United Cabbies Group meetings with LOCOG /ODA/ TfL
The United Cabbies Group recently attended a series of meetings with the London Organising Committee of the Olympic Games (LOCOG), the Olympic Delivery Authority (ODA) and Transport for London (TfL) in regards to the London Taxi trade’s accessibility to the Olympic Route Network (ORN) and our exclusion from the Games Lanes.
As a result of a recent ballot of our membership the UCG postponed our planned demonstration at the Team GB Launch Party at the Royal Albert Hall in favour of dialogue with the above authorities.
UCG officers attended two meetings with LOCOG / ODA / TfL and one seperate meeting with John Mason Director of LTPH and his Deputy Helen Chapman.
The first meeting was held at LOCOG’s Head Office in Canary Wharf and was attended by UCG officers Tony Crothers (Chairman), Lee Osborne (Secretary), Jonathon Myers (Press Officer) and Heather Rawlinson (Ranks & Highways officer), along with Michael Bailey (RMT Chairman).
Representing LOCOG and the ODA were Alex Carter (LOCOG), Don Cannon (ODA) and Roger Silvers (ODA). Representing TfL were John Mason Director of LTPH and Helen Chapman Deputy Director of LTPH.
The meeting was a general discussion about the arrangements that LOCOG have in place with regards to the transportation side of the Olympic Games and the London Taxi trade’s involvement in these arrangements, and gave the UCG an opportunity to put across our concerns and to ascertain exactly what plans they have for the trade.
The UCG formally requested full access to the Games Lanes for Taxis citing that it will be difficult for taxi drivers to carry out their professional duties to the level expected from us during the games period without full access as passengers will be discouraged by the resultant higher fares and those who have tickets for the games will be disadvantaged.
LOCOG / ODA / TfL explained the position that concessions have already been made stating that Games lanes will only be operational (i.e. access to official vehicles only) when absolutely necessary and at other times they will be opened up to other road users. This will be controlled through the use of 150 variable messaging boards which will indicate the status of the lanes, some of which you have seen starting to appear at various locations across the city. This is a change from the original plans which was for games lanes to be operational throughout the entire period of the games. This change was announced earlier this year by the Mayor and was largely due to additional modelling work having been undertaken by TfL following a number of representations, not least from the taxi trade.
They advised us that the Games lanes will not be operational in the fortnight between the Olympic and Paralympic games and other vehicles will be able to use them as normal. The lanes around specific venues will only be operational when needed. For example, if the events at Wimbledon will only last 3 days then the lanes in this area will only be operational, at peak times, for these three days and not for the entire fortnight.
They also informed us that further concessions have already been made to the taxi trade to allow taxis to make certain banned right turns.
The UCG enquired what the contingency plans will be if London is gridlocked and also asked how the message indicator boards will work. TfL explained that this is all managed by the London Streets Traffic Control Centre (LSTCC) at Palestra.
After some discussion it was agreed that it would be better demonstrated and TfL would organise a tour of the LSTCC for the UCG. This tour was indeed undertaken and the details are explained below in the meeting with TfL.
We then asked about the ranking facilities at Stratford and other venues. The ODA explained that these plans are still being finalised as there are a number of factors to take into consideration when identifying suitable ranking facilities including road access for taxis to and from the rank. The ODA said they hoped to make an announcement around this as soon as possible. These final arrangements were explained to us further at the second meeting, details of which can be found further on.
Taxi Sharing Schemes
The UCG asked whether any taxi sharing schemes would be in operation from mainline stations? TfL advised that provision had been made for this in the fares paper that had been approved by TfL Board in February however it depended on the marshalling arrangements that the ODA were able to secure as to which stations would be operational.
Concerns were raised by the UCG over the lateness of the handbook being issued to taxi drivers. The ODA advised that this had been delayed as there were still some details to finalise (such as rank facilities at Stratford) and that the handbook would go to print shortly. This will be posted to every licensed taxi driver to ensure they have access to all relevant information regarding the games. There will also be spare copies available for anyone who fails to receive theirs through the post.
The Mall / Constitution Hill
The UCG advised that since the Mall and Constitution Hill have been closed for the Diamond Jubilee it has caused major problems for the taxi trade with cabs not able to easily get to Victoria Station resulting in passenger queues of around 30 minutes, increased meter fares, along with a substantial increase in congestion.
We requested an exemption for taxis to be able to use The Mall & Constitution Hill during the period of the Games. TfL and LOCOG advised that they would investigate the reasons for the decision to close the Mall & Constitution Hill during the period of the games and get back to us.
