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Private hire operator with nearly 4,000 vehicles in the capital takes the law into its own hands

In a move that could present an additional danger to cyclists in London, private hire car firm Addison Lee has told its staff to break the law by driving in the capital’s bus lanes, with its chairman claiming that allowing only licensed black cabs to use them constitutes “unfair discrimination.” The news, revealed yesterday by cycle trade website Bike Biz, has provoked a strong response from Transport for London, which has said that if the company does not change its stance, its licence to operate could be withdrawn.

Only licensed taxis, besides buses, cyclists and, since January this year, motorcyclists, are permitted to use London’s network of bus lanes. However, Addison Lee’s founder and chairman, John Griffin, has written to its 3,500 self-employed minicab drivers telling them to use bus lanes and adding that it will indemnify them for any fines they may incur as a result – potentially, £1,000 per incident.

BikeBiz’s story yesterday was published as news of that letter, which some Addison Lee drivers reportedly received on Saturday, spread through the capital’s black cab driving community. London cyclists have also been less than enthused at the prospect of sharing bus lanes with Addison Lee's drivers.

Drivers of those iconic vehicles, unlike those working for Addison Lee, are allowed to ply for hire on the streets and at cab ranks and of course to earn their badge have to pass the infamous Knowledge.

Addison Lee’s fleet of vehicles, which display TfL Private Hire badges, are as far removed as can be from the stereotypical image of those used by minicab firms operating from a hut next to a railway station. According to its website, it currently has 3,500 black-liveried Ford Galaxy people carriers, plus 350 Mercedes Saloon VIP cars, and is said to be Europe’s largest cab fleet operator. It claims to carry 10 million passengers a year.

What seems to lie at the heart of Addison Lee’s action is the perceived competitive disadvantage that it claims it suffers from compared to licensed taxi operators.

In a statement published on its website today, it says that it has secured a judicial review of restrictions on bus lanes, and points out that it successfully lobbied for the removal of the M4 bus lane, which was scrapped by then Secretary of State for Transport, Philip Hammond, in 2010. The bus lane had been introduced by one of his predecessors, John Prescott, in 1999 under the Labour Government.

Within days of the announcement that the M4 bus lane was to be removed, the Crown Prosecution Service informed Addison Lee that it was dropping proceedings in connection with 216 fines issued to its drivers as well as 130 court summonses, saying that "it was no longer in the public interest to proceed."

Again in that case, Mr Griffin had instructed his drivers to use the bus lane; it was scrapped after the Coalition Government came to power in 2010; according to the Financial Times, in 2009/10 Mr Griffin confirmed that via Addison Lee he had donated £100,000 to the Conservative Party, the newspaper quoting him as saying he believed a Conservative Government would be "positive for business."

Referring to his latest instructions to drivers in London, Mr Griffin said: “The current Bus Lane legislation is anticompetitive and unfairly discriminates against the millions of passengers that use Addison Lee.

“Minicabs perform the same function as Black Taxis and are licensed by the same authority, so there is no reason that they should be penalised due to outdated legislation.”

He added: “Black Taxis are not a public service, they are a business just like minicabs – and we will fight the injustice in the current legal system that subsidises them as if they provided a public service.

“The Black Taxi produces 1.5 times the amount of CO2 and 44 times more PM10 toxins than our minicabs, contributing more than a third of all particulate pollution in London.

“They are more expensive and they often refuse to pick people up or go south of the river. Why on earth does our legal system treat them as any different to other private transport providers?”

For now, the company says it has told its drivers to use bus lanes throughout London pending the outcome of the judicial review, although that does perhaps raise the question of how the judge presiding over proceedings might view such unilateral action taken before he or she has had an opportunity to rule on the legislation in question.

TfL published its own response to the breaking story on its website yesterday evening, saying it was “urgently considering legal and regulatory action against Addison Lee.”

Director of Surface Transport Leon Daniels commented: "The letter from the management of Addison Lee is utterly irresponsible. By issuing it, Addison Lee risk regulatory action against themselves and leave their staff liable to criminal prosecution. We have asked Addison Lee to withdraw their letter immediately. We are also writing to all Addison Lee drivers reminding them that repeated breaches of traffic regulations could see their licence to operate withdrawn.

