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Cancelled accounts and negative reviews for money-spinning mobile phone app among action taken

With less than a fortnight to go before he seeks re-election, Mayor of London Boris Johnson has described as “unacceptable” comments made by John Griffin, the boss of minicab firm Addison Lee, about cyclists in London, as bike riders and politicians were united in condemning his remarks. Mr Griffin himself has issued a statement in which he defends his comments, coming as a number of businesses were reported to have cancelled their accounts with the business.

In a column in the current issue of company magazine Add Lib, which is available free to the passengers of almost 4,000 minicabs and VIP cars that Addison Lee operates in London, Mr Griffin had called for cyclists to be subject to compulsory training and to pay non-existent ‘road tax,’ saying “You want to join our gang, get trained and pay up.”

News of his comments broke on Thursday evening, quickly spreading through the cycling community and beyond, with the hashtag #boycottaddisonlee trending on Twitter, demonstrating that in this age of social networking, many cyclists belong to a formidable, tech-savvy group that you risk alienating at your peril.

That has amply been demonstrated by a deluge of one-star ratings – the lowest possible – for Addison Lee’s iPhone app, responsible, the company claims, for more than £20 million of bookings since its launch, with a selection appearing on the I Pay Road Tax website. The same website has since reported that Addison Lee has subsequently updated its iPhone app - similar ones are available for other platforms - meaning that with the poor reviews pushed down, the average review has gone from one and a half stars to two and a half stars.

Already, on Thursday evening, a number of mainly small businesses had announced on Twitter that they planned to cancel their accounts with the company. Unconfirmed rumours over the weekend are that Barclays, sponsor of London’s Cycle Hire Scheme and the Cycle Superhighways, as well as the provider last month of £12 million funding to aid Addison Lee’s planned expansion, had done likewise; if true, that is a significant account to lose. Meanwhile, a new website set up over the weekend, Boycott Addison Lee, is urging cyclists to contact Barclays to ask it whether it is lending money to Addison Lee "so that they can encourage law breaking and increased danger on our roads."

By Friday, Mr Griffin’s comments were national news, with former deputy prime minister John Prescott, who had traded blows, figuratively at least, with Addison Lee over the M4 bus lane while secretary of state for transport, even tweeting a link to our original article, with the comment, “Here's one of the reasons why I've cancelled my Addison Lee account.”

Labour’s shadow transport minister, Maria Eagle had urged the Mr Johnson to “immediately distance himself from the appalling remarks about cyclists made by Tory donor John Griffin who claims that London’s Mayor entirely endorses his view that cyclists are responsible for the numbers killed and injured on the roads.”

“Cyclists in London are increasingly worried about the threat to their safety from the thousands of Addison Lee cars that John Griffin has ordered to illegally use the capital’s bus lanes,” she added, quoted on the website London 24.

“Considering this is a man who has given Boris Johnson’s campaign £25,000 in 2008, and a further £250,000 direct to the Tory party, there are real fears that the Mayor will not take the tough action needed to protect cyclists.”

A spokesman for Mr Johnson, who by virtue of being Mayor of London is also chairman of Transport for London which is seeking a High Court injunction following Mr Griffin’s authorisation to his drivers to illegally use bus lanes, confirmed that Mr Johnson had received no donations from him in relation to the current electoral campaign.

He added: “John Griffin’s actions are irresponsible and unacceptable, and Boris Johnson does not agree with his comments on cycling.”

On Friday, as a number of customers of Addison Lee took to Twitter to state that they had cancelled their accounts, a blog piece from Mr Griffin appeared on Huffington Post, in which he said, "My foreword in Addison Lee's magazine Add Lib, has caused quite a storm amongst the Twitter community, and I'm glad it has. In the article, I argue for compulsory training and insurance for London's bicycle owners and I still stand by my contention.”

If anything, his post poured more fuel onto the fire, however, making sweeping generalisations about cyclists “wearing flip-flops, T-shirts, a pair of headphones on, tapping their fingers on the handlebars to the beat of the music” and adding “we’ve all had to take evasive action as these kinds of cyclists tear trough red lights” – a comment apparently made without irony from someone who just days earlier had told his own drivers to break the law and that he would repay their fines.

