Thank you, Addison Lee

April 27, 2012

It’s been a week since John Griffin, the outspoken boss of Addison Lee, bravely issued his now-infamous call-to-arms against cyclists who have had the temerity to be knocked down by his own drivers and other assorted London motorfolk. So let’s take stock and ask ourselves: what, if anything, have we learned?

Well, for a start, I think we can all agree that those who sell bicycles must share the blame following the “tremendous upsurge in cycling and cycling shops”. Admittedly, I initially wondered why Griffin mentioned bicycle retailers. But then I realised that if there weren’t any shops selling bikes, there wouldn’t be any bikes either. And with no bikes, there wouldn’t be any cyclists legitimately using bus lanes (the same lanes which, incidentally, Griffin has encouraged his drivers to use illegally). As those of the car-for-hire fraternity might say: Q. E. bladdy D., sunshine. You can’t argue with that logic.

Another salient point – and again, I’m trying to follow the relentless course of Griffin’s argument as it powers away like a rude berk in a people carrier – is that it’s OK for drivers to hit a few OAPs now and again because, well, they just don’t see them. Cyclists, Griffin reckons, would be safer if they were trained, although if motorists are unable to spot a slow-moving adult human (not necessarily the case, but let’s follow Griffin’s logic here), then a trained cyclist probably stands as much chance as an untrained one.

Above all, I think we should conclude that John Griffin engaged in nothing less than a one-man festival of nonsensical, unfunny twuntfoolery that triggered a wave of anger that went far beyond our relatively small community of cyclepeople – and it was only when everyone judged him to be a magnificent, towering cockwit that he finally backtracked. He’s also been rewarded with a petition calling for the Department of Transport to revoke Addison Lee’s license. But I would like to thank him for speaking his mind because – and please don’t think I’m now suddenly morphing into a Rod Liddle-esque contrarian twerp – I honestly think his viewpoint needed to be expressed.

For as long as I can remember, most of the moans about the worst behaviour of cyclists (they ignore red lights, they weave in and out of lanes without looking, they ride on the pavement, et bleedin’ cetera) have been polished off with the same banal clincher: “And they don’t even pay road tax!” Setting aside the obvious counter-argument – “road tax” is actually a tax on cars linked to emissions, and we all pay for roads through general taxation – the notion seems to be that cyclists are mere guests, so it’s incumbent on them to behave better. But my instinct has always been that is not remotely what the angriest motorists believe, even though that’s what this small but vocal clan of drivers appears to be saying. What they really think is that cyclists shouldn’t be on the roads at all.

Now look at the resonant final sentence of Griffin’s clumsy tract: “It is time for us to say to cyclists, ‘You want to join our gang, get trained and pay up.’” The “gang” isn’t minicab drivers; it’s road users. The suggestion is clear: in Griffin’s bad new world, any cyclist who can’t or won’t pay for the associated costs their motorised counterparts already incur won’t be able to use London’s roads.

There’s a good reason why nobody with any clout had ever seriously argued for getting cyclists off the streets – as Griffin has now found out. But now, finally, this deeply restrictive view is in plain sight, and cycling advocacy can only profit from the authoritarian nastiness it has revealed itself to be.

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