"London's bus lanes are in place to ensure the efficient operation of the bus network, which carries more than six million passengers a day. Allowing tens of thousands of Private Hire Vehicles to drive in bus lanes would seriously disrupt the bus network and our passengers' ability to get around the capital."

What TfL’s statement does not address is the issue of the safety of cyclists, who are entitled to use bus lanes. Addison Lee drivers are regularly mentioned on London-related cycling forums in connection with incidents involving cyclists, and the possibility of them using bus lanes, whether illegally or in the  longer term lawfully should the judicial review go the company’s way, and has already been condemned by many of the capital’s cyclists campaigners on social media channels such as Twitter.

As BikeBiz points out, some licensed taxi drivers who also happen to cycle have already said that the presence of Addison Lee vehicles in bus lanes will present an increased risk to cyclists.
 

Born in Scotland, Simon moved to London aged seven and now lives in the Oxfordshire Cotswolds with his miniature schnauzer, Elodie. He fell in love with cycling one Saturday morning in 1994 while living in Italy when Milan-San Remo went past his front door. A daily cycle commuter in London back before riding to work started to boom, he's been news editor at road.cc since 2009. Handily for work, he speaks French and Italian. He doesn't get to ride his Colnago as often as he'd like, and freely admits he's much more adept at cooking than fettling with bikes.

36 comments

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notfastenough [3661 posts] 3 years ago
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Taxi drivers who cycle? That must make their brain implode...

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thereverent [388 posts] 3 years ago
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I really hope TfL esure Addison Lee don't get away with this. They are the worst driven vehicle on the roads in London, and allowing them in bus lanes would make these more dangerous for cycling.
Black cabs already have a habit of swevering into the bus lane withoutr looking to avoid traffic ahead.

A minor point. Motorbikes are allowed in TfL Red Route bus lanes. It depends on local borough rules on if they are allowed in bus lanes on more minor roads.

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angriest [19 posts] 3 years ago
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Excuse me bringing logic to the proceedings, but isn't Addison Lee's Mr Griffin arguing that neither black cabs nor his fleet of executive minicabs should be allowed to use bus lanes, leaving them just for buses, bikes and motorbikes? Great, more space for the rest of us.

I do hope that this is what his contribution to the Tories brings him, but sadly, I think he might get his way.

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Carlton Reid [126 posts] 3 years ago
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I got the tip-off about the Addison Lee letter from a taxi driver cyclist.

Taxi drivers were discussing the letter on Twitter but many felt it could be a fake. I called Addison Lee's PR officer and he confirmed the letter was genuine and gave me more details, too. He was surprised to be called by a bike journalist.

Within a few hours TfL were on the case and issued their very strongly worded rebuttal.

Of course, what taxi drivers fear is being booted out of bus lanes altogether. Addison Lee won't mind either way.

Personally, I'd like the buses out of the bus lanes, too. Nice, wide bike lanes.

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Rvizzle [94 posts] 3 years ago
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Addie Lee cab drivers are by far the worst drivers on London's streets.... the number of times I've been nearly knocked over by them!

Nearly been in serious accidents whilst in addie Lee cars too, so it's not just coming from the bike riding perspective

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londonplayer [620 posts] 3 years ago
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I've cycled in London for 11 years (I'm sure someone will beat me on that here). It's always tempting to generalise on who are the bad drivers. "Bus drivers are terrible", "Black Cab drivers are the worst", "Addison Lee drivers are the worst - definitely". I don't think you can. I've encountered very good drivers of all descriptions and very bad drivers of all descriptions as well.

Why are Black Cab drivers allowed in bus lanes? On that logic, chauffeur driven cars should be allowed as well?

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mr-andrew [300 posts] 3 years ago
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I would say that Addison Lee do have a strong case about the competitive advantage that black cabs have. However, if you let them in, then we need to let all mini-cabs in. From there, all commercial traffic could, in theory, lay claim to the lanes. I suspect that whatever the outcome, it isn't going to be in the best interests of the general public.

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Alb [124 posts] 3 years ago
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PR stunt, nothing more  37

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Simon_MacMichael [2443 posts] 3 years ago
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Alb wrote:

PR stunt, nothing more  37

It didn't turn out to be in the case of the M4 bus lane, though.

