© 2017 The Harpenden Society

The Harpenden in Question - being a series of editorial commentaries on important Harpenden issues that should challenge thought and encourage inquiry and action.

17. Increased Taxis

Summer 2015 Newsletter

Putting up the rate of taxes never seems to please but what about putting up the number of taxis? That may sound counter-intuitive, for a common remark is that there are too many taxis in the town already. However, even more commonly heard comments are about parking and gridlock, of how difficult it is to find somewhere to park or how often one is held up in heavy traffic. With nearly 25,000 vehicles registered in a town of some 12,500 homes that is scarcely surprising and they generate 25,000 'trips', that is, there and back, each day. In addition, there is a busy highway through the town and lots of people driving in from nearby amenity-less locations in multiple addition.

The basic problem is the chasm between the liberty and convenience of the motor car and the necessary rigidity of public transport, however regular and effective – and here let me post a note of approval for the much-improved 321 service, with its new comfortable buses, complete with helpful on-vehicle announcements and, in my own recent experience, sound and punctual regularity. It is, nonetheless, a choice between the sharp stiletto and the blunt instrument, the personal device available at all times versus the train or bus that, how so ever valuable for efficient and economic conveyance of the many, can't whizz out and pick up your shopping at the drop of a packet of asparagus. But that very mercy dash to the shops, with just one person in a four or five seater car, is itself an example of the social waste engendered by motoring. The airline which contented itself with only 25% of its accommodation filled would, rightly, soon find itself in the aeronautical equivalent of Queer Street.

If there is any sort of bridge between the two it is the taxi. Were there fleets of them for use in profusion, car usage could be lowered, parking could be more forthcoming and the roads could be less pressed. The costs of running a car are debatable but a rough figure, based on a vehicle of less than £13,000 in price doing something over 10,000 miles a year, might be something between £4000 and £5000 annually. That's quite a lot of taxi fares while a more prosperous taxi trade might reduce such fares over time. Surely a two or three car family might consider the alternative of factoring in taxi fares instead of one of those vehicles of which, research suggests, each spend 90% of their time stationary.

Roads remain dangerous places and road deaths have, over the last hundred years, become almost acceptable. Whenever addressing an audience on this subject I always suggest that for those seeking posthumous celebrity from demise by transport, the train is the better gamble. Die in a train accident – and years go by without one such accidental fatality – and you'd be on the front page of every newspaper and they'd even find a slot for you on the TV news. Die in a road accident and you're a peripheral mention in the local gazette. Happily, road deaths are declining slightly, the result of improved car technology, although that is little solace for an injured pedestrian, and improved medical skills, that is, there are no real decreases in actual accidents. In 2013 there were 1713 such deaths – but there is some psychological glass ceiling that allows us not to worry ourselves too much about this. Moreover, European Community research suggests that six times as many deaths are caused directly by vehicular fume pollution as by accidents. Consider the amount of money and resources spent on combating the alarming perils of terrorism and the column inches of the press and the time on the media given over to such awful threats. One wonders what the alarms would be if terrorists killed 1713 people a year.

Yes, there are other factors such as pollution and safety to be considered – and there are other notions floating about as well. A frequent minibus service, cheap even gratis, up and down the high street and along, say, to Kinsbourne Green, on a pick up/put down on request basis, with perhaps figure of eight alternatives taking in Southdown and Batford – that's one  that has been broached. Local authority taxi vouchers for pensioners, students, say, 16 and over, people with disabilties and/or on benefits, providing either free or reduced taxi rides – that's another.

Some people recommend walking.

Given that 43% of Harpenden children are conveyed by motor car to and from school (and recalling research a year or two back that indicated that on average pedestrian and cycling pupils out-performed the chauffeured) walking is certainly worth a mention but the most important issue would be a change of mind-cast. It would be useless to impose a pattern of taxi usage without a popular mentality in favour; the ones who fume about the slowness of the traffic or the inadequacies of parking are, of course, people sitting in cars contributing to both problems.

Eric Midwinter