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NO MORE AUTOPILOT: Road networks have changed drastically since some taxi drivers last worked

As I sit and write this, we are just a few days past ‘Freedom Day’ and as of yet, not much seems to have changed. This might be the usual cautious start from the British public – us Brits do have a track record with this sort of stuff or probably more to the point, the British press has a habit of over exaggerating things and the public is usually more reserved than predicted. Every year the papers warn of the ‘great British bank holiday getaway’ forecasting 50-mile-long jams, only for yet another one to come and go with nothing more than you would usually expect.

So far, the railway stations and pavements still look as they did a week or two ago. I would also say that 95% of the people I have seen are still wearing face masks.

Caution will no doubt soon be swept aside, as people get a taste for freedom and remember what life used to be like! Further lockdowns notwithstanding, I expect we will see normality return to our streets and for our trade that cannot come soon enough.

No more autopilot

Those who have already returned to the cab will now just about be getting used to how our streets have changed. For those who have not, it will be quite daunting. Every bit of your knowledge will be put to the test and it’s safe to say no more journeys will be done on autopilot, well certainly not this side of Christmas anyway.

As we have previously reported in TAXI, the City of London has made many changes, so drivers will need to give routes real thought before undertaking certain journeys. The same can be said for the Bloomsbury area – with big changes to Gower Street and Tottenham Court Road and the multitude of interconnecting streets.

The next big changes will be those around Oxford Circus, as part of the latest scheme to pedestrianise and reinvent the world-famous shopping area, no doubt in large part designed to entice people away from the computer screen and back onto the pavements of the West End.

As I have said before, these plans are a double-edged sword for us. The scheme will obviously further restrict our movements, making the job harder, but on the other hand anything which increases footfall on the pavements will help us to get more bums on seats.

Pedestrian Plazas

The scheme, led by Westminster City Council, will create two new pedestrianised ‘piazzas’ due to be in place by this December. So far, these pedestrianisation plans seem less damaging for us than previous proposals and apart from the odd scheme, Westminster is usually very accommodating when it comes to giving taxis good access and providing us with good working ranks – a quick perusal of the rank’s booklet will highlight that. Although not ideal, it seems every effort has been made to make the transition as smooth as it can be. The important role of taxis seems to be at the forefront of planners’ minds, rather than being seen as an afterthought or no thought given to us whatsoever.

It’s also encouraging that in the ‘Frequently Asked Questions’ section, under “How will I be able to catch a Taxi on Oxford Street?” the response states that taxis will still have access to the majority of Oxford Street. As part of the new scheme, there will also be an increase in the number of and better positioned taxi ranks on streets adjacent to Oxford Street and at the key department stores. These are designed to reduce the need for taxi drivers to circulate and to provide clearer options for passengers looking for a taxi.

Addressing concerns

We will be responding to the ongoing consultation on the scheme and continuing to engage with our contacts at Westminster as the plans develop. As part of this, I can assure you that we will be asking for additional ranking space to ensure we can continue to service the public effectively.

One of our trade’s real bugbears regarding Oxford Street over the past few years has been the obvious abuse and lack of enforcement when it comes to prohibited traffic using it, seemingly with no fear of repercussions. That must change and we will use this scheme to also highlight this issue (again).

(Article by Paul Brennan, LTDA Chairman appearing in TAXI Newspaper)


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