London minicab firm Addison Lee is set to lose the sole contract it currently has with the Government for private hire car services. The decision is linked to chairman John Griffin’s instruction to his drivers a fortnight ago to use illegally bus lanes. Yesterday, Transport for London (TfL) won an injunction against the company on that very issue.
Yesterday evening, cycle trade website BikeBiz reported that it had seen emails from the government’s Chief Procurement Officer John Collington to freelance journalist Marcus Williamson that confirmed that he had been working on the case "as a matter of urgency."
Mr Collington added: “We expect all private hire vehicles in London to adhere to the prohibition on using bus lanes. In regard to Addison Lee, the only existing government contract with the company will expire at the end of this month and is not being renewed."
The size and nature of the contract is unknown, but the loss of it is significant in PR terms and will come as a blow to the company following a fortnight in which it has battled to rescue its reputation as a result of a backlash against that instruction to drivers to break the law as well as comments about cyclists made by Mr Griffin.
Earlier this month, the Guardian reported that Mr Griffin, who through his company has donated £250,000 to the Conservative Party, met with then Transport Secretary Philip Hammond in October last year.
The previous year, Mr Hammond had ordered the removal of the M4 bus lane, something that Addison Lee had been lobbying for since 1999, unsuccessfully until the Coalition Government came to power.
Details of last October’s meeting were released under the Freedom of Information Act, with the exclusion of minicabs but not licensed taxis from London’s bus lanes among the topics discussed.
The Addison Lee boss also spoke at length with the Transport Secretary about his firm potentially being able to provide secure cars to ministers, although Mr Hammond outlined that there were “concerns around the provision of cars for ministers related to security clearance of the driver and maintaining the security of the car."
While the minister added that no decision had been taken on whether or not to privatise the fleet, he did add that relevant factors would include having sufficient cars available to ensure that government ministers could get to the House of Commons to take part in key votes.
Mr Griffin’s comments about cyclists, initially made in the company magazine Add Lib and which emerged late last week, were widely described as his ‘Ratner moment’ – a reference to the jewellery retailer Gerald Ratner whose company almost collapsed in the early 1990s after he described its products as “total crap.”
A number of companies have already cancelled their accounts with the business or to have initiated a review, and with the Government now terminating its own contract with Addison Lee, it is likely that more will follow in deciding that they no longer wish to use its services.
Mr Griffin spoke on BBC Radio 4's Today programme this morning alongside Eleanor Besley of Sustrans to discuss his views of cyclists and the issue of bus lanes. He wasn't talking from the studio, however, as had originally been planned, since he was stuck in traffic, and confirmed that he hadn't attempted to use a bus lane to try and get there in time.
Former Transport Secretary John Prescott, who crossed swords with Mr Griffin while in office over the M4 bus lane, spoke during another segment of the programme about the changing relationship between politicians and the press in the light of the Levesen enquiry, and talked of how the news agenda was now being driven by users of social media such as Twitter, citing the case of Addison Lee as a prime example.
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.