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DECISIVE MONTH: Will taxis regain keys to Bank Junction?

Image credit: DALL.E (AI generated)
Image credit: DALL.E (AI generated)

The month of May has been heralded as a decisive month for black cabs bidding to regain access through Bank Junction.

Since 2017, regulations have restricted this prime financial district crossing to only buses and cyclists from 7am to 7pm on weekdays, barring black cabs and significantly affecting their operation.

Upcoming discussions by the City of London’s governing committees are expected to cast a spotlight on this contentious issue. The City of London Streets & Walkways Sub Committee is set to review the case on 14 May, followed by the Planning & Transport Committee on 16 May. The outcomes of these discussions are poised to influence a pivotal decision by the Court of Common Council scheduled for 20 June.

The debate over access rights at Bank Junction was recently propelled into the wider conversation when Lord Holmes of Richmond MBE addressed the House of Lords during a debate on ‘Failing Transport Schemes’. Lord Holmes criticised the exclusion of black cabs from Bank Junction as "ludicrous". He called for a review of similar restrictions at Bishopsgate and Tottenham Court Road, challenging local authorities to justify these measures in terms of accessibility and equality compliance.

This push for policy revision is now being supported by a surge of advocacy from within the City of London's administrative bodies. Recent data disclosed by FREENOW, a European mobility service, highlighted the operational challenges at Bank Junction.

Comparatively, the data highlighted a 20% reduction in taxi pickups at Bank Junction during peak hours versus those at Shaftesbury Avenue in the West End, along with higher rates of service cancellations and increased costs for passengers.

The Cabs Across Bank (CAB) campaign, led by James Thomson, Deputy Common Councilman for the Ward of Walbrook and Chair of the City of London Police Authority Board, has emerged as a prominent voice advocating for change. It argues that removing the restrictions would not only enhance accessibility and safety but also bolster support for vital sectors of London’s economy. The campaign underscores the crucial role that taxis play in London's broader transport ecosystem, particularly in serving those with mobility issues and in providing reliable transportation where other public transport options are limited or overcrowded.

As the key discussions approached, there was a growing optimism among stakeholders, including drivers, local businesses, and commuters, that black cabs could once again service one of London’s busiest junctions.

However, in the last week, the industry and advocates for the return of accessible black cabs through Bank Junction were dealt a blow. A review by the Court of Common Council, initiated in April 2022, has been completed and made public. The report is designed to equip the Planning & Transportation Committee with information aimed to help them make an informed decision regarding taxi regulations in the City.

Key findings include:

  • The effect of existing restrictions on taxi journey times and costs is negligible for most routes.

  • The availability of taxis and private hire vehicles is stable across the City, aided by ride-hailing technology.

  • However, concerns have been raised for vulnerable groups, including disabled people, older individuals with mobility issues, and pregnant women, who depend on taxis for mobility.

Despite calls from taxi drivers and passengers to modify the restrictions at Bank, the study found no substantial transport-related reasons to alter the current rules that prohibit taxis during peak hours. Nevertheless, the report did recognise potential economic and reputational risks for the City, indicating that perceptions of accessibility and a welcoming environment for business and tourism might be affected by these restrictions.

The committee will now be presented with two options:

1. Continue the current policy, allowing only buses and cycles at the junction during specified hours.

2. Permit taxis at all times under an experimental traffic order, while maintaining other restrictions.

Disappointingly for supporters and groups pushing for fully accessible black cabs in the area, the review leans towards preserving the existing arrangement (Option 1), mainly because of the notable decrease in traffic incidents and the absence of convincing evidence that allowing taxis would enhance the overall transport system or significantly address the identified equality concerns.

It’s now up to the committees to decide.


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