s Prime Residential Market, where those with money can insulate themselves from the things that affect the majority of us by going private.  Things are different where ordinary working people live.  I wouldn’t even know where to buy a yacht or a pot of caviar outside Central London (if caviar comes in pots; I’m more a fish & chips man myself).

I’m not wealthy, nor are any of my family or friends.  Most people I know have become less well-off and less secure over the past few years.  Wages have not kept up with inflation and temporary contracts have become the norm.  Self-employment status scams improve the employment figures, but zero-hours contracts equal zero security.

In transport, there’s only gloom and doom.  There’s gridlock and pollution on the roads, unrest on the tubes, and overcrowded trains (people will need to start sitting on the roof if things get much worse).  In our immediate world of private transport there’s a race to the bottom.  It’s not just taxi drivers who are feeling the pinch: mini-cab demos are almost unheard of, but Uber and Addison Lee drivers have recently taken to the streets to express their concerns over reduced pay and worsening conditions.

Sometimes it appears that things aren’t so austere. TfL seem to have the resources to spend billions on crazy modernisation schemes (that’s road narrowing to you and I).  The police still sit on motorway bridges all day and film people, and you still see pairs of them on horses clip-clopping around central London smiling for tourists’ cameras.  They’re tied up every weekend looking after people on demos and marches, and coning off the streets.  I don’t know who sanctions all these closures.  It’s probably not the Police’s fault they’re sitting in vans all day watching people shouting and waving placards.  No wonder the Police stations are never open to hand in lost property.

We read in Taxi recently how the LTDA was threatened by Uber, TfL and the Police for publicising sex attack statistics by private hire drivers.  TfL and the Police said they don’t have the resources to tackle crime by holders of private hire licences, but resources are still there to hassle taxi trade magazines.  Over 400 TfL employees are on over 100K year.  Nice work if you can get it.  TfL and the Police seem more interested in political correctness and PR than preventing crime. The Police objected to the LTDAs use of their trademark logo.  Are they a force, a service; or merely a brand these days?

The money is clearly there in the world’s fifth biggest economy, but much of it seems to be in the hands of a minority.  Public services are cut and the proceeds seem to be wasted on madcap road schemes, policing events that bring cities to a standstill, and protecting those in power against negative PR.

In London, we have a new mayor:  maybe he can redress the balance?  In the country as a whole we have to hope that the economy improves, so that we can all enjoy a bit more security.  I know I’ll probably never have enough money for a yacht, but a new cab would be nice, and a few more customers would help things along.

Blimey, that was about as left wing as I’ve ever sounded – eat your heart out Red ken!  Calls for hanging and flogging will be resumed in due course.

Copyright:  Chris Ackrill, 2016.


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Can London Take It?

(original edit of article for Taxi magazine)

If the government are to be believed and the economy is improving, it should be welcomed.  But can London cope with an increase in commercial activity at the same time as it reduces road space?

With more money around, there will inevitably be more people on the streets, and there will be more demand for places in to which to spend money:  ie. shops, bars and restaurants.  There will generally be more demand for road space and parking, and more pressure on an already overstretched public transport network.  There will be more road closures due to building work; so more lorries, skips, and more blokes in hi-viz vests standing in the road with lollypops.  We’ll frequently turn into a road to see it blocked by a giant crane.  Much of the current congestion is caused by buses, gawd bless ‘em, and we’ll need more of them once more people start moving around more.  They’re already nose to tail on Regent Street, and we’ll be sitting behind even more of them as they slowly negotiate the narrow streets of Notting Hill and Hampstead.  The bus stands on Pall Mall East and the top of Shaftesbury Avenue will be permanently occupied, and Ludgate Hill will be a slow crawl of tour buses – with no escape route at weekends due to the customary closures on surrounding roads.  There will be more vans and lorries making deliveries, more refuse trucks, and every busy junction will have a security van inconveniently parked on the corner of the road you’ve just turned into.

So what’s TfL’s response to all this?  It seems to be to reduce road space even further.  “East to West, the Embankment is Best” runs the old Knowledge maxim, but the river route from Tower Hill to Westminster is down to one lane in each direction, and looks likely to stay like that.  The future is already here in WC1:  In the last month we’ve seen the crucial westbound Tavistock Place, Tavistock Square, Torrington Place, route through Bloomsbury closed off to motorists.  All the good work making Russell Square two-way undone at a stroke, as it becomes the new Piccadilly Circus.

The authorities are making things as inconvenient for motorists as possible, but few people drive in London for fun.  They’re bending over backwards to encourage cycling, but they should be making it easier for those who really need it.  People are never going to have furniture delivered by bike.  An Amazon super highway would be of more practical use.

Do they really want permanently congested roads?  What about the harmful exhaust emissions that draw huge fines from the EU?  Eventually, electric vehicles will take over.  While initially encouraged with tax incentives, and congestion charge exemption, after a short period of time, the benefits will be eroded and electric car drivers will be in the same position as everyone else.  London will be left with the same congestion, just less pollution.  TfL won’t care about miles of traffic queuing from The Angel to get through Euston Underpass, or sat on the Cycle Superhighway watching the traffic lights change several times before moving an inch.  Lord knows what it’ll be like when Tottenham Court Road is de-commissioned, or Oxford Street pedestrianised.  Regent Street is already closed every couple of weeks for events.  Someone needs to decide whether London is a working city or an exhibition hall.  Is it fair to divert most of central London’s bus routes for American football parties or a toy shop promotion?

The green shoots of economic recovery should provide more cab customers, but the numbers of cab drivers are going down as fewer people are starting the Knowledge than are retiring.  The public needn’t worry, there are plenty of mini-cabs to take up the slack.  The remedy of our licensing body is not only to reduce road space, but also to flood the streets with mini-cabs.  Do we really need 80,000 of them?

Spare a thought also for the emergency services.  The London Ambulance Service has been put on Special Measures as response times are so slow.  I can’t say I’m surprised.

Those who are making the decisions to ruin London aren’t around at the weekends to see that it’s seven days a week misery.  Executives of powerful financial institutions aren’t normally around at the weekend, but I’m sure the head honchos will eventually threaten to pull out of London should the traffic become unbearable and affect the ability to conduct business.

I think madcap traffic schemes pose more of a threat to the taxi trade than Uber, and private hire are affected it as much as we are. Our customers will desert us if journey times get much longer. Poorly co-ordinated road closures with inadequate notification have long been a blight on London, but it’s the permanent anti-car “modernisation” that is ruining the lives of those who need to get around.  If we welcome an increase in commercial activity without addressing the issue of road space there are some miserable times ahead.  The best we can hope for is that once Crossrail is finished, some of the traffic will be able to more freely again.  I shan’t hold my breath though.

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