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jackh [119 posts] 3 years ago
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For what it's worth, I think Mr. Griffin's argument is absolutely spot on. In particular, I couldn't agree more with:

Quote:

Black Taxis are not a public service, they are a business just like minicabs – and we will fight the injustice in the current legal system that subsidises them as if they provided a public service.

When even a short journey can be £10+ in a black cab there is no way they can be classed as a public service as only the very rich can afford them.

What we might disagree on is the solution; I would remove black cab's right to be in the bus lane. Perhaps this is the only outcome if Addison Lee's argument is won in the courts.

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Paul M [350 posts] 3 years ago
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Whether, objectively, black cabs should be allowed to use bus lanes or not, pragmatically their numbers are relatively small (seriously!) and so their effect on the efficicency of bus lanes quite limited, and the lanes would arguably be underutilised if only buses and cycles used them. (Whether cycles should also have their own exclusive lanes is an entirely different argument. In my view they should).

Black cab numbers will remain small because there are high barriers to entry. You can't buy a hackney licence, and the licence does not apply to the vehicle, as it does in many cities: you have to take a course (the Knowledge) lasting about six months, and pass an exam to get the hackney driver licence. Minicabs vastly outnumber hackney ("Black") cabs and permitting them to use bus lanes would quickly render them pointless. If the distrinction is founf to be unfair, then the only solution is to ban hackneys from bus lanes as well, as the City already does.

Most, though not all, hackney drivers own their own vehicles, at least eventually. The hackney carriage office can force them off the road if they have even slight damage - in principle they can even ground them for being dirty.

Hackney fares are determined by a combination of distance and time, so if a cabbie gets stuck in traffic he is still earning, and the further he goes, the more he earns.

All of this incentivises cabbies to drive in a - relatively - sane and responsible fashion and although I have had run-ins with cabbies, I would have to say they have been rare compared with experience with white vans and, particularly, minicabs including AdLee.

AdLee drivers are "self-employed" but they are definitively not their own bosses the way cabbies are. The business model is not unlike the chair rental system adopted by hairdressers. A driver is paid by the journey and is deducted for the use of the vehicle. There is however a significant difference between Adlee drivers and cabbies, in that many if not all Adlee trips are on a fixed-fare basis. My company has negotiated specific rates for specific distance bands which at their lower ends are more expensive than cabs but at their upper end are cheaper, and in all cases don't compensate drivers for traffic conditions.

The consequences are obvious. Drivers want to pack in as many trips as they possibly can, to maximise their earnings. They are specifically incentivised to stretch the envelope, by driving as fast and as hard as possible, taking risks which cabbies and owner-drivers would not take.

Much of the road danger we face is a consequence of modern employment practices in road haulage and other transport or courier industries - nominally self-employed drivers, on piece rates, encouraged to cram in as many trips or deliveries etc as they possibly can which implies driving too fast, cutting corners, running red lights and infringing bus or cycle lanes where they think they can get away with it. You can't blame the drivers - much - but their employers who have de-risked the business for themselves at the expense of their staff.

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giff77 [1191 posts] 3 years ago
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+ 1 to Paul M.

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step-hent [718 posts] 3 years ago
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As Paul M says, its a numbers game - black cabs can reasonably be allowed in because there aren't many of them. Opening it up to mini-cabs means more traffic and hampers the effectiveness of the bus lane for buses (which, to be fair, is the primary consideration in a bus lane). For that reason, it doesnt make sense to let Add Lee drivers in - so the only logical option for change is to kick black cab drivers out.

One other point, though, is that black cabs are able to pick up anyway, so it makes sense to have them closest to the curb, where they can stop to pick up a fare. Since Add Lee drivers should always know in advance where they are picking up, they should be able to organise it so as not to need to use the bus lane.

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TurboJoe [69 posts] 3 years ago
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I'm surprised to see other people think Addison Lee are particularly inconsiderate drivers.

I though it was just me.

In my experience they are by far the worst when it comes to giving enough space when passing.

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Sven Ellis [32 posts] 3 years ago
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notfastenough wrote:

Taxi drivers who cycle? That must make their brain implode...

