Report of the Interim Executive Director Environment.
The Committee considered a report of the Interim Executive Director, Environment updating Members on the All Change at Bank project.
An Officer stated that the report was a summary of the work undertaken since July 2023 following the Court of Common Council approval to pause further work on the traffic modelling exercise at Bank Junction and to instead focus on identifying and evidencing the need for change and how this could be best addressed. Further work had been undertaken to understand the potential latent demand regarding taxis. The Court of Common Council had also requested that a progress report be submitted to its December 2023 meeting.
The Officer stated that the report contained the information that had been collected and analysed to date. The work undertaken to date on taxi volumes showed that there had been a significant reduction in the volume of taxis near Bank and across the City when comparing figures from 2017 and 2022. This was not dissimilar to the figures in parts of Westminster or in terms of volumes of taxis entering the congestion charge area in the same timeframes.
Members were informed that there had been a continued trend of a reduction in the total number of licensed taxi drivers and vehicle volumes for many years. However, this data was likely to help to support the way forward for establishing an agreed approach to the latent demand issues for the traffic modelling requirements with TfL.
The Officer stated, that it was recognised that there had been some dissatisfaction in the proposed timeframes of the possible implementation of any findings from this review, and Officers considered that there was an opportunity to accelerate this by three to four months and outlined this option to Members. The Officer advised that the other options were to continue with the methodology as agreed in July 2023 by the Court of Common Council, or to stop the review.
The Officer informed Members that a further report would be presented to Members of the Planning and Transportation Committee by May 2024 with the final findings of the data collection, the traffic modelling and the updated equalities analysis included. It would recommend the next steps to either close the review or to proceed in terms of progressing changes to the traffic orders at Bank Junction.
Deputy Thompson addressed the Committee. He spoke in favour of Option B, the option recommended by Officers. He stated however that he would prefer for the City to take back control from TfL and implement a trial lifting of restriction on licensed hackney carriages across Bank Junction and Bishopsgate but have been advised this would be difficult and so he proposed that the City’s relationship with TfL be reset. He raised concerns that TfL had closed two lines on the day of the Lord Mayor’s Show with no consultation with the City. He also raised concerns on the restrictions by TfL on London Bridge which meant high volumes of traffic were driving across the iconic Tower Bridge, which was not designed for this. He stated that this caused congestion and wear and tear on the bridge and expense on the City Bridge Foundation. Deputy Thompson stated that short trips across the City could be long and expensive and as a result, many black taxis avoided the City.
He further stated that it could be very difficult to hail a cab on the street especially at night whilst they remained readily available in the West End. He stated that there being fewer cabs post COVID was as a result of the restrictions that were being imposed, as shown by taxi app data and discussions with black taxi drivers.
Deputy Thompson stated that in the trial of 2017, Members were given assurances the restrictions could be varied easily if access for black taxis was an issue but this was not the case and was the reason a motion was put to the Court of Common Council in April 2022. He stated that this issue was a problem for businesses in his ward and raised concern that although there was the possibility of an easing of restrictions, this would not be until 2025. Deputy Thompson outlined a number of cases where the shortage of taxis was providing significant issues and stated that he considered that the restrictions were discriminatory against the elderly and those with mobility issues and were causing significant issues for individuals and businesses. He stated that numerous black taxi drivers backed up these experiences. He also stated that restrictions should be lifted for women's safety, for a safe and vibrant nighttime economy, to encourage businesses to locate and remain in the City, to encourage taxi drivers to the City, for economic growth, for vibrant hospitality and to support Destination City, businesses and the City’s 10 million annual visitors.
Deputy Thompson raised concerns about there being difficulties during the Lord Mayor’s Show as a result of the changes to Bank Junction.
He also stated that black taxis were the safest vehicles on the City’s roads and were part of the public transport system so should be permitted where buses were. He asked Members to support Option B in the Officer report.
The Chairman asked for Members’ questions to Officers.