Shortly after Deputy Director of LTPH sent us the following email…
At our recent meeting with LOCOG and ODA, you raised the issue of the planned closures of The Mall and Constitutional Hill and questioned the need for the extent of the closures. You asked what, if anything, could be done to accommodate access for taxis during the current planned closures?
During the meeting we explained that this is a matter that we would need to take away and discuss with colleagues in our respective teams.
From a TfL perspective we can confirm the following:
The Mall is currently closed for the build of the Horse Guards Venue and Olympic Road Event Build operations.
This closure is necessary to enable the preparation of all the necessary works in time for Games time and Marlborough Road is also affected. It was originally planned that the entire Mall would be closed from 18 June to 30 September.
However, due to various concerns raised regarding the extent of the planned closures, a serious of meetings took place between LOCOG and TfL which resulted in the retention of westbound access for non commercial vehicles for as long as possible from Pall Mall via Marlborough Road to The Mall westbound only. This access occurs during the build phase and includes taxis.
During the latter stages of the Venue build unfortunately it will not be possible to permit any form of access for vehicles.
An outline of the dates we have been provided with, however may still be subject to change are:
– No access except for pedestrians on selected dates 18 June to 1 July;
– 2 to 6 July; permitted vehicular access;
– 20 to 24 August; permitted vehicular access;
– 16 Sept, reopened
Constitution Hill is closed from the morning of 25 July and reopening on the 14 August. However, as indicated at the meeting, significant work has been undertaken between TfL and LOCOG to provide access to dedicated Olympic Lanes for other traffic whenever possible. Demand in Olympic Lanes will be under constant review and access will be provided whenever possible. Unfortunately, due to the high Games Family demand through Constitution Hill and Bird Cage Walk it isn’t possible to open this up to any other type of vehicle, including taxis.
In summary, I am assured by my colleagues in TfL that wherever concessions can be made these have already been acted upon and are in place. I am afraid there is no scope to provide further concessions in addition to those that have already been made. To do so would compromise TfL in meeting its commitments to LOCOG and the IOC in delivering resilient journey times between Competition Venues and key accommodation hubs.
I appreciate you may disagree with the need for such restrictions and remain concerned at the impact these will have on your ability to provide passengers with the service you wish to provide.
Again, I would like to assure you that throughout the games period further adjustments will be made wherever possible.
The UCG then had a meeting at palestra with LTPH.
Officers in attendance were Tony Crothers (Chairman), Lee Osborne (Secretary), Jonathon Myers (Press Officer), Jimmy Thomas and Heather Rawlinson (Ranks & Highways Officers), along with John Mason (Director) and Helen Chapman (Deputy Director) of LTPH.
The meeting began with a tour of the LSTCC control room and a good discussion with one of the 3 control centre managers John Tenten who was happy to answer all our questions and this gave us a good insight into the way they operate, what their plans are for the Olympics, and how they monitor London’s streets and the action they take when there are problems.
John told us that although the original plan was to have the Olympic Route Network (ORN) in operation from 6am to midnight for the whole duration of the Olympic and Paralympic Games, concessions have been made and the network will be constantly monitored and the games lanes will be open to all traffic whenever it is possible to do so.
The ORN will be non-operational between the Olympics and Paralympic games.
He also told us that all the games family BMWs have tracking devices fitted and they will be able to monitor their movements and the traffic flow. This will enable them to make instant decisions as and when to open up the games lanes to other vehicles.
John told us that approximately 1300 traffic lights would have their timings adjusted to help traffic flow and many of these were because of the restricted right hand turns along the games lanes. However, he did say that the games lanes would not be given any priority over the normal lanes, and the same traffic signals would apply to all lanes.
John also agreed to allow us to have the live data feed from the London Traffic Information Stream on the UCG website. Helen Chapman has arranged this and this will soon appear on our website where we can all monitor the information in real time.
The UCG feels that communication is the key to ensure that problems are kept to a minimum and this live data feed will certainly help the trade to navigate our way around the road restrictions.
Following the tour of the LSTCC we had a 2 hour meeting with John Mason & Helen Chapman.
This was a very constructive meeting where many of the problems we face were discussed. The main topic was of course the Olympics and the issues raised at the meeting with LOCOG / ODA and gave us the chance to clarify some of the points made, and discuss them at greater length.. The meeting also gave us the opportunity to discuss other current issues such as touting, the rank facilities at London Bridge and Cannon Street Stations as well as taxi marshalling. John Mason and Helen Chapman agreed to look at these issues and come back to us with answers at a later date.
