One of the few advantages of earning a living plying for hire in a Hackney Carriage licensed under the terms of the 1847 Town Police Clauses Act is that, being part of the public transport system which serves our communities, it is permitted to use bus lanes.
There are no bus lanes in Abingdon, but any provincial taxi or private hire driver will regularly be driving some distances into larger towns and cities to serve their customers. Cities of the future, like Reading have plenty of them and they are generally well designed. Cities of the past, like Oxford, are more constrained by geography however and so is the transport network. On Botley Road, the bus lane runs almost its entire length, until it reaches the narrowing of the road before the bridge over the River Thames and it is necessary to join the queue with everyone else – via a priority traffic light system.
Oxfordshire County Council has a number of so-called ‘bus gates’ in Oxford city centre, which although not actual physical gates, if you travel through them, will result in a penalty charge of £60 being issued through the post to the registered keeper. There is a discounted rate of £30, if you pay within fourteen days.
And Oxfordshire County Council are currently running an experimental traffic regulation order, which permits taxis and private hire vehicles to use the Castle Street bus lane at the side of the new Westgate development, between 0700 and 1900. They state it is not a permanent arrangement, although it should be and moreover extended to all day operation, because people travel at all times of the day and night and they should not be penalised for it.
The ability to use bus lanes applies even when travelling to some far off places, away from my usual area of operation, such as London – although here this is granted to Hackney Carriages only and not private hire vehicles.
Reading Borough Council sent me a photograph of my taxi at the beginning of the month, legitimately driving in a bus lane within their jurisdiction. The notice contains a link, to two photographs and a video stored online, with the words CONTRAVENTION HERE helpfully appearing in capital letters above the car.
They pursue a strategy of sending out the charge notices regardless. No doubt some pay, but in fact, a licensed Hackney Carriage of any area is permitted to use this particular bus lane, even when licensed by another local authority. Obviously, the notice has been immediately appealed and if necessary will proceed all the way to the Bus Lane Adjudicator - a position in the bureaucracy of this country which I did not even know existed, until I wrote the letter.
Law and regulation of taxis and private hire vehicles is complex, with acts of Parliament dating back almost two hundred years. There is no justifiable reason for discriminating against those users of public transport who choose to use taxis, rather than buses, however, especially the elderly and less mobile.
As published in the Herald Series on Wednesday, 21 August 2019