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TAXI LANE PRIVILEGES: Why cabbies get the green light over minicabs

Updated: May 8

Taxis enjoy a notable advantage over private hire vehicles (PHVs)—the access to bus lanes, a boon that significantly eases passenger commutes amidst urban congestion. Licensed under the distinctive 'Hackney Carriage' moniker, taxis are granted access to these lanes in several major cities, enhancing their ability to deliver timely transport solutions to passengers. This privilege is crucial, given that taxis often face some of the most severe traffic and congestion challenges.

Across the UK, the rules governing bus lane access for taxis and PHVs are not uniform. For example, in Coventry and Nottingham, wheelchair-accessible PHVs share the same advantage, facilitating smoother travel for disabled passengers. Similarly, in Northern Ireland, four types of 'taxi' classifications permit some PHVs to use bus lanes, expanding accessibility and easing transport constraints.

Major cities such as Cardiff, Sheffield and Liverpool extend bus lane usage to include minicabs, highlighting a regional approach to transport management.

In contrast, London maintains stricter regulations where both taxis and PHVs can pick up or drop off passengers in bus lanes but otherwise PHVs are restricted from driving in them, especially along red routes. These restrictions are in place to minimise disruptions on already busy roads.

The allowance for taxis over PHVs in bus lanes was notably challenged in the European Court of Justice by Addison Lee in 2015. The court's decision reinforced the distinction between taxis and minicabs, citing that the exclusion of PHVs from bus lanes did not provide an economic advantage to taxis unjustly. This ruling has played a pivotal role in shaping current transport policies.

TfL's justification for this differential treatment hinges on the nature of the services provided by taxis compared to PHVs. Taxis are licensed to ply-for-hire and must be wheelchair-accessible, requirements that necessitate the use of bus lanes to offer effective curb-side access. This is not only a matter of convenience but also a significant aspect of public service obligations that taxis fulfil.

Moreover, TfL has expressed concerns that allowing minicabs into bus lanes would lead to slower bus times, impacting the reliability of public bus services. Given the high volume of minicabs, there are over 100,000 minicab drivers licensed by TfL, this could significantly impede bus lane efficacy.

The decision to restrict PHVs from bus lanes has historically not been without opposition. In 2012, private-hire drivers staged a significant protest outside the Manchester Town Hall. They argued that the city council's policy to exclude them from bus lanes, while allowing black cabs continued access, was discriminatory. This stance was supported by James Parry, a solicitor representing the Private Hire Association, who contended that both taxis and PHVs perform essentially the same service and should, therefore, be afforded the same road usage privileges.

Despite these protests, Manchester Council maintained that the use of bus lanes by taxis was intended to speed up journey times and alleviate congestion, highlighting the delicate balance local authorities strive to achieve between efficient public transport and fair access for all road users.

The UK's transport policy on bus lane access represents a complex argument of regional rules and legal precedents, all aimed at balancing efficiency, accessibility, and fairness in urban road transport. The ongoing debate and adjustments in this policy area reflect the challenging dynamics of modern urban mobility, where every decision can significantly affect numerous stakeholders.


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