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At the Addison Lee Die In

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Beware the wrath of the cycling lobby. In an editorial for the latest issue of add lib, the minicab company Addison Lee’s in-house magazine, its chairman, John Griffin, called for cyclists to ‘get trained and pay up’ if they want to share the road with drivers.

Should a motorist fail to observe a granny wobbling to avoid a pothole or a rain drain, then he is guilty of failing to anticipate that this was somebody on her maiden voyage into the abyss.

Which is a convoluted way of saying ‘blame the victim’. About one person a month dies cycling in London.

Griffin is no stranger to controversy. Earlier this month he instructed his 4000 drivers to use bus lanes – regulations that allow them to be used only by buses, cyclists, motorbikes and black cabs are anti-competitive, he says – and offered to pay the fines of anyone who got caught. But not many Addison Lee drivers (who are self-employed subcontractors) seem willing to break the law. Last week Transport for London warned that flouting bus lane regulations ‘is a criminal offence for which PHV drivers may be personally prosecuted’.

Cyclists’ reaction to Griffin’s most recent statement was swift. Internet campaigns to get the Addison Lee iPhone app (which raised £23 million in fares last year) removed from iTunes are in full swing, and 4000 people have signed a petition asking for the company’s minicab licence to be withdrawn. Last night a hundred or so cyclists assembled outside their offices in Euston to stage a mass ‘die in’.

People carried signs reading ‘John Griffin, Brain Missin’, ‘Cyclists’ deaths are not “inevitable”‘ and ‘Your City, Your Mayor: Vote Bike’. Passing taxi drivers, who have formed an unlikely alliance with cyclists out of a shared dislike of Addison Lee, tooted horns in support. A man rode around on a tandem with a skeleton on the back seat. At six o’clock a whistle was blown and everyone slumped to the floor. Fake blood had been promised, but I couldn’t see any. Perhaps it was too wet. After the die in, a man in a bejewelled waistcoat recited a poem he’d written called ‘Bicycle Rapture’. Someone offered free cycle training to all Addison Lee drivers. A few minutes later John Griffin emerged from the building to read a statement, saying that he only cared for cyclists’ safety, and urging us to ‘be aware’, and not to use phones or listen to music while cycling. Most of his speech was drowned out by heckles.

Cycling has become an increasingly important issue in the London mayoral elections, and both Boris Johnson and Ken Livingstone released statements about Griffin’s comments. Livingstone argued that ‘the mayor should already have reviewed whether TfL should continue to license Addison Lee to operate as a private hire firm in London. I will do that from day one if I am elected.’ Johnson’s people said: ‘John Griffin’s actions are irresponsible and unacceptable, and Boris Johnson does not agree with his comments on cycling.’

Addison Lee has donated more than £250,000 to the Conservative party in recent years, and in 2009 Griffin was invited to a party at David Cameron’s house. In 2008, the company gave £25,000 to Johnson’s mayoral election campaign. This year, he’s keen to stress, the bicycling mayor received nothing.

Comments on “At the Addison Lee Die In”

  1. streetsj says:

    I like “John Griffin, Brain Missin”

  2. Simon Wood says:

    John Griffin’s comment on maiden aunts cycling through the mist, so to speak, is a little brutal, but then he is the ultimate van man and not without knowledge of the road. However, the cycling world itself is obfuscated with unsayables. Here are a few.

    Few people would want to say that a cyclist’s death is his or her own fault, that is often best left unsaid. Cyclists are unusually vocal and prone to self-righteousness, vegetarianism and supporting causes they see as worthy and which may reflect well on them. The boost to endorphins can make cyclists crazy. The “ghost bikes” are macabre. Competition cyclists are nasty. Shaz Reade cocked it up in the BMX at the last Olympics. Everything about cycling is boring apart from doing it. The whole nature of how people meet their fate on the roads can be dark and mysterious, with strange forces at work.

    Recently in Camberwell I saw a bicycle trapped underneath a big truck which had dragged it for several yards, probably lured into making an illegal left turn by satnav. “What happened to the rider?” I asked a motorcycle WPC. “Broke his leg,” she said. “You’ve made my day,” I said.

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