The taxi industry has launched its latest potential challenge against road access restrictions by urging Camden Council to reverse its exclusion of wheelchair accessible taxis along Tottenham Court Road.
The latest challenge comes hot on the heals of the landmark High Court ruling in January which found the Mayor of London and Transport for London (TfL) to have “acted unlawfully” in their treatment of licensed taxis, in the Streetspace for London Plan and associated Guidance and the A10 Bishopsgate Traffic Order.
Whilst awaiting the decision from the Appeal Court to see whether TfL can challenge the Bishopsgate judgment, taxi trade group lawyers from the United Taxi Action Group (UTAG) and the Licensed Taxi Drivers’ Association (LTDA), have begun looking at other schemes that exclude taxis and how they might be able to challenge them.
On Sunday 28 February Camden’s Gower Street and Bloomsbury Street turned two way between Grafton Way and High Holborn.
A day later on Monday 1 March the new traffic restrictions put in place on Tottenham Court Road also became active. Areas will be restricted to buses and cyclists only Monday – Saturday 8am-7pm.
Steve McNamara, LTDA General Secretary, said to members: “Tottenham Court Road is a Camden scheme and has recently gone live with the exclusion of taxis, together with UTAG we have commenced the first stage of any potential challenge and have written to them stating our position and reminding them of the Bishopsgate Judgement.”
A UTAG spokesperson shared the letter sent to Camden Council via social media.
In the case, heard at the High Court’s Planning Court on 25 and 26 November 2020, Senior High Court Judge, Mrs Justice Lang DBE found overwhelmingly for the Claimant taxi trade bodies, United Trade Action Group (UTAG) and the Licensed Taxi Drivers Association (LTDA).
The case succeeded on four of the five grounds advanced on behalf of the taxi trade:
In the Streetspace Plan and subsequent Guidance, the Mayor and TfL respectively failed to distinguish the special status of taxis from “general traffic”, neither taking into account the distinct status of taxis as a form of public transport nor the travel needs of those who rely on accessible taxis.
The Mayor and TfL failed to have proper regard to their Public Sector Equality Duties under Section 149 of the Equalities Act 2010.
The Plan, Guidance and the A10 Order unlawfully breached licensed taxi drivers’ “legitimate expectation” of being permitted to use bus lanes to ply for hire effectively as a vital part of London’s integrated public transport network.
The treatment of taxis in the Plan, Guidance and the Order and the decisions to exclude them were “seriously flawed” and “irrational”.
In the lengthy and detailed judgement, Mrs Justice Lang underlined a series of failings by TfL and the Mayor, describing their decision-making process as “seriously flawed”, with the decision to exclude taxis being based on “superficial” and “inadequate evidence”.
The Judge noted that denying taxis access to London’s roads could have “severe consequences” for passengers who cannot walk, cycle, or use public transport and that “the needs of people with protected characteristics, including the elderly or disabled”, were “not considered”, before the Plan was announced or the Guidance published.
The Court also highlighted the inadequacy of the Equalities Impact Assessment (EIA) undertaken by TfL on the likely impact of the A10 Order, describing parts as “perfunctory or non-existent” and finding that it “read as if its purpose was to justify the decision already taken”.
Mrs Justice Lang noted TfL’s EIA actually acknowledged that people requiring door-to-door access, who could not walk, might not be able to make their journeys due to the measures, yet provided no mitigation. The Judge described this as an “unacceptable omission”.
The Court also found taxi drivers had a legitimate expectation that they would be able to access bus lanes to ply for hire effectively, which had been unlawfully breached. This expectation was supported by TfL’s own Bus Lane Policy, which asserts that taxis “fulfil demands that cannot be met by the bus, train or tube”, and by previous Mayoral statements on the importance of taxi access to bus lanes.
Lawyers for the Defendants argued breaching this expectation was justified by the pandemic, but Mrs Justice Lang found it “unfair and contrary to good administration to use the pandemic as a justification for restricting taxis access to bus lanes”.
Finding the treatment of taxis was irrational, the Judge described excluding taxis as an “ill-considered response”, which “sought to take advantage of the pandemic” to push through “radical changes” which “far exceeded what was reasonably required”.
TfL sought permission to appeal the Judgement from Mrs Justice Lang, but were not granted permission to do so on the grounds that there was “no real prospect of success on appeal”, or “other compelling reason why the appeal should be heard”.
TfL are awaiting a decision from the Court of Appeal to see whether they can challenge the ruling.
The LTDA is the largest membership body representing London’s black cab drivers. UTAG is a coalition of drivers and industry stakeholders working together with the common aim of securing the future of the taxi trade. The LTDA and UTAG jointly funded the Bishopsgate legal action and have now turned their eyes to Tottenham Court Road.