Thinking allowed — 20 April 2012

Oh, the farmer and the cowman should be friends.

These were the lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein II for the musical Oklahoma!

And one would think by the rhetoric surrounding the pedicab/licensed taxi debate that a turf war was being engaged by the two proponents along the lines of the ranch disputes in America’s mid-west.

Nothing could be further from the truth, the dent in a London cabbie’s income caused as a consequence of business lost to ‘rickshaws’ is miniscule.

Anyone with a desire to climb aboard a pedicab, wants to do just that, they don’t want to undertake a journey in the luxury of a London taxi.

No, the grievances we, the London cab trade, have with pedicabs is that ‘Plying for Hire’ is not practised on a level playing field. We have to undergo up to five years of arduous study while on The Knowledge; have a Criminal Records Bureau check and take an enhanced driving test before we can ply for hire.

Private hire now have vigorous checks upon cab offices and their drivers and they are not allowed to prowl London’s streets picking up passengers.

But pedicab riders can pitch up, undergo the minimum of training, have no formal checks upon their suitability and then pick up tourists including children from the Capital’s streets.

We have to take any assurances from pedicab operators at face value when they tell us of their vehicles’ roadworthiness.

There is also a question on whether just about anyone can buy one of these carriages and go out on London’s roads without even the cursory checks that a pedicab company would undertake.

Public transport in London has been regulated for centuries, in fact it was Oliver Cromwell who first brought some order to cabbies’ behaviour. But now we have a group whose only regulation is self-regulation – it’s just not enough.

But cabbies biggest gripe is the sheer numbers clogging up the streets of the West End, and instances of them riding in contravention of the road traffic regulations with seeming impunity from prosecution.

And this the last point might be just a personal observation, but how is it that large numbers are allowed to congregate around West End theatres at the end of a performance? Not only do they impede pedestrians, including the disabled, if a evacuation of the theatre should be necessary theatregoers would be confronted by a wall of steel preventing safe egress with possible tragic circumstances.

No, if we are to continue promoting pedicabs as yet another London ‘icon’ they need to be regulated. Turf wars it is not, but we do need a level playing field. If not they should be restricted to London’s parks where curiously they are never to be found. Now why should that be?

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