Cyclists are the "Isis of London", says the city's taxi chief

Image: Getty.

When London's black cabbies tried to block plans for new cycling superhighways through London, we were prepared to give them the benefit of the doubt. Perhaps they had genuine concerns about the project. Perhaps they just wanted everyone to give it a bit more thought.

But now, Steve McNamara, the general secretary of the Licensed Taxi Drivers Association (LTDA) has, on real live radio, said something which, well, suggests otherwise. On LBC last night, he was talking about cyclists' response to the judicial review of the superhighway scheme which the LTDA had demanded. Here, as quoted in Cycling Weekly, is what he said.

These people, the zealots of the cycling world, are unbelievable. We have had cyber attacks on our websites... They are all over us like a cheap suit on Twitter and social media. We have had physical threats of violence. You name it, we have had it. It’s absolutely unreal.

Okay, not too uneasonable, one might think. Except that, then, Stevie Boy said this: 

The loonies out there in the cycling world, they’re almost the sort of ISIS of London. Their views and their politics – if you are not with them... then nothing is too bad for you. These people are unreal.

That'll get them on side, Steve. Good one.

The reaction so far has been pretty negative...

...and today, McNamara told the Evening Standard  that he may have "gone too far" with his wording: 

Perhaps I would accept that was a bit strong. It was a live interview. I have had death threats... We have not reported anything to the police because I don’t think there is anything in them. I think it’s just a few loonies, but they really have got a sort of religious zeal.

If nothing else, the comparison just isn't a very good one: if Isis spent all their time on Twitter demanding a reforms to transport policy, the world would be an infinitely less depressing place.

 
 
 
 

What's actually in the UK government’s bailout package for Transport for London?

Wood Green Underground station, north London. Image: Getty.

On 14 May, hours before London’s transport authority ran out of money, the British government agreed to a financial rescue package. Many details of that bailout – its size, the fact it was roughly two-thirds cash and one-third loan, many conditions attached – have been known about for weeks. 

But the information was filtered through spokespeople, because the exact terms of the deal had not been published. This was clearly a source of frustration for London’s mayor Sadiq Khan, who stood to take the political heat for some of the ensuing cuts (to free travel for the old or young, say), but had no way of backing up his contention that the British government made him do it.

That changed Tuesday when Transport for London published this month's board papers, which include a copy of the letter in which transport secretary Grant Shapps sets out the exact terms of the bailout deal. You can read the whole thing here, if you’re so minded, but here are the three big things revealed in the new disclosure.

Firstly, there’s some flexibility in the size of the deal. The bailout was reported to be worth £1.6 billion, significantly less than the £1.9 billion that TfL wanted. In his letter, Shapps spells it out: “To the extent that the actual funding shortfall is greater or lesser than £1.6bn then the amount of Extraordinary Grant and TfL borrowing will increase pro rata, up to a maximum of £1.9bn in aggregate or reduce pro rata accordingly”. 

To put that in English, London’s transport network will not be grinding to a halt because the government didn’t believe TfL about how much money it would need. Up to a point, the money will be available without further negotiations.

The second big takeaway from these board papers is that negotiations will be going on anyway. This bail out is meant to keep TfL rolling until 17 October; but because the agency gets around three-quarters of its revenues from fares, and because the pandemic means fares are likely to be depressed for the foreseeable future, it’s not clear what is meant to happen after that. Social distancing, the board papers note, means that the network will only be able to handle 13 to 20% of normal passenger numbers, even when every service is running.


Shapps’ letter doesn’t answer this question, but it does at least give a sense of when an answer may be forthcoming. It promises “an immediate and broad ranging government-led review of TfL’s future financial position and future financial structure”, which will publish detailed recommendations by the end of August. That will take in fares, operating efficiencies, capital expenditure, “the current fiscal devolution arrangements” – basically, everything. 

The third thing we leaned from that letter is that, to the first approximation, every change to London’s transport policy that is now being rushed through was an explicit condition of this deal. Segregated cycle lanes, pavement extensions and road closures? All in there. So are the suspension of free travel for people under 18, or free peak-hours travel for those over 60. So are increases in the level of the congestion charge.

Many of these changes may be unpopular, but we now know they are not being embraced by London’s mayor entirely on their own merit: They’re being pushed by the Department of Transport as a condition of receiving the bailout. No wonder Khan was miffed that the latter hadn’t been published.

Jonn Elledge was founding editor of CityMetric. He is on Twitter as @jonnelledge and on Facebook as JonnElledgeWrites.