This also gave us the chance to better prepare for the impending second LOCOG / ODA meeting.
The second meeting with LOCOG / ODA and TfL was held on Monday 18 June 2012 in the Olympic Transport Office at Stratford Railway Station.
The meeting was attended by UCG officers Tony Crothers (Chairman), Lee Osborne (Secretary), Jonathon Myers (Press Officer) and Heather Rawlinson (Ranks & Highways Officer).
Representing LOCOG and the ODA were Alex Carter (LOCOG), Don Cannon (ODA) and Roger Silvers (ODA). Representing TfL were Helen Chapman Deputy Director of LTPH, Guy Conway Head of Games Local Engagement (TfL) and Darren Crowson LTPH Strategy & Infrastructure Manager (TfL).
The meeting lasted approximately 3 hours and began with a summary presentation from Roger Silvers of the ODA of each of the Olympic venues and the taxi rank facilities that will be available to pick up and set down passengers.
It also covered the details of what will be in the handbook that is soon to be available on-line and issued to every licensed London taxi driver.
The handbook contains various maps of the Olympic venues showing exactly where all the Taxi ranking facilities are, and also the Private Hire pick-up points. LOCOG assured us that only private hire vehicles with a bona-fide booking will be able to access these pick-up points, and there will be many marshals on hand to ensure that the drivers do indeed have a genuine booking.
The marshals, dressed in Magenta coloured uniforms to make them easily identifiable will also be used to direct passengers to the various ranks situated around each venue.
LOCOG said that because security at the Olympics was paramount they were unable to site these ranks any nearer to the venues and had done all they can to get them as near as possible to venue exits.
The UCG did raise the issue that some of these ranks were quite some distance from the venues and if the marshals did not direct passengers to them they would soon become redundant. LOCOG assured us that every marshal would be fully trained and briefed on the Taxi ranking facilites and would ensure that passengers would be directed to the ranks.
However, disappointingly there will be no toilet or eating facilities at any of the ranks for Taxi drivers.
Only the Olympic Games family vehicles will be allowed to enter the venues to drop off and pick up their passengers. Some Olympic Officials will prefer to organise their own transport rather than use the official Olympic BMWs which may include taxis. However, these will have been arranged up front and the official will have been issued with a Vehicle Access Parking Permit (VAPP). Any vehicle issued with a VAPP must be registered 48 hours beforehand to enable use of the Games Lanes and the possible access to the venues. If a taxi driver is hailed on street and a passenger tells them to enter the Games Lane as they have a VAPP this will not be valid and the driver will receive a penalty.
We then had a question and answer session with LOCOG / ODA / TfL.
Thanks to the information we had gathered from the first two meetings, along with the input from our members the UCG were able to pre-formulate the following list of questions to put to LOCOG…
Questions for LOCOG / ODA / TfL
1. Why will some lanes be operational from mid-July? We believe the reason for the games lanes was to ensure athletes, officials and the world’s media arrived at games venues on time, so why are the games lanes being implemented two weeks before any event takes place?
2. Why are the games lanes on the M4 in operation so early? Again these are supposed to be in operation to get the games family to events on time, not to their hotels, this will cause unnecessary congestion on the main route from Heathrow airport to Central London.
3. Are the Games lanes only in operation on the M4 or does this include the A4?
4. The Get Ahead of the Games website has a route finder facility that advises motorists of suggested routes to follow to avoid the predicted congestion or hotspots in central London during Games time. The following is an example of the suggested route from Heathrow airport to Stratford Rail station on Saturday 28th July:
• Suggested route is 61.3 miles (normally 23.6 miles)
• Journey time is 2 hours, 18 minutes (normally 43 minutes)
• The fare calculation based on the suggested route is £215 (normally around £85 – £90)
Could you please advise:
• How this is justified to passengers?
• How this fits into the “greenest games” concept that has been so widely talked about?
A London Taxi makes, on average, 20 journeys a day. A proportion of these journeys will undoubtedly be passengers who would have otherwise used their own vehicles.
It is LOCOG and TfL’s responsibility to ensure that traffic flows as quickly as possible during games times to ensure a smooth traffic flow. We feel there is an opportunity to use London Taxi’s as part of the promotional material to discourage private vehicle use, whether visiting the games or going about their day to day activities. By allowing use of the games lanes this could help to keep fares at the lowest possible price whilst also contributing to the pollution problems that London faces.
