Monday, March 22, 2010

Black Cabs and The Cost of Pollution

As usual, this blog gets the news before the BBC, who reported in a rather dumbed-down way the Commons Environmental Audit Committee report, which said that failure to reduce pollution had put an "enormous" cost on the NHS and could cost millions in EU fines.

But the BBC don't tell you much about where all this pollution is coming from. For in-depth analysis, you need to come here...

In Central London, if you walk around during the day, you'll notice that there are a few private cars these days. Most of the traffic is black cabs and commercial vehicles. A lot of the 'private cars' you'll notice have the tell-tale window sticker of the private hire vehicle. This is testament to the success of the congestion charge. But could it be that the people who used to drive into central London are now using cabs more?

Not that it matters much who is using cabs. As I reported before, The Mayor's draft Air Quality Strategy says " In central London where the [pollution] hotspots are, taxis are a particular problem, accounting for 35 per cent of emissions from exhausts". It's pretty clear then that you can't tackle pollution (or congetion) without reducing taxi usage. But the political classes are scared stiff of the black cab lobby, which has power out of all proportion to its membership. Black cabs have many of the same privileges as public transport - their own free parking, the right to use bus lanes - but they are in many ways as damaging in terms of the pollution and congestion they cause as single-occupancy private vehicles - which is essentially what they are much of the time.

Now it's pretty clear that there is a need for cabs, and they have a valuable role to play in enabling people to use public transport. But a lot of cab journeys in central London could be conducted entirely by public transport. And the buses would run a lot quicker if there were fewer cabs clogging up the bus lanes. In addition, cabbies know every nook and cranny of London streets, and turn the quieter streets into rat runs, which damages quality of life for London residents and discourages cycling.

But no political party or newspaper would dare say any of the above.

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