He asserted that use of headphones by cyclists should be banned. It’s an issue that splits cyclists themselves, but many would say that enforcing existing laws that ban motorists from using mobile phones at the wheel would be a better use of resources, and one that would have a much greater impact on road safety.

“I regularly hear stories from my drivers about accidents they have witnessed involving cyclists,” he went on, although a search of the name of his company on any cycling forum used by riders in London will make clear that it is those very drivers who are regularly singled out as being among the worst on the capital’s roads.

His assertion that Addison Lee’s training for its drivers “requires that they are courteous and respectful to cyclists at all times” will at the very least raise eyebrows of cyclists who find that claim to be entirely at odds with their own experience.

In his original article, Mr Griffin had called for cyclists to receive training before they were allowed on the road, failing to acknowledge that most adult cyclists also hold driving licences and are therefore qualified to exactly the same level as most of those driving cars.

In his follow-up piece, he lamented the passing of the cycling proficiency test, asking, “What happened to that? Why is it not on the agenda any more?” Mr Griffin has clearly not heard of Bikeability, which bills itself as 'Cycling Proficiency for the 21st Century.'

This morning, the Road Danger Reduction Forum issued its own response to Mr Griffins’ latest comments, stating that “this is not just one more extremist. His views are simply versions of the dominant ‘road safety’ ideology which bedevils a civilised approach to transport and real safety on the road.”

It said that Mr Griffin was consistently approaching the issue of the safety of cyclists from the wrong angle, including his call for compulsory training – “if anyone needs regulation to control behaviour which is genuinely anti-social because it threatens other people’s lives, it should be that of motorist.”

Another example it highlighted was his apparent view that it is cyclists who are the main source of danger to themselves, rather than drivers who are cocooned within vehicles capable of inflicting death or serious injury if not driven safely.

As for media reaction to Mr Griffin’s original column, the Daily Mail focused on his call for cyclists to pay ‘road tax,’ including the misleading term in its headline, compounding the error by going on to report that “he believes they should pay for the privilege - as motorists do to drive their vehicles.”

While the newspaper did not itself provide a critique of Mr Griffin’s comments, it did include the response to them from the London Cycling Campaign (LCC).

On Monday, however, science journalist and London cyclist Michael Hanlon, writing in his blog on the Mail's website, roundly condemned Mr Griffin's comments. He may not have been the first to compare them to those once infamously made by jewellery chain boss Gerald Ratner which resulted in the collapse of his business, but perhaps the geratest significance of his well-reasoned response to Addison Lee's boss lies in where it was published - if the Daily Mail has turned against Mr Griffin, things are not good for him. 

The Daily Telegraph also included ‘road tax’ in its headline and as the Mail had done, reported Mr Griffin’s words without specific comment. It did, however, balance them with quotes from Green Party mayoral candidate Jenny Jones, highlighting the ‘Die-In’ at Addison Lee’s offices tomorrow evening organised on Facebook, and from Sarah Fatica of road safety charity Brake.

The latter said that while his point about cyclists receiving better training was a valid one, motorists needed to take special care because of the nature of the vehicles they drive. “If a cyclist makes a mistake it is usually the cyclists themselves who are worse off but if a motorist makes a mistake it can lead to a number of casualties,” she pointed out.

A separate blog post on the Telegraph website, however, by author and journalist Harry Mount, did seek to demolish many of the myths that Mr Griffin had put forward in his Add Lib piece, starting with the headline “Bicycles don’t kill people; cars do,” adding, “That’s what makes [Mr Griffin’s] remarks so depressing.

“In a glaring non sequitur, Griffin says that, because cab drivers are protected by air bags and impact bars, and bicyclists have little more than a helmet, it is then the cyclists' fault that the roads are so dangerous. That is precisely why drivers should be particularly considerate of cyclists. A bike can do little harm to a driver. Cars kill cyclists.”

Other newspapers, such as the Guardian and the Independent, did provide a more detailed analysis of Mr Griffin’s comments, as did The Times, which yesterday also reported that he had signed up to its Cities Fit For Cycling campaign.

