Voices: I’m a black cabbie – here’s why driving in London is now impossible

‘Entire areas of the city are now permanently gridlocked, with simple journeys taking several times longer’  (PA)
‘Entire areas of the city are now permanently gridlocked, with simple journeys taking several times longer’ (PA)

I’ve been a black cabbie in London for more than seven years, and I can honestly say that conditions for drivers in this city are – without a doubt – worse than they have ever been. It feels as though every new day presents some new obstacle that hinders motorists like me, dreamt up by a mayor who seems to have made it his mission to make our lives as hard as possible.

Yesterday, the former environment minister and ex-London mayor candidate Zac Goldsmith, 48, was banned from driving after being caught speeding four times in the last year. While that sounds bad – especially for somebody whose environmental stance has contributed to the mayhem on the capital’s streets – I do have some sympathy, as well as some admiration, for the former Tory MP.

Don’t get me wrong: the law is the law, and if you break it repeatedly – including twice on the same road – you shouldn’t be surprised that there are consequences.

But the laws governing London roads sometimes seem as though they’re set up to catch drivers out. Although Goldsmith was caught speeding (repeatedly), on two of those roads, he was only travelling 28mph and 29mph respectively in a 20mph zone. Speeding? Give me a break!

Thanks to the introduction of 20mph speed limits by Sadiq Khan, London was this week crowned the slowest city in the world for drivers.

As somebody who drives professionally, I know that cars are simply not designed to travel that slowly for sustained periods of time. Staying at such an unreasonable limit for so long borders on the impossible – and, in many places, you’ll actually be fined for crawling along like that. Luckily, cabbies like me have speed limiters to stop us from accidentally breaking the speed limit – but most drivers don’t have access to that sort of thing, so they get caught out.

Speed limits aren’t the only issue for drivers in London, though. In fact, they’re probably the least egregious. Cyclists have taken over this city – and made my job a complete nightmare.

Whole areas of the city that have changed to accommodate cyclists have become permanently gridlocked, and simple journeys that used to take 10 minutes are taking two or three times longer. As a cabbie, that means extra cost to my customers and to me – not to mention the inconvenience both of us now face.

Tottenham Court Road is now buses and cycles only. The junction at Bank – a focal point in the financial centre where nine roads converge – is buses and cycles only. Sloane Street in Chelsea used to be two-way, but now a lane has been removed, meaning getting back up to Knightsbridge is a huge undertaking. The list goes on and on – but ask any driver to name the road most affected by cycle lanes and they’ll say Park Lane.

I don’t want anybody to think that I’m some kind of anti-environment militant, though. You might be surprised to learn that I’m actually in favour of measures like Ulez, because at the end of the day they can do some real good. Air pollution is a real issue in this city, and want measures put in place to ensure a clean, healthy environment for me and my children.

Living here, you can sometimes see the haze in the air and feel the effect of the smog on your chest. The sooner we do something about that, the better off we’ll all be. I drive an electric cab myself, and hope to see hybrid vehicles become a more affordable and realistic option for people in the future.

I just think that if we’re going to introduce measures to curb vehicle use and protect the environment, there needs to be a little more thought given to the people who are going to be directly affected by them. You can’t just put unreasonable measures in place to catch out drivers, punish them when they inevitably trip up, and call that progress.

It’s not fair to them and it’s not fair to the city. People need to get where they’re trying to go without fear of being fined or arrested – and they certainly need to get there without fear of being two hours late! London is supposed to be a city on the move, but right now it’s stuck in a rut.