United Kingdom

Green schemes are why black cabs ending up in taxi graveyard, writes ex-cabbie ANDREW CARTER 

Think of Britain, and the black cab is as iconic as Big Ben, fish and chips and red post boxes. 

But, sadly, the taxis – and their thousands of drivers – are on the brink of extinction.

Wave upon wave of punitive green schemes unleashed by Sadiq Khan, the Mayor of London, have made it almost impossible to earn a living driving around the capital’s streets.

It was already a perilous situation, but the pandemic has seen work dry up completely because, frankly, no one is going anywhere.

Think of Britain, and the black cab is as iconic as Big Ben but, sadly, the taxis – and their thousands of drivers – are on the brink of extinction (pictured: black cabs parked in a large area of farmland) 

City offices are empty, because most people are working from home. There are no crowds of tourists, no foreign business travellers, no pub-goers, parties or nightclubbers trying to get home. 

Railway stations and airports are practically deserted.

But now, at a time when thousands of cabbies most urgently need their help, this Government is driving a final nail in the coffin by rolling out thousands of miles of badly designed cycle lanes.

The sudden closure of hundreds of roads to traffic has already brought chaos and congestion to towns and cities across the country. 

Central London is gridlocked and threatens to get worse once we come out of lockdown this week.

Because even when the Covid crisis is finally over, life will not return to normal for cab drivers or anyone else who makes their living on the roads.

The overnight transformation of our streets – without consultation – means that taxi journeys will take much longer and cost punters more money.

I am afraid that this will make hailing a black cab an unattractive option for ordinary people. 

After all, if you went to a pub and suddenly it cost £9 for a pint and took twice as long to pour, would you go back there again?

These new cycle lanes, with bollards separating bikes from vehicles, have slowed traffic to a crawl and some areas are at a standstill for most of the day.

This was all rushed out under emergency powers granted by the Government at the start of the pandemic.

Infuriatingly, some of these new bike lanes have popped up right next to existing cycle routes. 

The worst example of this is on Park Lane, where just 100 yards away there is already a bike route cutting through Hyde Park.

I totally agree that there should be segregated cycle lanes to separate bikes from cars, vans, lorries and buses. 

Before I fulfilled my boyhood dream of becoming a cabbie in my 40s, I used to cycle 25 miles a day from my home in Essex to work as a printer in the East End.

I know how vulnerable cyclists feel in rush-hour traffic, but these new lanes are just punishing anyone in a vehicle – and they are the ones who pay road tax, not the cyclists, who are few and far between in the lanes anyway.

It was with a heavy heart that I decided to give up driving my beloved cab earlier this year. 

By the time I quit, it was actually costing me money to go to work. I lost £200 in my final week behind the wheel, working 12-hour days to try to make ends meet.

I know I am not alone. Official figures reveal that about 160 cabbies have been quitting each week during the pandemic.

The number of licensed taxis in the capital fell by a fifth from 18,900 in June to 15,000 this month. 

It was already a perilous situation, but the pandemic has seen work dry up completely because, frankly, no one is going anywhere (pictured: Parked black cabs) 

Of those remaining, only 20 per cent of cabbies are still driving their vehicles, according to the Licensed Taxi Drivers’ Association. 

This comes amid the relentless expansion of faceless taxi-hailing apps that push our earnings well below a decent wage.

Not far from where I live in Essex, there is a field full of black cabs. The firm that hires them out to drivers has left them parked there until demand picks up again. 

But I’m sorry to say that many cabbies I’ve spoken to don’t think that they will ever get back behind the wheel.

I have now taken a zero-hours contract job driving a van for the NHS for £11 an hour, working with five other former cabbies who also gave up the trade this year.

Once I pay my bills and feed my kids, at the end of each week I have only £40 left over.

To become a cabbie you have to love it, and I really did. The best part of the job was meeting and talking to interesting people from all walks of life and from all corners of the world.

But I know I will not go back to driving a cab. Not now. Why would I want to take that risk, given that Boris Johnson and Sadiq Khan seem intent on erasing cars from Central London?

I feel quite sad about that. When I was made redundant as a printer seven years ago, I seized the opportunity to become a cab driver. 

I spent thousands doing The Knowledge – a series of tests that must be passed by all black cab drivers before they can get a licence to work in the capital.

I painstakingly learned 320 routes and 25,000 streets by heart to get my licence.

While these are the hoops that the licensing authority makes you jump through to become a black cab driver, that same licensing authority is now closing off roads to taxis, practically forcing cabbies like me out of a job.

So far, councils have been handed £250 million to chuck at cycle schemes, and the plan is to spend £2 billion by 2025. 

We’ve already seen dozens of local authorities having to remove their new cycle lanes because they have caused huge traffic problems. 

Before they spend another penny, I’d like to see town planners actually speaking to all road users and coming up with better ideas.

Because without a drastic rethink, I fear that London’s black cabs will go the same way as the gondolas in Venice.

They will be hailed by tourists outside Madame Tussauds and the Tower of London for a bit of fun, but they will become too expensive for everyday use.

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