A number of Members raised concerns about businesses suffering due to a lack of taxis, issues where staff were required to work early mornings or night shifts, where people had to travel to business meetings and where people did not have the time to use other methods of transport. It was also stated that many foreign investors coming into the city would expect to use taxis and visitors would not have Apps for booking other taxis and could experience difficulties in hailing a black cab. A Member stated that as part of Destination City, it was important to encourage people, visitors, families, workers, everyone into the city.
The Chairman asked Officers about the most efficient method to have a decision made by the Court of Common Council and was informed that Option B, as outlined in the report was the most efficient, robust method to ease restrictions if that was the decision of Members. A Member asked whether, if option B was chosen, Officers could discuss with TfL and others with an interest to find a solution that would enable taxi capacity at Bank Junction to be increased sooner than summer 2025. An Officer stated that as any party could take out a judicial review, a negotiated settlement with TfL would not stop the possibility or likelihood of a challenge.
The Chairman asked Officers to explain what would happen if Members decided to stop further work and put in an experimental traffic order. An Officer stated there was a clear legislative process to be followed. Modelling and data were required and without these there could be legal challenge. TfL was the Strategic Transport Authority and had the right of oversight over the way in which some streets were managed.
Members commented on the Bank Junction Taxi Availability and Analysis Report which seemed to suggest that availability was a Londonwide problem and was not unique to the city, with the comparatives between Westminster and the City showing the problem did not seem to be worse in the city. A Member asked for clarification on whether opening Bank Junction would resolve the problem as this did not seem to be supported by the evidence in the report. An Officer stated that some comparisons had been made with Oxford Street and Regent Street by working with Westminster, the data in the appendix was an interim report and further information would be provided in due course. The Officer stated that the high-level data suggested taxi availability was an issue across central London and that the numbers of licenced drivers and licenced vehicles had been decreasing over a long period of time.
Members discussed Bank Junction currently being open to taxis after 7pm and measures that could help increase numbers of taxis at nighttime including more taxi ranks and charging points. An Officer referred to paragraph 29 and 30 of the Officer report and stated that Cheapside had been opened up to taxis, there was a marshalling scheme at Liverpool Street and a taxi rank put in outside the Ned. He stated that although taxi availability was a pan-London phenomenon, City focused improvements were being implemented. A Member asked if work was being undertaken to see why more taxis were not in the City in the evening as Bank Junction was open to them at this time. An Officer stated that the current data collection was high-level and aggregated. When individual sites were considered, it would be possible to see where there were differences in taxi availability across the day and the quantity of vehicles in the City in the evening period. It was anticipated that this would inform the position as to whether or not reopening Bank Junction to taxis during the day, would result in more taxi drivers there in the day who therefore might then be there in the evening too. A Member suggested an education piece could be undertaken as some drivers seemed unaware they could drive through the junction at other times and this could increase the number of taxis in the City in the evening. Another Member asked that modelling be undertaken with sufficient granularity e.g. three hour by three hour availability.
Members discussed the accessibility benefits of taxi use by those with mobility challenges. A Member commented that not permitting taxis through Bank Junction was discriminatory to those who were unable to use other methods. He added that with more people working longer, the number of people with mobility challenges would increase. Some Members commented that whilst mobility issues should be taken into account there could be other ways to address this, than by allowing taxis through Bank Junction. Members were informed that the equalities analysis would be presented to Members by May 2024 and would be a more detailed analysis than the previous one. The new equalities analysis would better substantiate the balance between taxis through Bank Junction providing a benefit for some people with protected characteristics and the likelihood that it would also disbenefit other people with protected characteristics who walked, cycled, used buses etc. Data would include Oyster card data from TfL buses to provide more information on the demographic of people and volumes of people using services at and near the junction and on those routes e.g. by using data from Young Persons Oyster Cards, Disabled Persons Oyster Cards and Freedom Cards, etc. to work out the volumes of people that were using those services.