Taxi drivers not only cycle, they read road.cc. It's AL that makes their brains explode. Good to see tfl growing a pair over this; the loathsome John Griffin, boss of AL, must be amazed.
Pace Paul M., I wish I'd only had to spend six months. That might get you a yellow (suburban) badge, but if you want to wander all over, you're looking at three years. I'd unsurprisingly insist on cabs' right to use bus lanes. Partly for the practical reason that there aren't enough cabs to impede other lane users, but also - to disagree with jackh - because they're part of the public transport mix, not private transport. You can stick your hand out and insist on being taken anywhere within 12 miles by the shortest route and - crucially - at a fare that's been set by the local authority. And your bike (or your wheelchair) will fit straight in a cab, rather than having to be dismantled and crammed into the satnav jockey's people carrier. Expensive? Have you bought a tube ticket recently?
The reason AL are panicking is because a new generation of cab apps is killing his business. If anyone hasn't tried Hailo, do so. It works, and there are no charges to punters.

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londonplayer [620 posts] 3 years ago
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step-hent wrote:

As Paul M says, its a numbers game - black cabs can reasonably be allowed in because there aren't many of them. Opening it up to mini-cabs means more traffic and hampers the effectiveness of the bus lane for buses (which, to be fair, is the primary consideration in a bus lane). For that reason, it doesnt make sense to let Add Lee drivers in - so the only logical option for change is to kick black cab drivers out.

One other point, though, is that black cabs are able to pick up anyway, so it makes sense to have them closest to the curb, where they can stop to pick up a fare. Since Add Lee drivers should always know in advance where they are picking up, they should be able to organise it so as not to need to use the bus lane.

]]

There are 30,000 black cabs approximately. That's quite a lot! And considering that there are only 3,500 Addison Lee cabs currently, their request doesn't seem that extreme. Not that I am either for or against their proposal.

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Simon_MacMichael [2443 posts] 3 years ago
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jackh wrote:

When even a short journey can be £10+ in a black cab there is no way they can be classed as a public service as only the very rich can afford them.

Seriously? When I lived in London, we used to regularly go out with a big circle of friends who mainly lived in East London, so that's where we socialised.

We lived in South London, and factoring in fifteen or twenty quid for a cab home at the end of the night was part of our outlay for the evening; the alternative was to crash on someone's couch (great in your 20s, we weren't), or go into London and back out via night bus which would take hours.

I live away from London now, but I do use cabs now and again - better than struggling with lots of luggage on the tube in rush hour if I'm heading from Paddington to St Pancras International, say; or if I want to guarantee getting from somewhere in the West End to Paddington, unless I'm right by a Bakerloo line station, taxi is far quicker and guarantees I won't miss my train (get home at least 2 hours later if I do). Of course, now there are Boris Bikes too for that  3

I'm not, by any stretch of the imagination, "very rich"; yes, black cabs are a little luxury (someone once said they're like having your own limo, even for a few minutes), and other people might choose to spend their money elsewhere.

They are definitely a public service, though.

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Simon_MacMichael [2443 posts] 3 years ago
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ps Last time I went to St Pancras in one, the driver started moaning about "bloody cyclists" then asked me what I did for a living. Got a bit more than he bargained for.

And no tip.

 4

(Have to say there are lots of decent cabbies out there though)

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Sven Ellis [32 posts] 3 years ago
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Quote:

There are 30,000 black cabs approximately. That's quite a lot! And considering that there are only 3,500 Addison Lee cabs currently, their request doesn't seem that extreme. Not that I am either for or against their proposal.

Not that it affects your point particularly, but I think there are only about 18,000 cabs (and 21.000 drivers).

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notfastenough [3661 posts] 3 years ago
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I would have loved to have been a fly on the wall for that one, Simon!

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1961BikiE [147 posts] 3 years ago
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I wonder if he'll do the time as well as pay the fine, if one of his drivers kills a n other road user while illegally using these lanes? I'm sure he will!

To be fare as said above you can see his point and also the point made that if his company was let in then effectively you've opened the flood gates and you may as well just call them roads.

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giff77 [1191 posts] 3 years ago
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Nah, he'll claim the sun got in his eyes and was momentarily blinded and get a slap on the wrist for his trouble.

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thebongolian [47 posts] 3 years ago
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I'd be interested to know what point of law Addison Lee are trying to make their challenge on here. Minicabs have been around for decades but have never been allowed in bus lanes so I can't imagine there's recent decision for them to challenge on grounds of reasonableness.

