A Request for Scrutiny was made to Leeds City Council in respect of their notified intention to allow Licenced Hackney Carriages (black & white liveried taxis) to use bus lanes throughout the city. Hackney Carriages are currently permitted to use some bus lanes in the city centre. A meeting of the Scrutiny board was held on 12th July at 10.15am to examine the arguments and decide whether the proposed decision should be upheld, or referred for reconsideration.
Papers for the meeting are available at the Council’s website:
Councillors Illingworth (Kirkstall) and Downes (Otley and Yeadon) put forward their initial points to the Scrutiny Board first. Cllr Illingworth argued that cycling is a public health issue and that, as the council will soon have a duty to provide services and facilities to improve public health, they should not put in place barriers to cycling, particularly to children and young people. Cllr Downes explained that, according to the supporting information provided by Highways, the margins for improvement on journey times are negligible (a maximum of 125 seconds using Woodhouse Lanes, if there are no obstructions such as stationary buses in the lane) and that this improvement does not merit the change. Cllr Downes made the point that buses are large and predictable in their movements, and therefore a risk that is easy for cyclists to avoid. Taxis would pose more of a risk and they might move in and out of the bus lane in order to reduce the journey time as much as possible. Cllr Downes also highlighted that Metro (who will take responsibility for bus punctuality with the new Quality Bus contracts) oppose the decision.
I (representing LCAG and Leeds University BUG) asked the Board to consider why bus lanes were created: that buses represent a great benefit in terms of carbon emissions; air quality; congestion; and also a small benefit to public health in walking to and from bus stops. Cycling of course also fulfils all these criteria, however low occupancy vehicles do not. I made the point that Leeds is a hostile environment to cycle in, and that although confident cyclists may not find taxis in bus lanes a problem, we should consider new and less experienced cyclists who currently feel bus lanes are a relatively safe area. Perception of risk is the most important factor in people choosing not to cycle. I acknowledged the points from the disability lobby, and the point that for people unable to use conventional public transport, taxis could be considered part of a city’s sustainable transport mix. However, extending this special status to all taxi users isn’t justified. I don’t feel that a very marginal difference in journey time can be considered equally important as people not being able to freely choose how they wish to travel.
Opposing points were made my Mike Utting of Streamline Taxis and Tim McSharry representing Access Committee for Leeds.
Mr Utting commented that taxis provide a useful service to the residents of Leeds as a form of public transport, and that the users of taxis should not be required to be delayed in queues of traffic with private cars. In addition hackney carriage passengers pay for their journey and their journey is more expensive if they are stuck in traffic. Mr McSharry focussed on the needs of the residents of Leeds who are older or have disabilities and rely on taxis as an alternative to other forms of public transport and can’t walk or cycle. By refusing to allow taxis into bus lanes, Leeds city council is discriminating against these vulnerable groups and could be liable under the Equalities Act.
Highways spelled out:
- This has been a long standing issue for Leeds
- Of the large “core” cities in Britain, Leeds is the only one not allowing taxis into bus lanes and it’s important we don’t “fall behind” in this respect
- They are aware of potential impacts on bus services, cyclists, and equality and accessibility.
- In terms of consultation, all Ward members (councillors) were asked about the scheme; 11 had responded in favour; 3 expressed concerns and 84 did not respond. This is only a decision in principle and can only be enacted by a TRO.
- One reason that these proposals have not been put forward earlier is that the measures to enforce the scheme were not in place. Previously a problem with other vehicles using bus lanes, for example on Burley Road in the first week of enforcement cameras there were over 300 offenders; following a period where enforcement measures had been introduced this was reduced to approx. 100 per week.
- There are a relatively low number of hackney carriages in the overall taxi fleet and they are tightly regulated and licensed
- Highways did look at accessible vehicles but these make up about 50% of the hackney carriage fleet and the other 50% also provide services to vulnerable groups.
- Highways aim to “allow parity with bus services” for these taxis. It’s not just about time savings, but about increasing the visibility and status of hackney carriages as a form of public transport in the city.
- Highways would expect a taxi once it has entered a bus lane, to behave as a bus would do: that is, where bus lanes are not wide enough to accommodate a bus and cycle side by side, the taxi would be expected to remain behind the cycle. This would also apply when a bus is stopped in the bus lane: the taxi be expected to remain in the bus lane. When pressed for clarification, Highways confirmed this is a very important point and will be clarified when the proposal goes forward as a TRO.
- According to road safety records, there is nothing to indicate that the two services (buses and taxis) cannot coexist. They have a different view about Private Hire vehicles which would be potentially detrimental to (a) bus journey times and (b) cyclists safety.
- The Council is “investing heavily” in cycling via the creation of the core cycle network. Highways acknowledge a potential downside but the scheme will be heavily monitored. Monitoring will include checking of driver behaviour, e.g. not passing cyclists in narrow bus lanes.
- In addition Highways intend to monitor the situation of pedestrians crossing the road with two different speeds of traffic and the potential for accidents.
The Chair of the Scrutiny Board then took questions and points from Board members.
Cllr Lyons (Temple Newsam) agreed that the important point was the original purpose of bus lanes, which is to benefit buses. He agreed with the LCAG position that taxis do not constitute sustainable transport.
Cllr Urry (Roundhay) asked whether a Hackney carriage is still a Hackney carriage when it is not carrying a passenger. Due to the nature of Hackney carriages, they are always Hackney carriages, so would be permitted to use bus lanes when not carrying a passenger.
Cllr Harington (Gipton and Harehills), a very keen cyclist was not convinced of the danger to cyclists from this proposal.
Cllr Morgan (Killingbeck and Seacroft) agreed that cycling should be encouraged and that the time benefit for taxi passengers under these proposals is marginal.
Cllr Ingham (Burmantofts and Richmond Hill) said she “would not get on a bicycle because I value my life” and said that enforcement would be needed. In her opinion this seems to come down to a choice of prioritising cyclists over people with disabilities.
Cllr Akhtar (Hyde Park and Woodhouse) said the council should invest more money in promoting cycling and stated that the majority of motorists are irresponsible. In response to Cllr Illingworth’s statement that children and young people should be encouraged to cycle to school, he said he would not allow his children to cycle on roads with bus lanes in Leeds which tend to be main roads. He took issue with the opinion that bus drivers are more careful than taxi drivers.
Cllr Collins (Horsforth) asked why Private Hire vehicles should be treated differently to Hackney Carriages? (At this point a taxi driver in the public audience stood up and shouted at the Chair to explain to the Councillors the difference between the two, as they didn’t seem to understand. Cllr Collins replied that she did understand the difference). Mr Utting argued that hackney carriages offer a public service and asked why hackney carriage passengers should sit in a queue of traffic? He perceived the request for scrutiny to be an anti-taxi campaign. Highways responded that the number of private hire vehicles is so high they would cause unacceptable delays to the buses in those lanes.
Cllr Cohen (Alwoodley) said that the public health argument was irrelevant unless concrete evidence could be given from other core cities to show that allowing taxis in bus lanes had a negative effect on either number of cyclists or cyclist accidents/injuries.
The Chair, Cllr Rafique (Chapel Allerton) said he used to cycle but doesn’t any more, and summed up with the conclusion that there seems to be no reason why Leeds should differ from the other core cities in this respect. The Board voted and 7 were in favour of allowing the decision to stand, with 3 against (Cllrs Lyons, Morgan, and Collins).