Rickshaws are one of the banes of London life, not solely for cab drivers but for just about everyone other than the rickshaw barons who rent these death-traps – invariably to foreign students and definitely for extortionate amounts.
They first started to appear in the late 80’s and the sheer numbers and increasingly outrageous behaviour of the riders started to become a problem in the mid’ 90s’. Contrary to common belief, they have never been competition to us – any journey undertaken in a rickshaw is invariably only for a few hundred yards and is viewed more as a fairground type thrill rather than a serious travel option.
The LTDA started to become involved in the campaign against them following several incidents of damage caused to members cabs by rickshaws, and as the problems increased so did our involvement. We successfully managed to turn the position of both Ken Livingstone and Boris Johnson from that of initially supporting rickshaws, as some sort of environment-friendly novelty, to that of calling for legislation to control them.
We bought a rickshaw and had it inspected and crash tested at the Transport Research Laboratory. The subsequent report and videos helped to convince Westminster Council and various trading and resident associations to support our campaign to get Rickshaws banned. Our promotional videos, billboard and newspaper adverts all gained support from road safety and pedestrian groups, though our supporters in Parliament were unable to convince a Conservative government with a free-market agenda to legislate to ban rickshaws. We even attempted a private prosecution against several riders for plying for hire, only for a judge to decide that they were stage carriages because they charged individual fares.
Fast forward 20 years and Nickie Aitken, the former leader of Westminster Council, and now the MP for the Cities of London and Westminster brings rickshaws back onto the parliamentary agenda with a private members bill to license them. At this point we had to make a decision, do we support her bill, or do we hold out for the outright ban we have wanted for the past 25 years, realistically knowing we are unlikely ever to be successful?
The proposals would require DBS checks on riders (difficult for a temporary transient work force), and operator licensing for the rickshaw barons who rent these things out – difficult for many of them also. A ban on sound systems, electrical assistance, specific safety standards and most importantly, set fares! Rickshaws do very few rides. Paying £75 a day to rent a rickshaw necessitates them charging ludicrous prices to the few passengers they get.
A fixed fare will stop the rip offs and, to many, the only incentive. We agreed to support the bill. As it transpired the private members bill failed but recently the Transport Secretary, Grant Shapps, announced that a government sponsored rickshaw bill will feature in the Queens speech for the next session of Parliament.