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Legal rulings mean more schemes

Two recent court rulings clear a path hopefully for more active travel schemes to move forward in London.

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TfL recently won its appeal against taxi trade organisations the LTDA and UTAG over its Bishopsgate scheme in the heart of the City of London. The scheme and legal challenge centred on a 150m stretch of the main road that has been made buses and cycles only, excluding taxis and other motor vehicles, just next to Liverpool Street Station.

The taxi organisations had argued that they were a form of public transport that should be allowed access to the scheme, that the scheme and that the scheme failed to give due regard to the needs of disabled taxi users. In a surprise ruling in January 2021, the Judge in the case ruled in favour of the taxi organisations and went further to say all guidance and schemes delivered during Covid under the “Streetspace” banner were disproportionate responses to the coronavirus crisis.

This verdict has now been overturned by the judgement in the Court of Appeal. We are of the view that this is highly unlikely to be appealed in itself.

LCC’s view on Bishopsgate and taxi access

Our view (as stated previously in part) is that taxis, expensive as they are, and usable only by a handful of individuals at a time, are not public transport (in the way buses and tubes and trains are). Also, that as few Disabled people use taxis (according to TfL Travel In London data) the benefits in any scheme for those that do need taxi access must be weighed against the potential disbenefits to a far greater number of Disabled people who use buses if taxis are allowed into that scheme.

Allowing taxis carrying Disabled people with a modified Blue Badge enhanced access to streets such as Bishopsgate might be one future viable answer. But until such an approach is available, the very real risk is that taxis carrying many people who could and should use other modes would use Bishopsgate, and this would slow down and delay buses that carry a far higher proportion of Disabled people – and impact their journeys.

This scheme also does not seriously disbenefit those Disabled people who do need to use taxis. With the scheme in, taxis can drive as close to a Liverpool Street station entrance as before, and access to 75m (the distance from each end of the scheme) of shops and offices is routinely not available to taxi users in locations all over London – including pedestrianised shopping streets and large malls. So again, this level of disbenefit to those who need taxis must be weighed against harms to others including Disabled people.

Of course, unfettered taxi access everywhere, in general, itself impacts Disabled people negatively – as do the climate crisis, pollution, and road danger, all arising from high levels of car use – so while we must urgently improve all road designs coming forward, for Disabled people and others, that has to include reducing car use and not accepting the status quo.

The new Bishopsgate ruling

The ruling leaves the taxi organisations some room to appeal, although the Court of Appeal said it was “not encouraging it”, so any further legal action seems unlikely. And this clears a path for the Mayor, TfL and boroughs – many of whom had been wary of advancing schemes with the appeal undecided – to move forward on active travel schemes again.

In a statement after the ruling, the Mayor of London said: “This decision from the Court of Appeal is a vindication of our policies. Our world-leading Streetspace schemes are helping protect the health of Londoners, and this decision reinforces my determination to make it safer and easier for Londoners to walk and cycle, and to help ensure a green and sustainable recovery from the pandemic.

“The Judges’ decision today, along with the vote from Londoners on May 6th, is a double mandate allowing us to continue with our bold measures. Our changes to Bishopsgate make it safer for people walking and cycling. This central London scheme is the centrepiece of the work we have done across the capital during my first term. Recent data from TfL demonstrates its success, with 700 bikes per hour on average passing through the area at peak times – more than 11 bikes per minute.

“Bishopsgate has long suffered with a poor safety record and slow bus speeds, and the temporary changes enable safer journeys by improving the flow of traffic and reducing the danger for vulnerable road users. I hope councils will work with me to ensure we have a green recovery across our city, delivering policies that address the air quality and climate change crisis.”

Lambeth LTNs ruled on too

A similar case, against Lambeth council and its Low Traffic Neighbourhood schemes, has also been rejected by the High Court. Claims the schemes were not appropriately consulted on, weren’t truly trials and were not designed appropriately for those with protected characteristics were rejected by the judge who found Lambeth’s submission of evidence “compelling and unanswerable” on all grounds, and that not only had Lambeth Council carefully completed its duties regarding considering the impacts on disabled people but it had also evolved the scheme and reports as it progressed and resident concerns and data became available, and indeed that there was a compelling case for the scheme to have been delivered rapidly, in a crisis.

The Lambeth case follows several cases against Hackney schemes having been dismissed. But several more anti-LTN cases are due to be heard in court soon. But given these two legal rulings, it seems likely the Mayor, TfL and boroughs will be able to move forward again with greater confidence on cycle tracks, low traffic neighbourhoods and other schemes that a vocal minority oppose vociferously.

What happens next?

We think the most likely outcome of these two trials is TfL and the Mayor will be able to move forward more rapidly on progressive schemes to enable walking and cycling and reduce and restrict motor traffic. It’s also likely some boroughs will follow suit too. Many boroughs have still not delivered the schemes they have been funded for in the second round of the DfT’s “Active Travel Funding” round, and we understand these schemes have to be delivered by August. Following that, a third round of schemes must be on the way to being delivered by December, when TfL’s current negotiated funding settlement with the DfT runs out. That means it is likely bolder boroughs will now rapidly move forward on round 2 and 3 schemes. However, we also have local elections looming in less than a year – and it’s likely more timid boroughs will either want to deliver schemes now, or do nothing controversial until after May, if at all.

If we genuinely believe there is a climate crisis, then we genuinely need to take far bolder strides to tackle car use, and faster. While the pace achieved by boroughs and TfL during the Covid crisis is unlikely to be replicated anytime soon – the last thing the planet, or Londoners, need is a load of boroughs who despite funding and legal rulings in their favour fail to deliver out of fear of a vocal minority of opposition.

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