It is our understanding that LOCOG have a Duty of Care to ensure the least possible pollution. Additional vehicles sat in heavy traffic and stop / starting will result in a disproportionate increase in pollution.
We feel strongly that if LOCOG allowed taxis full access to the Games Lanes it would help to reduce traffic congestion and pollution in London. This would help both visitors to the games and normal taxi users (many of whom have mobility impairments) to have a more pleasant experience and to not be put off by potentially significant increases in taxi fares.
As well as a reduction in the number of cars on the road, those that remain will have lower emissions because they are travelling more freely.
5. Taking into account all of the above, will LOCOG consider a change of heart and allow taxis into Games Lanes?
At a recent meeting with TfL, the UCG raised concerns regarding the proposed routes on the ‘Get Ahead of the Games’ (GAOTG) website. TfL explained that the messages on this website aren’t necessarily directed at taxi drivers and that it was accepted that taxi drivers would use their Knowledge to calculate the best possible route for the passenger, taking road restrictions into account.
The UCG does not agree with this. Taxi drivers will be hampered in effectively using their Knowledge skills to calculate the best possible route due to the significant disruption the Games Lanes will cause to the main routes and also to every possible alternative.
Exclusion from many key roads which will be occupied by games lanes, taxis will, in effect enjoy no benefits over the general public and we cannot see how anything other than the suggested routes would apply to all taxi journeys also.
The vast majority of taxi driver’s work is impacted entirely upon the routes that the Games Lanes will be in operation.
Black Cabs were used as part of the bid that won London the Games. We expect that this is partly because all London Taxis are wheelchair accessible.
Taxi drivers can legally refuse a fare that is in excess of the compellable distance (12 miles) or if the anticipated length of journey will take more than 1 hour. Whilst the UCG will not be advocating to its members to do this, it is very likely that some taxi drivers will because of the stress and hassle it will cause them and the passenger complaints, particularly if the fare is going in completely the opposite direction to the taxi driver as they will have a significant increase in journey time “empty” to get back to where they need to be.
The media are already running stories of disabled passengers being refused fares (it should be noted that the UCG condemns any driver that refuses a fare on these grounds) but this will no doubt be highlighted in the media. A recent C4 news item looked at accessibility of London Transport and as well as highlighting problems experienced on tubes and buses, they also covered taxis. It is clear that the media see London Taxis as part of an overall transport solution in London. It is also clear that when it suits them, LOCOG, the ODA and TfL see it the same way as they are very quick to “claim” 22,000 wheelchair accessible vehicles.
Many mobility impaired passengers have little choice but to use a Licensed Taxi or this is their preferred option for getting around.
6. Why shouldn’t they have the choice of doing this at the cheapest possible cost and in the most convenient way?
7. Apart from the ‘Games family’ what other road users will be able to use the Games Lanes?
8. TfL has provided a list of nearside Games Lanes. It is noted and appreciated that taxis have access to Vauxhall Bridge Road and Gloucester Place Games Lanes. Can you please advise whether any other types of vehicle has access to these or any other games lanes (whether nearside or offside) in any of the lanes?
9. What provisions are in place to allow Buses and Taxis to set down or pick up passengers from the kerbside for Games Lanes where access is not permitted to either type of vehicle?
10. Can you advise how passenger safety will be dealt with if they are trying to hail a taxi from a kerbside that is adjacent to a nearside Games Lane that a taxi is not permitted to enter? Whilst we are sure you will answer that the passenger will know not to do this we suggest you look at the situation at Kings Cross where taxis are not permitted to stop. Passengers will often run across a lane in order to secure a taxi.
11. Can you advise what you will be doing to help taxi drivers explain to passengers on board, particularly those with mobility impairments, that they cannot be dropped off exactly where they want and they will have to walk as the nearest legal set down point is some distance away from their destination?
12. Can you advise what provisions are in place for cyclists for nearside games lanes?
13. At a recent meeting with TfL, John Mason committed to raise UCG concerns over enforcement with the relevant TfL team. Has this been done yet as no information has been provided on this issue.
14. Can you confirm whether adjustments to traffic signals are applicable to all road users or will there be separate controls for the Games Lanes?
15. What contingency plans are in place should you fail to keep London moving?
16. Will Games Lanes be opened up if a major incident takes place on any of the different modes of transport (i.e. tubes / trains etc.)?
17. Are there any exceptions to the hours of operation to the lanes (0600hrs to 0000 hrs daily) where they will be in operation for longer?
18. Where taxi ranks are situated an unreasonable distance away from games venues, what provisions are in place for wheelchair passengers and the elderly?