A Member raised concern about the costs of the work. The Officer stated that a request was made through the Resource Allocation Sub-Committee for funding from the On-Street Parking Reserve to supplement the existing budget for Bank Junction and funding was granted. Therefore there was funding to complete this work unless Option C, as outlined in the report, was chosen in which case that funding would be released.
In response to points made about accidents at the junction and whether or not these would increase if taxis were allowed through the junction, the Officer stated that the reason for changing the junction was the accidents that were happening. He informed Members that once the data collection was finished and all the information had been collated it needed to be balanced against the risk to the people driving, cycling and walking through the junction. These points would be put to Members when they were asked to decide on whether to change the traffic orders.
Members discussed the Lord Mayor’s Show and the pinch points which had been an issue for some large vehicles when turning. An Officer informed Members that Officers had worked closely with the Pageant Master’s team when designing the junction and had watched the show before the junction was designed to see how it moved through the junction. The Officer stated that there were very large military vehicles taking part in the show this year and they took part on an infrequent but rotating basis. The size of these military vehicles sat outside the modelling CAD design process because normal highways were not designed to take that scale of military vehicle. Officers would ensure that the margin for error would be broadened and that a couple of additional pieces of infrastructure would be removed for future shows. The pinch points that would be addressed as part of the usual debrief process and this would feed into the planning of the next show. A Member commented on how good Bank Junction looked for the Lord Mayor’s Show and credited the hard work that Officers had put in with the Conway contractors to get the area cleared and ready for the show.
A Member raised concern about socio-economic inequality with taxis not being the most accessible method of transport for the majority of people. She stated that data on the public sector equality duty should be presented to Members and stated that she would welcome the City of London access group being consulted around this. An Officer stated that more detail would be provided on the equalities impact assessment and socio-economic inequality would be included.
A Member suggested that more consultation should be undertaken with businesses in and around Bank Junction and there should be robust engagement with TfL. An Officer stated that engagement from businesses would be welcomed the engagement, however, there had been a reluctance by businesses and commercial organisations to come forward with their views. The Officer also stated that robust engagement had taken place, and would continue to take place, with TfL.
A Member commented that the City of London was well served by a number of tube stations, mainline stations and bus routes. She stated that TfL had been updating stations with lifts, escalators and new entrances at Bank itself and the City was being more accessible. In response by a comment from Deputy Thompson that TfL had closed two lines on the day of the Lord Mayor’s Show without consultation, the Member stated that she had been advised by TfL that this was unavoidable as the works were critical. She stated the importance of looking at the impact on the bus journeys in the modelling because these were affordable and accessible and many people used them to travel in and out of the City in the very early morning and at night. She stated that consultation should be fair and suggested that modelling should also include what would happen if traffic was taken out of Bank junction at weekends. An Officer stated that the more modelling and testing that took place, the longer time it would take and advised that Officers would be reluctant to do this unless instructed to do so by the Committee.
In response to the Chairman’s suggestion that reduced journey times would reduce emissions and could be an argument to put to TfL alongside the accessibility work, an Officer stated that improving air quality and emissions at Bank Junction was part of the original ambition for the scheme. There was a balance between the organisation's different broader strategic objectives e.g. accessibility, transport strategy, climate action, Destination City, and they did not always perfectly align. Therefore all the information would be brought together for Members to make a considered decision.
Having fully debated the application, the Chairman asked Members to vote on Recommendation B (the Officer’s recommended Option).
Votes were cast as follows: IN FAVOUR – 22 Votes
OPPOSED – 1 Vote
There was 1 abstention.
The recommended Option B was therefore carried.
RESOLVED – That Members of the Committee
1. Note the contents of the report.
2. Endorse Option B: To immediately restart the modelling of the traffic impacts, running this work in parallel with the data collection and analysis. (Recommended)
3. Agree on the basis of recommendation 2 that this report is referred to the Court of Common Council for consideration.