Tag Archives: rickshaws

In the slow lane

The meticulous planning by LOCOG to allow the Olympic family unimpeded travel around London could be put in jeopardy by rickshaws.

Cabbies must feel a sense of schadenfreude as their two biggest gripes – rickshaws and zil lanes – have conjoined with inevitable predictability.

The Olympic lanes and cabbies right to use them have been a matter of contention since they were announced so many years ago. Enter them at your peril, even crossing them you risk a demand for £200 landing on your doormat within days.

[P]edicabs plying for hire as the only unregulated and unidentifiable vehicle carrying the public in London have had cabbies complaining for over a decade.

But even with the backing of both past and present London Mayors, the London Taxi Drivers Association and Westminster Council to have rickshaws curtailed, or at least regulated, Parliament has not found time to debate the issue.

As MPs discovered to their horror that Sunday trading laws prevented the sale of goods within the Olympic site beyond a six hour period, now like a slow moving train crash the spectre of unidentifiable rickshaws using the Olympic Lane Network has become a reality nobody envisaged.

Now John McDonnell Member of Parliament for Hayes and Harlington has tabled the Motion:

“This House notes with concern the danger posed by pedicabs to the general public and visitors to London during the Olympic and Paralympic Games . . . Banning the operation of pedicabs during the Olympics is necessary to reduce congestion and in particular its impact on the emergency services.”

Will MPs find the time in their hectic schedule to settle the pedicab question once and for all? If they don’t resolve this issue the Olympic Family might think they are back in Beijing.

Turf Wars

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.

[N]othing 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?

Chinese Takeaways – Second Helpings

Be it Boris; Ken; Bikes; or Cabbies, nothing it seems polarises Londoner’s opinion more than rickshaws. When last writing about these three-wheeled wonders I received more comments than for almost any other subject. So at the risk of being accused of self-interest and ignoring the environmental advantages of using this mode of transport in the Capital, I offer this advice before you decide to be taken for a ride.

Are the vehicles safe?

There have been no major collisions which have resulted in death involving rickshaws, however the ride can be very hairy when traffic is busy, for example during the rush when the theatres finish their performances, or riding at speed around Hyde Park Corner. The rickshaws owned by the large companies who run them, known to them as pedicabs, are all members of the London Pedicabs Operators Association (“LPOA”) and abide by their own code of conduct. They claim to have regular safety checks carried out and a well maintained fleet of vehicles. Unfortunately only their voluntary code of conduct protects the public and therefore is not subject to external scrutiny. The London Taxi Drivers Association (“LTD”) commissioned the Transport Research Laboratory (“TRL”) to undertake an independent safety evaluation of the type of rickshaw most commonly operated on the streets of the capital. TRL concluded that rickshaws provided “little or no protection in the event of almost any accident and posed a significant risk of passengers being dragged along in direct contact with the road surface”; indeed the vehicles were considered to be so dangerous that TRL banned its technicians from testing them at speeds above 9 miles per hour.

Road safety?

The community police make regular checks to ensure that their lights function are turned on and give these vehicles a cursory check when they have the time, which in the West End at night, is rarely done. Rickshaws usually have seat belts, usually lap belts, and are not designed to carry more than three passengers; if there are four or more passengers you should use a second rickshaw. If you do need a second rickshaw, be warned, do not allow them to race; they always seem to want to outperform their colleagues, much to the horror of oncoming drivers. This rickshaw habit of racing around the streets of London at speeds far in excess of 9 mph prompted the LTDA to commission a further study by TRL to enable the handling and stability of these vehicles to be tested by means of computerised simulation, thereby eliminating the risk of physical injury to TRL technicians. Their conclusions reinforced their original findings.

Insurance?

Contrary to popular belief, the rickshaws run by the main companies definitely carry full public liability insurance; this is part of their voluntary code of practice. However, if you exceed the stated number of passengers you may invalidate the insurance. In addition, unlike all other types of regulated public transport an insurance certificate is not displayed on the vehicle so potential punters have no means of checking.

What do they charge?

The fare is a matter of negotiation between the driver and the passengers. Most of the rickshaw companies charge a basic flat rate fare per passenger (between £3.50 and £4) and then the driver negotiates his fee on top of that. How much more you pay is dependent on your negotiating skills and how far you are going. It’s no different than when travelling in a Third World country; you agree a fair price before you get in the cab and then stick to it and don’t listen to the excuses for increasing the fare at the end of your journey. You will find they expect a tip as well, 10 per cent is more than adequate.

Who are the drivers?

The drivers are thought to be mostly young “foreign students” trying to make a bit of money to help fund their studies, very few will be English students, but with university fees set to rise who knows? A few may have shadier backgrounds and unlike drivers of any other transport, they don’t have background checks even though they regularly carry children. If working for one of the larger companies they will have received training via the LPOA. This includes complying with a voluntary Drivers Code of Conduct and training to level three of the National Standards for cycling. The driver should be wearing a name badge; follow the road rules and make sure that passengers are buckled in on every ride. I have yet to observe this in practice.

How legal are they?

In 2003 the LTDA, in an attempt to rid the capital’s streets of rickshaws, launched its own landmark private prosecution (“Oddy v. Bugbugs”). The Association’s challenge eventually progressed to the High Court where Justice Pichford ruled that, due to loopholes in the law, the antics of rickshaw operators and riders were surprisingly, entirely legal, despite the risks which they could pose to unsuspecting passengers. The High Court ruled that an ancient Metropolitan Carriage Act defined rickshaws as “stage carriages” which is the loophole that permits them to legally ply for hire. There is not yet an officially recognised “vehicle definition” for rickshaws and at the present time they are still officially classed as pedal cycles which is another loophole and automatically exempts them from insurance and parking restrictions including standing on pavements and obstructing theatre exits.

