Dave the Taxi Driver's
Guide to London
Driving in London
London driving is the same as in any other major city in The UK except that London is probably about ten times bigger with twenty times more people and twenty times more vehicles all competing for space in the pollution soup that permeates the streets.
When I am not working I avoid driving in London. It makes a change for me to use the Train and the Tube and occasionally the Tram. When I get to London as I have said, I prefer to walk around. As a tourist you can see much more that way, if you are able to do so of course. You can see much more from the top of a bus or from the back of a taxi without having to concentrate on the road ahead. A trip on the River Thames gives a much more pleasant and different perspective of the city.
One particular reason for my not driving is the persecution that motorists endure at the hands of the Greater London Authority. Those who have supported the economy by buying their cars in the first place are subjected to constant surveillance by the vast camera system that covers the whole of London .
They/we are regarded as guilty of the moral crime of contributing to the pollution of the city with a portion of it making its way around the world. The average motorist does not drill for the oil or produce it. Everybody would drive using fresh air if they could, I am sure. There would be no tax on that would there?.
I don’t know who first had the idea that car owners/drivers should pay to park and pay to drive. It was the non-driving, non-cycling Mayor Ken Livingstone who afforded motorists the privilege of entering the Congestion Zone (see below) and to pay to sit in traffic whereas formerly it was free to do so.
Commercial vehicles who are legitimately delivering goods or removal vans loading furniture are constantly targeted by the Parking Wardens. In short everyone who drives into London is regarded as a source of income.
If you are not used to driving in London it is always advisable to leave plenty of time to get to wherever you might be going because the smallest hold up can result in long delays. Normal traffic speeds on London’s roads are on average, slow. Any computer print outs you might use that state at the end anything such as distance 16 miles, journey time 40 minutes or whatever, will probably be accurate at times of the day when there is little or no traffic, such as 3.00am. It can easily take one hour and a half or more depending on your direction to cover such a distance. That is without a average delay. It is best to be on the road before 7.00 am. Any later and traffic will have built up causing long delays. Even at 7.00 am sometimes it is too late.
On Sundays when you might expect less traffic, the opposite is often the case. Parking restrictions might not be in operation so there will be thousands of cars lining the streets. Along the Bayswater Road W2 and along Piccadilly W1 there are the art exhibits. On Sundays the roads by Buckingham Palace are closed until late afternoon. Also it will be at the weekend that a large crane might be put into position in order to carry out work that cannot be done during the week. These reductions in road space contribute to congestion when you would probably not expect it.
If you are new to London then driving here can be a daunting experience. London is very crowded.
It is advisable to plan where you are going beforehand. The satellite navigation systems available certainly help with this. Not everyone has one of these so if you are consulting a map please take care where you pull over as a camera might spot you and you will be fined if you are in an illegal stopping area.
This applies to commercial vehicles and also taxis, although taxis can set down and pick up passengers almost anywhere.
Taxis in certain boroughs, when setting down their passengers are timed by a spy camera and if they happen to be delayed before they pull away, maybe to action a credit card, they can be fined for not moving on quickly enough. A traditional service given by taxi drivers is to stop at a cash point or maybe a shop during a journey, at the request of the passenger. This activity is now being discouraged by the use of more cameras.
Some offences have been concocted by the authorities, such as putting a width reducing barrier in a road( such as Theberton Street N1) and putting a camera there to spy on and fine those drivers who use the middle part which is reserved for buses. The road outside the 24 hour shop on Rosslyn Hill NW3 is monitored by a camera in order to catch people who go in there who have parked outside even in the middle of the night. Extortion in my view, albeit minor.
Apart from these cameras which are generally discreetly positioned, there are the obvious Congestion Zone Cameras which are visible on all approaches to the Congestion Zone (see below).There are also mobile cameras mounted on White Vans and Smart Cars.
Do not assume that you will not be spotted if you disobey a road traffic sign. For instance, if you are driving north from Kingsway WC2 into Southampton Row WC1 there is no right turn and no ’U’ turns are allowed. If you ignore the signs, go forward and then do a ‘U’ turn just beyond the traffic lights, you will be fined as there is a camera watching the junction. Speed cameras usually have warnings of their presence. Tower Bridge has a twenty mph limit overseen by cameras. Along Marylebone Road it pays to be careful not to enter the yellow box junctions nor to make any illegal turns as these areas are also monitored. These are just a few examples of monitoring. If you obey the signs then you will be all right. This also applies to limited access streets.
