Loads of people are using London’s new cycle lanes and the black cab industry is in denial

London's ex mayor greets another satisfied customer. Image: Getty.

So yesterday, down in Tooting, this happened:

It's not exactly clear what's going on there. It looks like an old timey omnibus of some kind got into something of a commotion.

Anyway, the reason we mention it is because of where it happened. The blue strip on the bottom left of the image reflects the fact it's one of the first generations of London's cycling superhighways. That's meant to be a major cycling artery – a slab of a major road, no separation from the traffic to its right, the only protection offered to cyclists being some blue paint.

This is obviously tremendous if you’re a blue paint manufacturer, but not ideal if you’re a cyclist. So the more recent superhighways have tended to experiment with radical concepts like "making it harder for cars to veer into them", and over the last few weeks, two major routes have opened in central London. One was the middle bit of the east-cross route, which currently links Westminster to Blackfriars; the other, the first stage of the north-south one, which currently links Blackfriars to Elephant and Castle. (Both will be extended soon enough.)

Not everyone is happy about this though. On Sunday, The Licensed Taxi Drivers Association – the black cabbies’ trade body - tweeted this:

 

The result was a flurry of responses that basically conceded that the LTDA was making a fair and reasonable point.

 

Look closely, and you'll find that there’s not really anybody there at all.

 

The place is almost deserted.

 

You can always trust the LTDA – that’s the lesson here.

 

The discovery that cyclists are invisible to black cab drivers is not entirely surprising, but remains a worry nonetheless.

Anyway. It's been raining pretty hard for the first half of this week, and:

 

Still. Nothing's perfect, eh?

Jonn Elledge is the editor of CityMetric. He is on Twitter, far too much, as @jonnelledge.

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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.