I guess they will try to use an argument based on competition rules and that black cabs have an unfair advantage. But black cabs are a different service under law with, as Sven points out, with specific obligations as well as rights. I suspect this may be where the legal arguments lie and I wonder therefore whether Addison Lee want to make a more sustained attack on the rights of black cabs with bus lanes just being part of that.

For my part I really do hope Addison Lee lose, 'cause if they win all minicabs will be able to drive in bus lanes too and as someone noted other commercial vehicles might be allowed too. Plus I suspect a lot of private drivers might try it too as it'll suddenly become a lot harder to enforce. If black cabs have to lose their right to keep bus lanes from being a free-for-all that's an Ok trade-off for me but I rarely take black cabs - I'm on my bike instead.

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Mike McBeth [73 posts] 3 years ago
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Guardian newspaper is reporting that John Griffin,the chairman of minicab firm Addison Lee was granted an interview with Philip Hammond the transport secretary about minicabs access to bus lanes after Griffin made a £250,000 donation to party. The whole thing stinks.

http://www.guardian.co.uk/global/2012/apr/16/minicab-tory-donor

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Mr Will [91 posts] 3 years ago
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Two points on this:

1. There is nothing stopping Addison Lee from operating hackney carriages as well as mini-cabs, they just don't want to because of the training/regulation issues

2. If I encounter an Addison Lee vehicle in a bus lane I will be cycling in front of it at 5mph until it goes back where it is supposed to be and reporting it to the police.

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jackh [119 posts] 3 years ago
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Quote:

We lived in South London, and factoring in fifteen or twenty quid for a cab home at the end of the night was part of our outlay for the evening; the alternative was to crash on someone's couch (great in your 20s, we weren't), or go into London and back out via night bus which would take hours.

OK, but I can assure you that a great many people in London are not in a position to be able to spend £20 on a cab to get home. Thus the the black cab lobby cannot justify there position as 'public transport'. The only clear exception I can see is transport of the elderly and disabled.

http://www.tfl.gov.uk/gettingaround/taxisandminicabs/taxis/1140.aspx

4 miles is £17 - £27 after 22:00. I would argue that's pretty expensive.

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Simon_MacMichael [2443 posts] 3 years ago
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I'm not saying taxis aren't expensive, but your original post said only the "very rich" could afford them, which isn't the case.

Fact is, all public transport in London (including taxis) is ridiculously expensive when you compare it to major cities elsewhere in Europe - walk-up Zone 1 ticket on the London Underground is £4.30, equivalent in Paris is €1.60.

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jackh [119 posts] 3 years ago
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OK, I agree that very rich is an hyperbole.

I would still put forward that black cabs are in general the preserve of the wealthiest 10% to 15% in London. I suspect there aren't many figures available to prove my assertion.

Yes, I agree tube fares are too high, although I think it is only fair to compare Oyster fares which is £2.00 for a Zone 1 journey. Years of underinvestment have created a situation where the only way to keep demand down and one way reduce overcrowding is to increase prices.

My view is that there should be a super-off-peak fare to increase accessibility to those on lower incomes outside of peak hours.

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Simon_MacMichael [2443 posts] 3 years ago
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I can guarantee we weren't in the top 10% or 15%. My point was that there are circumstances in which taxis can make sense in terms of time and convenience and you have a choice whether you're willing to pay that or not. Plenty of average Londoners and visitors do, every day.

You're correct about underinvestment, and the situation in London certainly wasn't helped by the fact that for getting on for two decades it was the only major city in Europe that didn't have a city-wide government, so there was no-one to lead on issues such as transport and take difficult decisions.

The fact that one of main policies that brought Livingstone's GLC into conflict with Thatcher's government was his Fares Fair initiative shows that it's been an issue for decades.

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Mr Will [91 posts] 3 years ago
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Just to wade in on the cost issue - I agree that they are expensive for one, but they work out much cheaper for a group.

To get me + 4 friends home from zone 1 to zone 3 in a taxi costs ~£20.

To do the same journey with the same number of people on the tube costs £15.50 if we all have Oyster cards, £21.50 if we don't.

I'm far from a high earner, but I know which one is the more convenient, more pleasant experience and much better value for money.

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