There are thought to be 800 rickshaws (double the number two years ago) plying for hire in London, again that cannot be corroborated as the operators are not required to keep records – at least it’s not as bad as Dakar who have approximately 800,000.

Some have suggested that rickshaws be restricted to the Royal Parks as a fun ride for tourists, but commercial vehicles are prohibited from using the parks, again another grey area, are they commercial? Unfortunately Parliament would have to introduce primary legislation to ban them from London or specify their role in providing transport, and MPs it would seem are more concerned with their involvement with newspaper editors than ensuring the safety of rickshaw passengers.

Love them or loath them rickshaws are here to stay for the foreseeable future.

Groundhog Day

As you go about your busy lives, you might be forgiven to having missed this important date, for today is Groundhog Day. The day, according to American folklore that if a groundhog emerging from its burrow on this day fails to see its shadow, it will leave the burrow, signifying that winter will soon end. Only in America could a ceremony like this about a rodent have been dreamed up, and made an annual holiday to boot.

[L]ike Bill Murray in the 1993 film of the same name, I seem to be experiencing a recurring nightmare. Every day I go to work or sit down to write for CabbieBlog, it’s the same problem over and over again, yes it’s that Rickshaw post again.

As unbelievable as it seems, in London in the 21st Century there is still a major problem with Rickshaws. Whilst the third world is doing all it can to lose the last of these degrading pedal powered contraptions, some unscrupulous operators are clogging up the streets of the Metropolis with these dangerous and sometimes illegal vehicles.

It’s not a matter of ‘if’ rather than ‘when’ a serious accident or fatality involving a London rickshaw takes place. The rickshaw drivers do not have criminal record checks, and are not tested on road safety or their knowledge of London streets, with the result that the streets of Soho and Covent Garden have become a dangerous free for all with over 400 plying for hire and already one London pedicab driver has been convicted of raping a passenger.

Anecdotal evidence suggests that riders include illegal immigrants, foreign students who are ignoring the terms under which they are in the country by working longer hours than allowed and others who, under any sensible licensing regime, would be considered unsuitable for this kind of work. Do they have a rickshaw rider recruiting office in Krakow, because their numbers seem to rise exponentially by the week?

The safety of these vehicles is horrendous, the Transport Research Laboratory looked at the possible safety implications of allowing the continued use of these vehicles for hire and reward in London. Its scientists warned that “any impact with a motor vehicle” was likely to result in ‘serious injury to both passengers and riders’. Transport Research Laboratory also warned that ‘The standard of braking for a Rickshaw fell well short of that expected of a car’. The London Taxi Drivers’ Association are calling on Westminster Council and the Greater London Authority to bring a halt to London’s further decline into third world status and seek statutory powers to ban Rickshaws from the streets. With health and safety becoming a mantra to every council employee, how is it that these contraptions are ever allowed to ply for hire in London’s streets? They congregate in large numbers outside theatres, shops and restaurants blocking the entrances and exits as well as the pavements outside, forcing pedestrians to negotiate the traffic as they walk in the road and blocking fire escapes.

As a result of the media attention into all the problems associated with the Rickshaws and serious concerns over their safety, the Rickshaw operators are pushing for a simple licensing system that would allow them to continue working unhindered. London’s taxi drivers along with bus operators and drivers have to contend with the traffic problems and congestion and feel that the only way forward is to – Ban! Don’t License.

Boris should stop worrying about his bike hire scheme and concentrated his attention on why London councils allow three or four children at a time to balance on these death traps and then be driven the wrong way up a one-way street.

I’m going to lay down now, I feel so tired after that rant, but I’ve got a good idea what will confront me when I wake.

Chinese Takeaways

rickshaws

[T]his blog tries very hard to avoid profanity and believe me sometimes it is tested to its very limits. But these f***ing rickshaws are now all over London. What started out as harmless fun pedalling the odd tourist around the pedestrianised confines of Covent Garden has turned into a nightmare. These rickshaws cause massive congestion as London’s traffic queues up behind them as they travel at little more than walking pace on major roads.

The Rickshaw riders charge exorbitant sums in order to recoup the high rental fees the operator’s charge for the bikes. Up to £12 a mile is normal, whilst £30 per mile is not unusual. If three people get into one of these contraptions they can expect to pay £12 to the driver and then have to negotiate the cost of the journey.

The safety of these vehicles is horrendous. The Transport Research Laboratory looked at the possible safety implications of allowing the continued use of these vehicles for hire and reward in London. Its scientists warned that ‘any impact with a motor vehicle’ was likely to result in ‘serious injury to both passengers and riders’. Transport Research Laboratory also warned that ‘The standard of braking for a Rickshaw fell well short of that expected of a car’.

I suspect members of Westminster Council and the Greater London Authority don’t go out at night and see this problem. If a major West End show should need to evacuate the theatre near to conclusion of a performance, 800 theatregoers would be confronted by a wall of these bloody contraptions. We have seen alas, what happens too many times before with people getting crushed and trampled on when an evacuation route is obstructed.

And if that is not bloody bad enough these crazy bastards ride down one-way streets in the opposite direction with young children in the back. It is only a matter of time before we have a tragic accident.

Whinge over, I feel a lot better now, can I get off the couch doctor?