Saturday, 21 April 2012

Taxi Drama Reveals Drivers' Attitudes To Cyclists

There was an interesting side-note to this week's story about Addison Lee (one of the UK's largest minicab firms) planning to break the law and start using bus lanes in London - something that only buses, cycles and black cabs are currently allowed to do.

Today's Guardian highlights an article by Addison Lee's boss, John Griffin, written for his company's in-house magazine which reveals his - and many others' - attitude to cyclists.

Cyclist Meets Taxi
Unlike cyclists, he said, drivers "have 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'."

This is a form of an argument I hear frequently when out cycling in the city. It divides pretty equally along two lines:

"You shouldn't be cycling on the road, you're dangerous"

"I pay Road Tax, you don't, get off the road"

The Guardian piece answers both these questions exceptionally well - so well that I will be amending my usual two-word Anglo-Saxon answer.

In terms of who is to blame for serious road accidents between adult cyclists and drivers, it points out that a 2009 study carried out by the Department of Transport found that up to 75% of such accidents were deemed to be entirely the fault of the motorist.

Similarly, if I were to cycle on the pavement - which I don't, unless the road is completely blocked - pedestrians would quite rightly point out that I should be on the road!

On the second issue, the Guardian make the excellent point that - apart from there being no such thing as 'Road Tax' - Vehicle Excise Duty is based on vehicle emissions, meaning that even if bicycles were liable, they would be zero-rated!

The other point I would add is that Vehicle Excise Duty is not - as many people believe - a hypothecated tax. That would mean that money raised from vehicle licenses would only be spent on road building and repairs.

Since 1936, when the Road Fund was wound up, money for road building and maintenance actually comes from general national and local taxation - i.e. you could equally argue that the VAT charged on your Mars bar or duty on your beer was being spent on the roads as your 'Road Tax'.

For the record, I think that more effective training of cyclists would be a good thing - many adults haven't cycled since they were kids and would benefit. But who would pay for it?

I also think that some kind of compulsory 'bike tax' scheme (like they had in Switzerland until this year) would also be a good idea - although it would be very hard to enforce and would probably cost more than it raised. Compulsory 3rd party insurance for cyclists would also be sensible.

Time for a more grown-up debate...