A plan to kick some taxis and private hire cars out of three of Bedford’s bus lanes has been slammed by drivers and councillors alike.
Bedford Borough Council is consulting on introducing an experimental traffic order to allow ultra low carbon exhaust cars to use bus lanes in Ampthill Road and Kingsway, in Bedford, and Bedford Road, in Kempston.
A meeting heard only two out of 70 taxis in the town are currently classified as Ultra Low Emission Vehicles (ULEVs), which don’t emit the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide from their exhausts.
There are also another 600 licensed private hire cabs and the general licensing committee heard the trade has been suffering badly during the coronavirus pandemic.
“To needlessly jeopardise small businesses on the edge in the name of climate change seems wrong,” said Cllr James Valentine (Lab, Kempston West).
He added though that he was “in principle all in favour.”
He said he is a cyclist and the owner of a Toyota Prius hybrid and wanted to know if they qualify as ULEVs.
Background papers presented to the committee say that most hybrid vehicles do not qualify.
Taxi driver representative Tajur Rahman said: “Adopting or even trialling this option would bring financial hardship to drivers. We would like to ask the council to move this consultation to next year.”
Mr Tahman added that the 10pm pub closing curfew has made the trade suffer even more.
There are also concerns that taxis would be pushed into traffic, especially on Ampthill Road, and this would increase journey times and fares.
Jon Shortland, the council’s chief officer for planning and infrastructure development told the committee that diesel buses and petrol motorbikes would still be able to use the bus lanes.
He said the council has declared a climate change emergency and this is one policy designed to cut greenhouse gas emissions.
There are only around 600 ULEVs in Bedford borough at the moment but that is expected to increase and the council wants to encourage people, including taxi drivers, to buy them.
Mr Shortland said roadworks are due to start on Ampthill Road in February but the consultation would last longer than that, giving everyone the chance to have their say.
The changes are anticipated to cost £30,000.
The council’s climate change committee is also due to be consulted before a final decision is made.
The general licensing committee was being consulted as part of the process and did not have the power to decide.
But the reaction was almost total opposition.
Green councillor Lucy Bywater (Castle) said she is passionate about the climate emergency but would prefer to spend £30,000 on encouraging cycling and walking.
“ULEVs are not a panacea,” she said. “They do not produce carbon dioxide from their exhausts but there is a lot of carbon embedded in making them.”
Lib Dem councillor Jake Sampson (Newnham) was in favour. “We need to prioritise the environment,” he said. “The clock is running really thin on the environment’s wellbeing.”
By David Tooley
Local Democracy Reporter