The truth about rickshaws in London: Here's why Boris Johnson's crusade to ban them might be pointless

 
Billy Ehrenberg
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Menace to society? Source: Getty

Boris Johnson renewed his crusade against rickshaws, aka pedicabs this afternoon, the announcing he wanted to ban them on London's streets to "ease congestion".

His gripes are twofold. Firstly, the lack of regulation for rickshaws means no one is entirely sure how many there are and how to control numbers or the safety of passengers. Back in 2012, when Johnson first branded them a menace, he cited poor safety. At the time, he said:

Although there are a number of responsible pedicab companies, the fact is that these vehicles jam up the roads and consistently fail to ensure the safety of their passengers.

This is perhaps not supported by the evidence: a freedom of information request by a member of the public revealed there were just two incidents in the City of Westminster in the first half of 2014, both of which weren't particularly serious. In fact, there hasn't been a single rickshaw-related death in London in the entire 15 years they've been on the roads.

What's more, their numbers are dwindling: the London Pedicab Operators Association told City A.M. the number of pedicabs in London has dropped, from around 1,000 to 650 over the last few years, with many of the capital's drivers moving to new markets in Europe. Of the estimated 650 pedicabs, 400 are registered with the LPOA.

The Association called Boris' move "just the usual witch hunt”, which he has been pursuing ever since getting into power.

A spokesperson for the group said it had always been in favour of registration, and that it hopes a review of taxi-licencing rules would help the issue. If there is competition among transport options for customers at night, that could well benefit consumers, and, if the LSOA's figures are accurate, any fluctuation in demand may be leading to drivers talking their cabs out of the market.

Taxi drivers would disagree with this assessment. There have been horror stories about overcharging, with rumours tourists have been charged as much as £200 for a two mile journey. Taxis also claim drivers are reckless and do not obey the rules of the road.

Minicabs

Boris also turned his attention to minicabs today: Transport for London reckons there are 78,690 in the capital – a total that has risen by 12,268 (15.6 per cent) in the last year. Minicabs, like rickshaws, do not require the hours of training needed to become a black cab driver. Johnson wants to crackdown on these, too.

Johnson said:

We must be able to take action against the threat posed by the massive increase we are seeing in the number of private hire vehicles.

There are only 25,000 black cabs and 8,000 buses in London and yet there are already over 75,000 minicabs and rising. We're starting to see a threat to free movement of traffic on the roads.

The choices for late-night passengers are set to broaden later this year when some London Underground lines are to remain open 24 hours a day on both Friday and Saturday.

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