“It gives black cabs a significant, unfair competitive advantage…this is not about cyclists and bus lanes: this is about equality and fairness.”
We learn today the government will not renew its contract with the private taxi firm Addison Lee, as revenge for the firm’s chairman’s stance on the use of bus lanes1. John Griffin, who is a donor to the Conservative party, believes his taxis should be allowed to drive in bus lanes—a privilege meted out to London’s black cabs2. The government’s response is reactionary and short-termist, and therefore wrong.
Mr. Griffin is correct in his assessment of the status quo: to confer a privilege upon one set of taxi-drivers but not another is discriminatory. There is no good reason to believe black cab drivers are inherently more trustworthy or deserving than those employed by Addison Lee. In fact, the very existence of government contracts with the firm suggests their service is to be commended. However, this does not necessarily mean his preferred outcome is the correct one.
Cyclists are right to argue better provisions for their safety on the road ought to exist; however, they have picked the wrong battle (and the wrong alliance, that with drivers of black cabs). It is hardly a good state of affairs when cyclists must jostle with buses and black cabs for a space on the road. Either no kind of taxi at all should be permitted to drive in bus lanes, or the government should invest in greater numbers of cycle lanes in our cities (and, pari passu with this, permit Addison Lee’s drivers to use bus lanes). It is this latter option which is more attractive and sustainable, and this story has taken the heat off the government in its commitments to cyclists.
Furthermore, the government’s immediate reaction, to confirm it will not renew contracts with the firm, is a foolish populist move. It may cost the government money, by dint of having to move to a less competitively-priced firm, and may sour relations with one of their most high-profile donors—just at a time when they are aggravating other donors, perhaps justifiably, for a different reason3. Some commentators will say this is more evidence of the government finally playing hard-ball with its donors; I believe this should not come at the expense of good policymaking. It is clear this decision will further delay real, meaningful action on safety for cyclists.
1 Savage, R. and Burgess, K. (2012), “Bus lane rebels Addison Lee lose government contract“, in The Times, 27 April.
2 Griffin, J., in Humphrys, J., Webb, J. et al. (2012), Today, on BBC Radio 4, 27 April.
3 Aaronovitch, D. (2012), “Does tax make us slaves or good citizens?“, in The Times, 19 April.