Some will view Mr Griffin’s endorsement of The Times’ campaign as little more than a damage limitation exercise suggested by his PR advisers, and the fact is that as the founder and chairman of a firm already viewed negatively by many of the capital’s cyclists, it is too little, too late.

The impression he gives is that despite his claims of being a cyclist who uses Boris Bikes regularly, is that he remains woefully out of touch with thousands of others who ride their bicycles in London every day, and would like to feel safer while they are doing so.

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.

33 comments

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WolfieSmith [1323 posts] 4 years ago
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Griffin's attitude is a pretty common reaction to the growth in cycling in the past 7 years. Having to share the roads is envitable but still not obvious to many of those with real influence. Plenty of politicians and local councillors seem to think that separating motorists and cyclists is somehow possible - with more half arsed cycle lanes and paint schemes - when the real solution is 20mph in built up areas, 50 mph in country roads and lanes and higher penalties for 'careless' driving.

I hope Griffin gets knocked back tomorrow in court. I think there's an opportunity here to unite black cab drivers and cyclists if it's played right. That would be a first.

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A V Lowe [575 posts] 4 years ago
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Anyone know if Addison Lee employs any cycle couriers directly or just contracts the work?

Of good repute is also a condition of holding an operators licence for PSV's Addison Lee has a PSV licence as Addison Lee (2 vehicles) and an interst in Pullmanor T/A Redwing Coaches, generally serving workplace/commuter traffic IIRC.

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msw [113 posts] 4 years ago
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"Already, on Thursday evening, a number of mainly small businesses had announced on Twitter that they planned to cancel their accounts with the company."

Let's see if that translates into any action. Is there a list of these companies we can follow up with if not?

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Simon_MacMichael [2450 posts] 4 years ago
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msw wrote:

"Already, on Thursday evening, a number of mainly small businesses had announced on Twitter that they planned to cancel their accounts with the company."

Let's see if that translates into any action. Is there a list of these companies we can follow up with if not?

Not sure, but best place to start would be https://twitter.com/#!/boycottaddisonL

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joemmo [1164 posts] 4 years ago
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You might enjoy this piece on Griffin from David Mitchell in the guardian

http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2012/apr/22/minicab-addison-lee-...

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amc654 [31 posts] 4 years ago
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With all due respect, the comment about flip-flop wearing riders with headphones on sounds all too common to me. In all of my recent visits to London, I've been absolutely astonished at the sloppy, dangerous riding I've seen. I've seen riders cutting across traffic without looking, I've seen riders run red lights at the big Oxford Road junction (seriously, could you pick a more dangerous junction?), I saw a rider with headphones on take a right turn from the far lefthand side of the road, cutting across both lanes of traffic without ever looking up at all (and then screaming at the cars _he_ almost hit).

None of this justifies the Mr Griffin's comments by any means, and his comments do enormous harm and represent some absolutely reprehensible approaches to cyclists generally, but ... let's be honest, there are some absolutely appallingly stupid riders in London, and they give all of the rest of us a very bad name.

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merino [19 posts] 4 years ago
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So this John Griffin pays road tax? news to me.

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oadatapa [10 posts] 4 years ago
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Petition to have Addison Lee's licence revoked:

http://iitm.be/AddLeeLic

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Simon_MacMichael [2450 posts] 4 years ago
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amc654 wrote:

With all due respect, the comment about flip-flop wearing riders with headphones on sounds all too common to me...

Indeed, and I agree that there are a minority that make things difficult for the rest of us... the point is, Mr Griffin doesn't seem to think there is any such thing as a responsible cyclist (except himself when he's on his Boris Bike, presumably.)

In both cases, his stereotyping of cyclists as either flipflop wearing music-listeners with a death wish or pothole-avoiding wobbling grannies diverts attention from the fact that in many, many cases when a cyclist dies on the road, the only thing they have been guilty of is being in the wrong place at the wrong time.

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bassjunkieuk [32 posts] 4 years ago
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Simon_MacMichael wrote:
amc654 wrote:

With all due respect, the comment about flip-flop wearing riders with headphones on sounds all too common to me...

Indeed, and I agree that there are a minority that make things difficult for the rest of us... the point is, Mr Griffin doesn't seem to think there is any such thing as a responsible cyclist (except himself when he's on his Boris Bike, presumably.)

