“First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win.”
John Griffin, self-made millionaire, minicab baron must be smart, dynamic and hardworking, but he’s not keeping up.
His company – Addison-Lee – is pretentious enough to have an in-cab magazine, in which Griffin is vain enough to have his own column.
Here’s his latest effort. The emphasis is mine but the strange capitalisation in the opening sentence comes from the original…
“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’.”
Somebody should tell Mr. Griffin it’s too late for this kind of tub-thumping. The London congestion charge is significant, not because it affects many people. The number who want to drive a motor-vehicle into Central London, for whom ten pounds is a lot of money, is pretty small, maybe less than five figures. The congestion charge is important because its inauguration signalled clearly that the concepts ‘citizen’ and ‘motorist’ are no longer interchangeable.
During the last third of the Twentieth Century there was a general assumption that everyone was – wanted to be – or thought like a motorist. Now there’s a small – but highly significant – area where people without cars are welcome on the streets, while the motor-dependent minority have to jump through bureaucratic hoops to use them. We own the road, they have to rent it by the day.
John may be finding that his ‘us’ and ‘we’ are more fluid than they used to be, that some of his clients may be sufficiently annoyed by his gormless, victim-blaming that they might be moving their accounts to companies whose chairmen stick to deploying chauffeurs, and leave pontification on public health to those with a better grip on the data. As they say in California:- ‘cycling is the new golf’.
Wobblygrannygate isn’t Griffin’s only current intervention in the great who-actually-does-own-the-road debate. He recently sent out 3500 letters urging drivers who hire his cabs – they’re not employees but rent John’s limos on the rickshaw model – to break the law by using bus lanes.
London has many ‘bus lanes’, strips of road-way from which general traffic is excluded for some or all of the time. Most bus lanes are currently open only to pedal cycles, local buses and licensed black-cabs. Griffin backs this call for politically-motivated law-breaking by offering to pay any fines his sub-contractors accrue.
Some bike riders get very defensive about bus lanes. I own the road and am happy to share it with anyone. For me care, courtesy and consideration are more important than compliance. I don’t mind sharing a bus lane with someone driving a people-carrier, even a motor-cyclist, so long as they have a convivial attitude and understand that, other people getting in your way, is a definition of city-life.
Taxis of all classes have a part to play in an exit strategy from motor-dependence. In today’s conditions car ownership is quite like a bar where the drink is very cheap but you have to pay a lot to get in. How ever much the motor-dependent kvetch about the price of fuel, the marginal cost of travel in your own car remains pretty low. It’s the fixed costs – insurance, depreciation, vehicle excise duty* that impoverish the motor-dependent.
Those who imagine they can’t live without an automobile, and are running on a limited budget, really don’t have much choice once they’ve got a car. They’ve got to use it to get their money’s worth and probably don’t have a lot of funds left-over for buses, trains, taxis or nice push bikes.
Cabs aren’t public transport, they’re vehicles available for private hire, but easy access to reliable taxis – first, second or third class – is another wedge in the widening crack between ‘people’ and ‘motorists’.
John thinks we’re his enemies when really we are – or used to be – his customers.
*(note to John Griffin:- ‘road tax‘ went out – in 1937 – with the wing-collar and the cut-throat razor)