I don’t want to turn this into a rant or sound paranoid.
Suffice to say that as far as I am aware, for the purposes of national security, crime prevention and traffic monitoring, London is the most watched city in the world. The Greater London Authority and Big Brother are close bedfellows.
So if you are happy being spied on, to be targeted as a potential supplementary income and you want to drive in London, in particular the Central Area, you will find that many of the roads contain bus and taxi/cycle lanes. The times when these can be used by cars vary. Usually they are reserved for buses taxis and cycles during peak hours from 7.00 am to 10.00am and 4.00 pm to 7.00pm.but the times vary. They might be operational 24/7 such as the one in Castelnau SW13 or 7.00am until 7.00pm. Others might operate from 11.00am such as Regent Street W1 and Gower Street WC1.There are likely to be cameras on these bus lanes so be careful to read the operating times as you approach one. If there is a break in the bus lane and it continues some distance ahead of you, do not assume that you can use it. Make sure you read the operating times as these can change from section to section.
Also don’t assume that if you drove down a particular bus lane last week that you can do it at the same time this week. The local authorities sometimes change the hours of operation without warning in order to catch you out. Changing the signs without warning includes altering the bus lane vehicle access to buses and cycles only (Hammersmith Bridge Road, W6) and sticking black tape over the taxi part of the sign (Hatton Cross, Hounslow) to catch us out. The resulting fines imposed increase their revenue.
Considering the huge amount of money that is collected in fines the roads in London could be much better, Central London thoroughfares such as the Strand WC2 and Chancery Lane WC2 as well as Stamford Street SE1 sometimes resemble cart tracks because of constant repairs. The surface is often patched up and can be very bumpy. I also wonder how much of this money is used to offset inefficiencies within the London Boroughs (see the London Borough of Merton Inefficiency)
Taxis can use most of the bus lanes but not the contra flow ones such as from Piccadilly Circus westwards towards The Ritz Hotel.
Many of the major roads in London are ‘Red Routes’. That is to say instead of the yellow lines you might normally see painted by the side of the road, there are red lines, both single and double and extra thick (Wilton Road SW1).There is no stopping allowed on these routes although taxis can set down and pick up there. In front of shops and at certain other places there are small sections which allow parking or loading/unloading for a limited time. These also include spaces for disabled drivers.
For many years the City of London has had in place what is known as the ‘Ring of Steel’. This was originally built to deter terrorist activity and has involved closing off many roads and streets so that there is no obvious through route. If you don’t know your way through I advise you to keep away as it can become a complicated process getting out and to where you wanted to be.
The best ways to avoid the West End and City going from west to east and vice versa are from Paddington along the Marylebone and Euston Roads, Pentonville Road and City Road, Old Street to Commercial Street. The opposite way from east to west, traffic is forced from Pentonville Road down Penton Rise/King’s Cross Road for a short distance and Swinton Street to the northern end of Grays Inn Road then back on to the Euston Road.
Alternatively from the Fulham direction go along Cheyne Walk following Chelsea Embankment, Grosvenor Road and Millbank alongside the River Thames to Parliament Square, then Victoria Embankment , Blackfriars Underpass, Upper Thames Street, Lower Thames Street and up to Tower Hill.
The Congestion Charge came into force in February 2003 theoretically to reduce traffic levels by discouraging unnecessary journeys. Originally the Congestion Zone covered the area within the inner ring road but it was extended westwards in February 2007.
It was stated that the reduction in traffic levels would cut pollution, the aim being to keep traffic moving. Originally it cost £5 to enter the Congestion Zone ). In July 2005 £8.00 this was increased to £8. The times of operation are from 7.00 to 18.00hrs Monday to Friday except public holidays.
At the beginning it was noticeable that there was a reduction in traffic levels. People were staying away. By all accounts there was also a reduction in retail business. Gradually though, traffic levels increased.
You can pay in advance for one day’s entry, pay during the day or up until midnight the following day but that will cost £10.
Advance payments can be made for:-
Methods of payment:-
You can also register for a Fast Track card that will speed up your method of payment.
If you do not pay the charge by midnight the following day the penalty is £100 which reduces to £50 if paid within 14 days and increasing to £150 if not paid within 28 days.