In both cases, his stereotyping of cyclists as either flipflop wearing music-listeners with a death wish or pothole-avoiding wobbling grannies diverts attention from the fact that in many, many cases when a cyclist dies on the road, the only thing they have been guilty of is being in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Very well put, people have a rather selective memory when it comes to remembering people's behaviour! Whilst we get the usual rants of " that I saw today did jumped a red light/cut someone up/nearly ran me over etc" they tend to forget the other 99% of the road users that DIDN'T endanger their life or break the law. I see many road users doing idiotic things each time I'm out, from drivers using mobile, passing within inches of other riders and myself or racing to cut up cyclists to take a corner. In the same ride I'll also see a few dozen riders run reds, make turns within indicating and put themselves in stupid positions all in an effort to "get ahead" at traffic lights.

What John Griffin has done with his little rant is nicely articulated most of the incorrect assumptions that a seemingly large number of motorists seem to subscribe to. I'm sure if he'd printed this in the Daily Mail they'd have already nominated him for a knighthood  3
What it has done though is encourage.

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OldRidgeback [2620 posts] 4 years ago
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Griffin does seem to have created his Ratner moment. I do wonder if he'll still be in charge of the firm this time next year. Clearly, he is an ignorant fool.

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JonSP [65 posts] 4 years ago
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One of the biggest problems is that we all get tarred with the same brush. "Cyclists" are somehow seen as some unified group or tribe, so if one idiot on a bike does something stupid it taints us all – people (and not just motorists) go "bloody cyclists'. Whereas when it's an idiot behind the wheel of a car, people tend to say "bloody idiot", not "bloody motorists".

I wouldn't dispute that there is scope for better training/education of cyclists but it's also patently obvious that motorists need it too. Case in point: I live in Lancashire where 20mph speed limits are being rolled out in urban areas across the county. Cue predictable howls of protest from outraged motorists. But the County Council did screw up badly by completely failing to prepare the ground – no advance notice, no consultation, no presentation of the evidence that shows why 20mph is so sensible. The first thing most of us knew about it was when the new signs went up.

The tired old "road tax" argument, raised by John Griffin and heard again and again from people who should know better is clear evidence that many motorists are hopelessly uneducated. And as they're the ones in the lethal machines, they're the ones who need better training first.

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thelimopit [139 posts] 4 years ago
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This is great comprehensive coverage of the issue - well done guys.

The Daily Mail article made me seethe with anger, especially the comments underneath. I know, I know, it's the The Mail. As usual, the worst rated comments are the ones that make the most sense.

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OldRidgeback [2620 posts] 4 years ago
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While it's true that a lot of cyclists do not have sufficient training, the DfT's data on accidents involving bicycles is quite clear. According to the DfT, 85% of accidents involving bicycles are not the fault of the rider. This one simple bit of data is sufficient to show exactly how ignorant Mr Griffin is. I won't be using Addison Lee again until he's been booted out of his present role.

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Animal [41 posts] 4 years ago
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Well we seem to have almost reached critical mass.

Enough people are cyclists, or know cyclists for idiots like this to become pariahs when they blurt out such crap.

5 years ago it would have been laughed off by the mainstream media, and totally ignored by politicians.

In a way it's good news.

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Animal [41 posts] 4 years ago
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You actually went to look at the Daily Heil website's comments on a cycling-related story?

Really! You should know better!

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TrekBikesUK [128 posts] 4 years ago
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JonSP wrote:

One of the biggest problems is that we all get tarred with the same brush. "Cyclists" are somehow seen as some unified group or tribe, so if one idiot on a bike does something stupid it taints us all – people (and not just motorists) go "bloody cyclists'. Whereas when it's an idiot behind the wheel of a car, people tend to say "bloody idiot", not "bloody motorists".

Exactly, and to me this is perhaps the most infuriating thing about the whole 'us vs. them' mentality of drivers. If I see another rider behaving in a risky manner, my reaction is exactly the same as if I see a motorist being an idiot when I'm driving. That person is a moron, not the entire group of people who utilise the same mode of transport.

