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Addison Lee chairman provokes controversy with his views on London cyclist deaths

Cab firm boss to cyclists: "You want to join our gang, get trained and pay up"...

John Griffin, head of minicab firm Addison Lee who caused a storm this week and threats of legal action from TfL by telling his drivers to illegally use London's bus lanes has provoked further controversy with his views on the rise in the number of cyclists killed on the capital's roads.

The opinions expressed by Mr Griffin in Add Lib magazine, distributed free to the passengers who each year undertake 10 million journeys in Addison Lee’s fleet of nearly 4,000 vehicles, have already received widespread condemnation on social networks such as Twitter from ordinary cyclists and cycle campaigners alike.

We’ve repeated Mr Griffin’s column in full below. If you’re a cyclist, and particularly one who rides a bike in London, it makes for chilling reading.

Here's what he wrote.

“Green party candidates and others are up in arms about what they see as the murder of Cyclists on London Roads.

“There has, as we all know, been a tremendous upsurge in cycling and cycling shops. This summer the roads will be thick with bicycles. These cyclists are throwing themselves onto some of the most congested spaces in the world. They leap onto a vehicle which offers them no protection except a padded plastic hat.

“Should a motorist fail to observe a granny wobbling to avoid a pothole or a rain drain, then he is guilty of failing to anticipate that this was somebody on her maiden voyage into the abyss. The fact is he just didn’t see her and however cautious, caring or alert he is, the influx of beginner cyclists is going to lead to an overall increase in accidents involving cyclists.

“The rest of us occupying this roadspace have had to undergo extensive training. We are sitting inside a protected space with impact bars and air bags and paying extortionate amounts of taxes on our vehicle purchase, parking, servicing, insurance and road tax.

“It is time for us to say to cyclists, ‘You want to join our gang, get trained and pay up’.”

News comment

Reading the content of Mr Griffin’s column, it occurred to us that we could comment upon his apparent belief that roads belong to motorists.

We could take him to task for his apparent victim-blaming of those who lose their lives while quite legally cycling on London’s roads.

We could reflect on the fact that not just Greens but politicians of all hues ride bikes, including a Mayor of London who belongs to a party which Addison Lee supports financially with six-figure donations.

We could remind Mr Griffin that with cycle safety centre stage in the London mayoral elections, his views are woefully out of touch with one of the key political issues in the city his business operates in.

We could point out that experienced cyclists, as well as comparative newcomers, are all too often the victims in fatal incidents in the capital. 

We could elaborate on the fact that there are many things that can be done to improve the safety of cyclists besides their wearing “a padded plastic hat.”

We could underline his apparent belief that ‘Sorry mate, I didn’t see you’ is an acceptable excuse for hitting a cyclist.

We could highlight that in many cities throughout Europe and beyond, bicycles and cars do co-exist on the same roads.

We could correct him on his erroneous use of the term ‘road tax’ or his failure to acknowledge that cyclists and motorists are often one and the same person.

We could go on to say that the majority of adult cyclists hold driving licences, and will therefore have received exactly the same level of ‘extensive training’ as most motorists on the road.

We could correct his use of the word ‘accident,’ which implies chance with no human intervention, when the emergency services and much of the media have switched to using the neutral ‘incident.’ 

We could consider that a motorist’s ‘protected space’ can lead them to forget that they are sitting inside a machine with the capability of easily inflicting death or serious injury on more vulnerable road users.

Or we could highlight the comments found on a variety of forums that London cyclists post on that regularly single out Addison Lee’s self-employed drivers as among the worst on London’s roads.

We won’t do any of that because Mr Griffin does not come across as a man who would be well disposed to engage in reasoned debate about the issues involved and who might be persuaded to come round to a point of view opposed to that he currently holds.

We’re not convinced he’d understand that contrary viewpoint, far less embrace it.

What he does understand, however, is business. He has built a company from a single vehicle into Europe’s largest cab operator. That doesn’t happen by chance.

But while he acknowledges that cycling in London is booming, he misses the point about where much of that growth comes from; it isn’t from ‘grannies’ taking to two wheels for the first time.

Instead, a lot of the rise in cycling is driven by middle-aged professionals such as lawyers, bankers and accountants who in some cases will be the people who decide which cab firm their company uses, or at least help influence that decision.

Currently, for many companies and organisations, that firm will be Addison Lee.

Earlier this week, the company used its Twitter feed to proclaim proudly that its account customers had overwhelmingly backed its unilateral decision to illegally use London’s bus lanes; we wonder whether all of his customers will endorse his views on cycling, and those who have died while riding their bikes, once they learn of them?

We also wonder whether any of them might take their business elsewhere?

It's a safe bet Mr Griffin would understand that.


Simon joined as news editor in 2009 and is now the site’s community editor, acting as a link between the team producing the content and our readers. A law and languages graduate, published translator and former retail analyst, he has reported on issues as diverse as cycling-related court cases, anti-doping investigations, the latest developments in the bike industry and the sport’s biggest races. Now back in London full-time after 15 years living in Oxford and Cambridge, he loves cycling along the Thames but misses having his former riding buddy, Elodie the miniature schnauzer, in the basket in front of him.

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