We ran through all of these questions and also had the opportunity to ask follow up questions during the meeting and received answers to most of them. However, LOCOG / ODA / TfL committed to providing a full written response by Monday 25 June which we will notify you asap. In the meantime, the significant points to come out of the Q&A session are:
The M4 Games Lane (the former Bus Lane) and part of the A4 are not TfL roads. The Secretary of State at the time (Philip Hammond) decided that this stretch of road would be a Games Lane. This is controlled and operated by the Highways Agency and not TfL.
The ORN build and implementation timetable is as follows:
• From Sunday 1 July: Marking out of Games lanes and other road markings begins. Variable Message Signs (VMS) along the route will clearly state to drivers that they may continue to use the road network as normal and are not restricted from using the lanes marked out with the Games symbols until operation of the ORN begins on 25 July. Adjustments will also be made to over 1,300 sets of traffic signals and the complete ban on all planned road works on A and B roads begins
• From Saturday 07 July: Reversal of traffic flow in Kingsway Tunnel (Aldwych). Traffic through the tunnel will temporarily flow southbound only through this link of the ORN which will be vital for assisting movement to and from the Media Hub in Bloomsbury. The temporary reversal will be removed in mid August after the Olympic Games, and is not required for the Paralympic Games
• From Monday 16 July: The Games Family – athletes, officials and the world’s media – will begin to arrive in London in significant numbers, resulting in increasing traffic, adding to congestion. As a result, the M4 Games Lane is due to come into operation from 16 July
• From Friday 20 July: The major, physical ORN build and implementation works, including installation of barriers to simplify junctions, will begin overnight on 20 July and will take four days
• From Tuesday 24 July: The designated standalone pedestrian crossings and parking/loading bays along the ORN will be suspended and blocked off overnight on 24 July
• From Wednesday 25 July: The ORN and the Games Lanes will be in operation and will be enforced from 0600hrs to 0000hrs daily
The Hammersmith Flyover and elevated section will have a Games Lane. TfL will confirm what date this is operational from but it effectively means that this stretch of road will be down to one lane when it is in operation.
A small number of Games Lanes (e.g. Birdcage Walk) will be operational 24 hours a day. TfL will provide a list of these.
LOCOG / ODA / TfL explained all of the work that has gone into encouraging people not to drive in central London in the lead up to and during the games. A Travel Demand Programme (TDM) has been in place for over 2 years. They informed us that these messages aren’t specifically aimed at taxi drivers but they have been working with businesses, freight and other services to get them to change patterns of deliveries, working (e.g. encouraging staff to work from home or change their times of travel). Their aim is to reduce traffic by up to 30% to offset the impact of the Games Lanes.
They anticipate the traffic light sequencing changes that will be taking place to help keep the Games Lanes moving will benefit the whole ORN as it is designed to keep traffic flowing as freely as possible.
TfL’s Modelling of Games Lanes suggest that up to 1300 games family vehicles an hour will be using them at their peak.
There will be a complete ban on all roadworks from 1 July until after the games unless emergency roadworks (such as a gas leak)
A long discussion took place on nearside games lanes. Although this is only a small part of the games lanes overall network the UCG raised concerns regarding safe drop-off / pick-up of passengers, particularly those with mobility impairments. Our concerns were discussed and it was agreed that there were valid points being raised. It will be interesting to see if these points are taken into account when the formal answers to the questions are received.
In answer to the question as to what other road users will have access to the games lanes it was confirmed that for the vast majority of lanes this will be the Olympic family vehicles only. However, for some of the nearside games lanes we were advised that cycles, motorcycles and TfL buses will have access. Taxi’s will have access to only two of these out of the 44 nearside games lanes.
We have asked whether ‘cycles’ includes pedicabs and this will form part of the response we expect to receive from TfL. Before the meeting the UCG spoke to some disability groups to understand their view on taxis having access to Games Lanes, particularly those on the nearside so that passengers could be picked up / dropped off. The disability groups confirmed they are supportive of the UCG in their quest to ensure passenger safety and convenience.
United Cabbies Group Summary
We believe we have put forward a very strong case for the Taxi trade’s inclusion into the games lanes, it is now upto LOGOC / ODA / TfL to decide whether to address our concerns and allow our inclusion, or to ignore us and press forward with their plans.
We await the answers to the questions. Assurances have been given that we will have full written answers to all of the above questions no later than Monday 25th June 2012, and then you the members will be asked to decide if you accept them.
We will then be balloting all full members on what course of action we take next.