Nick Cook: Tackle emissions but help cabbies
Two words are missing from the council's plan to introduce a Low Emissions Zone in Edinburgh: 'jobs' and the 'economy'.
An LEZ could be an important tool in tackling city pollution. Conservatives have form in this area, with Boris Johnson introducing London’s ultra-low emissions zone when mayor.
But Edinburgh needs a bespoke solution. Conservatives won’t support proposals that negatively impact the city economy or the jobs of ordinary hardworking people who need to get around. Take our black cab drivers. Few spend more time, or have a greater need, to drive in and around our city centre. Not only to make their living, cabbies play an important role shuttling people around, keeping our economy moving.
But even at this early stage, big questions exist around how the council plans to meaningfully support the taxi industry. Regardless of the final shape of an LEZ, support for the industry to adapt is vital. This is why I have pressed the council to explain why its apparent support for electric vehicles exists only within the vacuum of its ‘electric vehicle action plan’.
Major taxi operators have indicated they are interested in electrifying their fleet. Little wonder, given the potential fuel and maintenance savings. More than 80 electric cabs are already operating in Dundee, but they have public charging points.
Edinburgh Council should give a substantive commitment to install quality electric vehicle charging infrastructure, with a suite of central charging hubs for taxis and commercial vehicles available prior to any emissions zone going live.
If nothing else, a suite of commercial EV charging points could provide a good income stream for the council.
Perhaps this all sounds too much like common sense. After all, the council has presided over a doubling of the number of private hire vehicles, which many see as coming at the expense of the black cab trade.
Then there is the council’s divisive approach to the implementation of its blanket 20mph speed limit. It largely chose to set aside taxi drivers’ concerns, content to see our cabbies crawling along deserted streets at 3am.
There are still few better ways to gauge the political climate in Edinburgh, than to chew the fat with a taxi driver. Do so today and you will likely find great discontent with the council’s approach to the taxi trade and to drivers in general.
If it is to command greater confidence and quell the notion it simply wants to ban all vehicles, the council must proactively support our cabbies to adapt to a climate of stricter emissions. Failing to do so will simply reinforce the growing perception that our SNP/Labour run council doesn’t understand ordinary working people in our city.
Councillor Nick Cook is a Conservative member of Edinburgh City Council’s transport and environment committee.