Unfortunately cycling has become an incendiary topic that demonstrates the ignorance of the masses on a level similar to immigration and rape culture. Sad.

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fatbeggaronabike [814 posts] 4 years ago
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How come a complete idiot like this gets to be a "boss" his comments just go to show how out of touch with reality he is let alone how ignorant of the law. I can't help but wonder if he is any relation of that other tw-t with such offensive views (nick Griffen)

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joemmo [1164 posts] 4 years ago
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maybe he's the boss because he started or bought the company and unless he has shareholders or investors to answer to there's no reason to expect him to stand down.

re; the Daily Fail, I occasionally get their cycling stories popping up in my google news feed and am drawn to them like a moth to a flame, more for the comments than anything else.

My favourite idiot in this particular instance was the one suggesting that cyclists cause air pollution because they force cars to drive at suboptimal speeds, as if all traffic congestion is caused by cyclists. You've got to admire the breadth of stupidity.

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notfastenough [3680 posts] 4 years ago
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Joemmo - perfectly sensible of them to suggest that - in the same way that if we both owned the same make/model of car, and yours was stolen, it would be your fault that my insurance premium increased!  4

The mind boggles...

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Desidon [2 posts] 4 years ago
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 16 16 what has mr griffin said that is so wrong , if all motorist pay road tax to drive on the road why shouldnt the cyclist also pay even if it's a quid. There are sensible cyclist then there are some nutcases also , all you have to Do is place a video camera at busy junction for a couple of hours and you will see that mr griffin isn't far from the truth, come out on Friday or Saturday night and u will witness idiots on the barclays bike riding like zombies. The same rule should apply for all road users that's what I say

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TrekBikesUK [128 posts] 4 years ago
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Desidon wrote:

 16 16 what has mr griffin said that is so wrong , if all motorist pay road tax to drive on the road why shouldnt the cyclist also pay even if it's a quid. There are sensible cyclist then there are some nutcases also , all you have to Do is place a video camera at busy junction for a couple of hours and you will see that mr griffin isn't far from the truth, come out on Friday or Saturday night and u will witness idiots on the barclays bike riding like zombies. The same rule should apply for all road users that's what I say

Among the many things that are wrong with what he's said, is the simple fact that 'road tax' hasn't existed since 1937, when Winston Churchill abolished it to prevent this exact sort of entitlement that we see happening now.

We pay Vehicle Excise Duty, not road tax. You'll find everything you need to know here:
http://ipayroadtax.com/

Oh, and a camera at that same intersection at which you witness the 'idiots on Barclays bikes' will also demonstrate the numerous idiots in motorized vehicles.

Idiocy on the roads is not limited to people riding bikes.

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dave atkinson [6223 posts] 4 years ago
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Desidon wrote:

 16 16 what has mr griffin said that is so wrong , if all motorist pay road tax to drive on the road why shouldnt the cyclist also pay even if it's a quid. There are sensible cyclist then there are some nutcases also , all you have to Do is place a video camera at busy junction for a couple of hours and you will see that mr griffin isn't far from the truth, come out on Friday or Saturday night and u will witness idiots on the barclays bike riding like zombies. The same rule should apply for all road users that's what I say

i do pay 'road tax' [sic]. i pay it on my car.

mr griffin isn't 'far from the truth' in claiming that it's the responsibility of grannies not to wobble, and if they do, and get mown down by a speeding AL cab, that's their own fault? presumably, by the same logic of biggest wins, if you're a foot out of your lane in your car and an HGV crashes into you from behind, you've got no-one to blame but yourself. doesn't seem quite so fair then, does it?

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joemmo [1164 posts] 4 years ago
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you might be massively surprised to read this broadly pro-cyclist piece in the fail online:
http://hanlonblog.dailymail.co.uk/2012/04/minicabber-loses-his-way-in-ar...

but expect the usual tripe in the comments

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notfastenough [3680 posts] 4 years ago
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Desidon wrote:

 16 16 what has mr griffin said that is so wrong , if all motorist pay road tax to drive on the road why shouldnt the cyclist also pay even if it's a quid. There are sensible cyclist then there are some nutcases also , all you have to Do is place a video camera at busy junction for a couple of hours and you will see that mr griffin isn't far from the truth, come out on Friday or Saturday night and u will witness idiots on the barclays bike riding like zombies. The same rule should apply for all road users that's what I say

Leaving aside the points made above about road tax not existing, sure we could be legally required to pay VED. At less than 100g/km, the applicable rate would be £0, in common with other zero emmission vehicles. But here's the best bit: the admin cost of providing VED (or tax) discs for all those bikes would push up the cost of everyone else's VED i.e. yours.

