A leading City Hall official has urged the London Mayor and Transport for London (TfL) to immediately reject any proposals to restrict road access to taxis during the COVID-19 pandemic.
London Assembly Member Caroline Pidgeon today contacted the London Mayor, Sadiq Khan, to raise her concerns over initial proposals put forward.
In May, TfL announced plans to transform parts of central London into one of the largest car-free zones in any capital city in the world. The drastic measures were thought to be necessary to enable safe social distancing as lockdown restrictions are eased and also help aid an increase in people walking and cycling.
Whilst London’s transport regulator indicated that they would work with the taxi industry during the “detailed design” of the new Streetspace network, there has only been mentions of zero emission capable taxis being allowed access to some of the restricted areas.
Pidgeon AM has raised concerns that this measure to potentially exclude a section of the industry would cause undue “economic hardship” on diesel taxi drivers and could slow down the greening of the taxi fleet over time. It was also noted that “the provision of taxis operating in central London is vital to ensure disabled access is maintained”.
There are currently 3,400 zero emission cabs licensed in the capital and, since the announcement, taxi representatives have been vigorously stressing the importance for all 19,000 purpose built and partitioned taxis to be given full access rights.
Caroline Pidgeon AM, who is also the Deputy Chair of the Transport Committee, wrote in her letter to Khan saying: “I wish to raise my serious concerns about TfL’s plans to restrict access to taxis to roads in central London including potentially restricted access to Waterloo and London Bridge. Although the plans have yet to be published in detail, there has been a suggestion that some roads will not permit taxis or will merely permit zero emission taxis.
“Restricting all types of taxis to any roads in central London is a proposal I would urge you to immediately reject, certainly during the Covid pandemic.
“I would also urge you to reject any proposals to restrict access to any roads to only zero emission taxis. In normal circumstances, such a proposal, if announced with sufficient advanced notice (perhaps of two years, or even more) might be worth some consideration, as it could arguably act as a small incentive to the take up of zero emission taxis. However, this is clearly not the case at the moment. There are currently no taxi drivers who are in the situation of being able, at rapid notice, to significantly bring forward their plans to buy or even lease an expensive electric taxi. The current proposals, if implemented, would probably not lead to any net reduction in air pollution, but merely a concentration of zero emission taxis in central London and a higher concentration of diesel taxis on other roads in the capital. There would be a reduction in air pollution on the restricted roads, but this would be matched by an increase in pollution on other roads. It would be a change with zero sum benefits for the environment.”
Pidgeon AM added: “There are many alternative measures to assist the take up of electric taxis, including the continued rollout of rapid charging points and action to ensure consistency of pricing at charging points. Indeed you may recall I highlighted the significant barriers facing drivers using the electric charging points funded by TfL at the Copper Box car park due to the imposition of exorbitant parking charges facing drivers who wish to use the rapid charging points. Recently, I have also urged TfL to investigate whether the extensive charging points at Waterloo bus depot on Cornwall Road could be made available to taxi drivers. I await a response to this suggestion. Furthermore, in response to a Mayoral Question (2019/20160) you have also said that TfL is looking at using CCTV to ensure enforcement of dedicated rapid charging points for taxis, although at present this idea appears not to have progressed.
“Any proposal at the present time to exclude diesel taxis from some roads is not a measure which will assist the take-up of electric taxis, but instead merely create unnecessary economic hardship. I would urge you to reject the implementation of this policy for the foreseeable future. Such a policy should only be considered in the longer term following formal research and evaluation, full public consultation and then extensive notice given to taxi drivers to ensure purchasing decisions can be influenced.
“In relation to London Bridge I have in the past also urged you to consider ensuring the security barriers are placed on the wide pavements so as they do not intrude on the bus lanes. At present the impact of the barriers restricts and holds up buses, and in turn restricts the flow of taxis and cyclists. Despite the widening of pavement and pedestrian spaces being in most places the number one priority this is one specific location where the priority should be the free flowing of a vital bus lane. There would still be ample pedestrian space if the security barriers were placed on the pavements on London Bridge. Last year you seemed receptive to such a proposal (MQ 2019/8834), but at present no progress appears to have been made.
“A further issue I wish to raise is the financial concerns of drivers who have a vehicle which is facing expiry. Taxi and private hire Notice 05/20 is welcome in stating that taxi or PHV vehicle licences which have expired or are due to expire between 23 March 2020 and 30 June 2020 will remain licensed for a period of six months pending the full resumption of vehicle inspections and a decision by TfL on the grant of a new licence. However, I see no reason why other taxi or private vehicles cannot also be provided with a similar short and one-off extension of their licences if there are cases of drivers being unable to work during this time period. This may be due to shielding, Covid or indeed home schooling and childcare pressures. I urge you to review this policy and ensure that licence extensions are based on the period that a driver has been unable to work due to Covid-19 rather than merely the time period set out in TPH Notice 05/20.
“Looking ahead it is increasingly clear the provision of taxis operating in central London is vital to ensure disabled access is maintained. There are also new concerns being raised that some disabled people, due to their respiratory conditions, are simply unable to wear a mask when using public transport. Many deaf people also find using public transport more challenging due to the widespread wearing of masks. The importance of a good number of taxis operating in central London has never been more important.
“Finally, I believe consideration should be given to providing help to the taxi industry so it can plan ahead after a period of such disruption and in many cases economic hardship facing drivers. I would urge you to consider the merits of bulk purchasing zero emission taxis and then selling or leasing them to drivers, as this is a policy that could dramatically drive down the price of zero emission taxis and in turn rapidly increase their take up. This is a policy that would also make a real difference in reducing air pollution. I would also urge you to consider support for disabled passengers who are unable to use public transport at present, for their use of taxis. Such a policy would be an extension of the long-standing policy of TfL funding disabled passengers who arrive at a Tube, TfL Rail or Overground station and discover the lift is unavailable.
“I look forward to your response on these vital issues about maintaining London’s taxi industry and ensuring that access to travel is maintained for a wide range of Londoners.”
Caroline Pidgeon image credit: www.carolinepidgeon.org