A car free Oxford?

There is plenty of time for waiting, in the provincial small-town taxi business.   As I waited on Friday night in persistent drizzle for space on a more than five times oversubscribed taxi rank, I read through some Traffic Regulation Conditions relating to city council proposals to restrict vehicular access to Oxford city centre. 

A few years ago, I took part along with a local councillor, in a radio discussion about then plans by the city council to limit the age of its licensed hackney carriages and a few other measures which it said were designed to improve air quality.  

Where I am licensed and work, there is presently no age limit to Hackney Carriage vehicles.  It is one reason why several hundred are licensed by Vale of White Horse, but work in Oxford during the day.  Some of them then choose to over subscribe the rank in Abingdon on a Friday and Saturday night. 

That is all within the letter of the regulations.  But for those of us who work within the spirit as well as the letter, this results in longer hours waiting in Abingdon, to make the same amount of money.  

At the time, it was not clear from the councillor's comments if they had even read their own eighty pages long report, though I had spent three hours preparing for a less than ten minutes broadcast segment.   Such restrictions would have been pointless, due to the large numbers of out of district taxis working in Oxford at night, outside the scope of Oxford regulators. 

So it is with the latest proposals to extend Oxford's Low Emissions Zone (LEZ).  They clearly love their jargon and their acronyms in transport policy and a new study costing £30,000 has been jointly commissioned by the city and county councils, to "investigate options" for bringing about a Zero Emissions Zone (ZEZ) by 2020. 

Some local groups have been agitating for a car free Oxford city centre for years, even to the extent of capitalising upon publicity generated as the result of specific loss of life on the roads.   

A car free city centre - or more likely, one which is restricted to electric or autonomous vehicles only - would likely be disastrous for smaller taxi operators in Oxfordshire and for our day time customers, many of whom are elderly and disabled people, unable to walk significant distances. 

Several times a week, they hire us to take them into Oxford city centre, from Abingdon and other smaller towns in Oxfordshire, to go about their lawful business. 

When these policies are formulated, it is hard to see that local councils even have much of a perception of the business reality of trying to earn a living from providing taxi services to the local community. And an awareness of what would be lost when we are put out of work, because they have loaded policy in favour of those who can afford electric or autonomous vehicles. 

As published in the Herald Series on Wednesday 02 August 2017

  1. The Traffic Commissioner for the Western Traffic Area, Notices and Proceedings 2472, (Low Emission Zone Traffic Regulation Condition), (PDF 419.64 KB), 05 March 2013, as consulted 01 August 2017
  2. Oxford City Council, Study launched into Oxford Zero Emission Zone, 10th March 2017, as consulted 01 August 2017
  3. Vale of White Horse District Council,  Licensing Policy for Hackney Carriage and Private Hire, Policy Vehicle 8: Maximum age of vehicles, 01 January 2013 updated 26 February 2015, (800.2 KB, PDF)