No-one here is suggesting that there aren't idiot cyclists - at the end of the day there are idiots period, regardless of their mode of transport, but it seems cyclists are all lumped into one (rather disliked) group, whereas just because there are idiot car drivers, doesn't mean that everyone categorise you as one - you might be really good/polite etc.

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giff77 [1251 posts] 4 years ago
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Desidon wrote:

 16 16 what has mr griffin said that is so wrong , if all motorist pay road tax to drive on the road why shouldnt the cyclist also pay even if it's a quid. There are sensible cyclist then there are some nutcases also , all you have to Do is place a video camera at busy junction for a couple of hours and you will see that mr griffin isn't far from the truth, come out on Friday or Saturday night and u will witness idiots on the barclays bike riding like zombies. The same rule should apply for all road users that's what I say

I seriously suggest you have a look at "I don't pay road tax" website. You will also see a list of people/organisations who are exempt as well as a list of vehicles that are also exempt. The problem is that Mr Griffin has painted a horrendously broad paint stroke and lumped all cyclists together. This coupled with the fact that he is encouraging his drivers to flout the law.

I am quite happy to receive "discs" for my bikes at the cost of nada which will be subsidised by those paying VED for their polluters  19 only problem is - where does one display ones disc without spoiling the lines of ones steed  19 19 19

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Coleman [335 posts] 4 years ago
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giff77 wrote:
Desidon wrote:

 16 16 what has mr griffin said that is so wrong , if all motorist pay road tax to drive on the road why shouldnt the cyclist also pay even if it's a quid. There are sensible cyclist then there are some nutcases also , all you have to Do is place a video camera at busy junction for a couple of hours and you will see that mr griffin isn't far from the truth, come out on Friday or Saturday night and u will witness idiots on the barclays bike riding like zombies. The same rule should apply for all road users that's what I say

I seriously suggest you have a look at "I don't pay road tax" website. You will also see a list of people/organisations who are exempt as well as a list of vehicles that are also exempt. The problem is that Mr Griffin has painted a horrendously broad paint stroke and lumped all cyclists together. This coupled with the fact that he is encouraging his drivers to flout the law.

I am quite happy to receive "discs" for my bikes at the cost of nada which will be subsidised by those paying VED for their polluters  19 only problem is - where does one display ones disc without spoiling the lines of ones steed  19 19 19

Quite. Let the silly people get wound up about 'tax' discs. There's one on my Polo but there's no way I'm putting one on my Bianchi.

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Hamster [95 posts] 4 years ago
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Quote:

There's one on my Polo but there's no way I'm putting one on my Bianchi.

Well if they're celeste every year maybe  16

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Desidon [2 posts] 4 years ago
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I do believe that we shall all be treated the same on the road, if a car jumps a red light the driver is punished with 3 penalty points and a fine. If a car driver drives erratically he or she can be prosecuted for driving without due care, how many cyclist are ever prosecuted for these offences because if they were then there wouldn't be that many unsafe cyclist on the roads . I say punish all the lawbreakers including the cyclist also.

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dave atkinson [6223 posts] 4 years ago
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Desidon wrote:

If a car driver drives erratically he or she can be prosecuted for driving without due care, how many cyclist are ever prosecuted for these offences because if they were then there wouldn't be that many unsafe cyclist on the roads

i don't know if you've noticed, but you pretty much have to kill someone before you'll be prosecuted for unsafe driving in the UK. and even if you do kill someone, that's probably just a fine and a short ban.

the consequences of driving badly aren't the same as the consequences of cycling badly, because a ton and a half of metal travelling at 50mph isn't the same as 80kg of flesh travelling at 15mph. so why should the punishment be the same?

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