Disabled drivers (blue badge holders)
If you are new to London you might think that if you pay the congestion charge, you will have a relatively traffic free journey within the central area, like you might have if you drive on the M6 Toll Road in the Midlands. The reality is that although you have paid your £8.00, you will find yourself driving in heavy traffic not just at peak times, but most of the day, as was always the case.
The official figures state that there has been about a 15% reduction in traffic levels. This may be true but traffic level reduction does not necessarily mean that there is less congestion. Traffic management throughout the area of the Congestion Zone has resulted in more congestion and therefore I would think, higher pollution levels. The reasons for this are:-
Several hundred more buses on the streets which include the impractical bendy-buses which are 18 metres long, cause many hold ups and block junctions. Bus jams are now common.
Traffic light timings on red lights have been lengthened.
The timings of the traffic lights from the pedestrian green back to the red have been lengthened.
Road works, although temporary in the locations which are being repaired are continuous and move around from place to place. Many roads are closed completely during works or have temporary traffic lights which are poorly timed.
Pavement works take a driving lane away from the road.
Building new office blocks etc very often cause a road lane to be closed for the duration, which can amount to two or more years.
Since the westward extension of the congestion zone the residents from those areas are able to drive into the former congestion zone area at a discount.
Bus Lanes which private cars cannot enter often have a build up of traffic which blocks the beginning of the lane as car drivers queue to move over in order to avoid it.
Regardless of the intention to ‘get London moving’ traffic has slowed.
In reality on most days it takes just as long to get from A to B as it did before the congestion charge started and often much longer. I don’t think there is any doubt that it was always calculated that traffic levels would only fall moderately and therefore there would always be an available subsidy for transport improvements.
There is an ongoing dispute between the American Ambassador and the Mayor of London. The Ambassador maintains that the congestion charge is a tax and refuses to pay. Embassies are exempt from such taxes. The Mayor has apparently stated that he would like to crush the ambassador’s car maintaining that the congestion charge is not a tax. The embassy in late 2007 owed about £2 million.
The vox pop that continues day to day in my cab seems to confirm that most people regard the congestion charge as a stealth tax, mainly because it is obvious that traffic congestion is still with us and significantly, that it was never really intended that it would go away in the first place.
Low Emission Zone
From 4th February 2008 until January 2012 the Low Emission Zone will gradually be phased in throughout part of Greater London. The aim is to reduce pollution on a wider scale. It will be necessary to comply with certain euro emission standards before a certificate is issued allowing your lorry or whatever to enter the LEZ free It is operational 365 days per year. Emission standards will become more strict throughout the period up until 2012.
Initially it will be aimed at the older diesel lorries, buses, coaches and large vans which exceed 12 tonnes in weight. From July 2008 this will include lorries of 3.5 tonnes and also buses and coaches.
The charge has been set at £200 per day for lorries, buses and coaches and vehicles over 3.5 tonnes. It is £100 for minibuses under5 tonnes, and large vans, motor caravans, ambulances and similar vehicles under 3.5 tonnes. This charge will come into force in October 2010.
Agricultural and military vehicles will be exempt from the charge. In addition Showman’s vehicles are exempt but they will have to registered with Tfl (Transport for London)
Lorries buses and coaches--
£1000 daily charge if the charge is not paid. This reduces to £500 if paid within 14 days and it will increase to £1500 if not paid within 28 days.
Large vans, minibuses and coaches--
£500 reducing to £250 if paid within 14 days and will increase to £750 if not paid within 28 days.
The same applies to LEZ charge as to the congestion charge. Payment to enter the LEZ must be made by midnight the following day.The set up costs prior to 2003,were around £162 million. The annual maintenance cost is around £115 million. The surplus income has been pledged to be invested in the London Transport System. Tube stations have been rebuilt or refurbished and many more buses have been put on the road.
My name is David Bromiley. I have been a Licensed London Taxi Driver for many years having passed the famous ‘Knowledge of London’ back in 1984. As many will already know, the ‘Knowledge’ is the strictest testing system for prospective taxi drivers in the world. As I am an Official London Guide it will be my pleasure to escort you on private tours of London, during which you can ask as many questions as you like and stop to take photographs wherever you want to. There are various aspects of London life that can be incorporated into a tour with a particular theme. Whatever you would like to do just contact me at my email address below. I hope to meet you soon. firstname.lastname@example.org