20mph limit devastates taxi trade

The roll-out of 20mph speed limits on main roads has had a “devastating” impact on London’s taxi trade, City Hall has been told.

By Noah Vickers, Local Democracy Reporter

A row of London black taxi cabs
Photo: Garry Knight

The roll-out of 20mph speed limits on main roads has had a “devastating” impact on London’s taxi trade, City Hall has been told.

Steve McNamara, general secretary of the Licensed Taxi Drivers Association, said last week that reduced speed limits have led “many, many dozens” of his members to lose their jobs.

He added that cabs have had to fight “tooth and nail” to access parts of the city where traffic reduction schemes have been installed.

Transport for London (TfL) argues that lower speed limits are making London’s roads safer by reducing deaths and serious injuries.

The issue was discussed at a meeting of the London Assembly’s transport committee, where Mr McNamara was asked to describe the impact of 20mph limits on taxis.

He said: “In a word – devastating. The argument for lower speeds is obviously clear, the safety arguments are clear and unequivocal, really, on secondary roads…

“[On] all of the side streets, I don’t think anyone would argue against 20mph speed limits, certainly not us. But since the mayor’s introduction onto the TLRN [Transport for London Road Network], we’re looking at roads like the Finchley Road, which is a three-lane dual carriageway in either direction…

“We are now seeing a situation where I have got, it’s not hundreds yet, but it’s many, many dozens of members, who are now out of work and unlicensed, some of whom have been driving a cab for 40 years with an absolutely faultless driving record… [These drivers] have found themselves with 12 points in absolutely no time at all.

“Of course, during the day, it’s quite easy to maintain 20mph… but at 4am, if you’re coming down Park Lane – which was previously 40mph as recently as a year ago – you’re coming down Park Lane at 20mph and the vehicle creeps up to 24mph…

“I can literally give you multiple examples of drivers that have been caught at 24, 24, 24 and 24, at all hours of the night, and have lost their licences.”

He added: “I accept the simple argument [of] ‘well you shouldn’t have done it’, but of course in the real world, these people aren’t a danger to anyone. They’re not driving recklessly… These have had a major, major impact.”

TfL runs about five per cent of London’s roads. The highways under its control are known as ‘red routes’ and form the arteries of the capital’s road network. The rest of London’s streets are run by borough councils.

As part of mayor Sadiq Khan’s “vision zero” aim of reducing road deaths to zero by 2041, TfL has been working to gradually introduce 20mph limits on 140km of its roads.

Conservative mayoral candidate Susan Hall, along with Reform UK’s Howard Cox and some independent candidates, have all called for the limits to be removed from main roads.

A TfL spokesman said: “We’re proud of London’s black taxis and are working with the trade to ensure that it continues to play an important role in enabling people to travel in the capital.

“We’re determined to keep Londoners moving safely as they travel in the capital and 20mph speed limits save lives.

“Collision data from around the world shows that the faster a vehicle is travelling, the more likely it is that a collision will occur and reducing vehicle speeds is the single most important factor behind the likelihood of a collision occurring and the severity of injuries.

“We believe keeping people safe works hand in hand with keeping people moving on the road network efficiently and data suggests that journey times on the TfL road network remain at similar levels to those in 2019.”

Mr McNamara also told the committee that TfL had introduced a number of “ableist” traffic reduction schemes, which he claimed had made it harder for elderly and disabled people to get around London by taxi.

He said: “There are numerous videos doing the rounds of elderly and disabled people, having to walk from the front of Liverpool Street station, 200 yards to the cab rank, and then having to be taken on a circuitous tour of London to go in the opposite direction. These schemes are ableist, that’s what they are.”

Christina Calderato, TfL’s director of transport strategy and policy, said to committee members: “Our job at TfL is to manage [traffic] on a finite road network, balance the needs of all our users, and that includes disabled people, people who need to get around the network, people who are reliant on public transport, people who want to walk and cycle.”

She said that when weighing up that balance, TfL does “take into consideration” the fact that taxis provide a door-to-door service for people with reduced mobility.

Mr McNamara later said taxis have had to “fight tooth and nail” to be allowed to access roads where traffic reduction schemes have been installed, “when the opposite should be true”.

Ms Calderato responded: “Taxis have access to 95 per cent of bus lanes, and the default will be [that] taxis will be included, unless there is a specific reason – which might be that there will be a detrimental effect on the bus network or a detrimental safety impact for people walking or cycling. In those circumstances only, that’s where we’ll look to restrict that access…

“Borough schemes are individual schemes and they’re decided by the boroughs, but we have worked with the boroughs and spoken to boroughs about supporting taxis, and what initiatives can be done to do that.”

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