Road Safety Bill [HL]

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 4:00 pm on 22nd November 2005.

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Photo of Baroness Hanham Baroness Hanham Spokespersons In the Lords, Local Government Affairs & Communities, Spokespersons In the Lords, (Also Shadow Minister for Women & Equality- Not In the Shadow Cabinet) 4:00 pm, 22nd November 2005

My Lords, before speaking to the amendment, I remind the House that, first, I am a member of a local authority and, secondly, I am a magistrate who deals with road traffic offences.

I have been briefed by Westminster City Council on this amendment and it is also supported by Transport for London. It brings us back to a rather unusual mode of travel, of which there have been a couple in this Bill—that of pedicabs. I am sure that many noble Lords have seen them—they are cycle rickshaws. As a mode of transport, they are becoming increasingly popular, particularly with tourists, and I am told that around 200 now operate in the West End each day. Although they provide a useful and exciting service for tourists, they are probably causing an increasing number of problems.

As more and more pedicabs appear on the street, they tend to congregate at particular locations, such as Covent Garden tube station and outside theatres, and they are beginning to cause problems of obstruction. Apart from that, the specific problems that they cause arise from the fact that they park on footways and partly on the carriageway, thus obstructing both pedestrians and general traffic; they park on pedestrianised areas, causing obstructions in areas around theatres, including dangerous obstructions around fire escapes; and buses have been forced out of bus lanes into general traffic, which is clearly a safety hazard—though the briefing does not say to whom. There have been examples of pedicabs blocking the routes of ambulances.

Despite that, there are currently no means by which a local authority or other highway and traffic authority, including Transport for London, can control pedicabs. They are not registered, and not licensed with anyone in London. There is no legal means by which the city council can register or licence them itself. Currently, they are effectively treated as pedal cycles, which means that they do not have an easily identifiable registration number which could be used to issue a penalty charge notice. In short, the problems which the city council faces, and other councils are likely to face in the future, are almost incapable of being dealt with.

The London Local Authorities and Transport for London Bill included proposals for bringing pedicabs under existing traffic legislation until the proposals were rejected by the Opposed Private Bill Committee. The proposals under that Bill would have meant that pedicab operators needed to have every pedicab registered with Transport for London, in much the same way as other vehicles are licensed with the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency. They would also have to carry registration plates. Those, in turn, would have allowed enforcement action to be taken against them when they were contravening parking or other moving traffic regulations.

The proposed content of the Bill covered only registration, not licensing—as indeed does this amendment. It would not, therefore, have introduced any controls on the operators or drivers, the state of the vehicles themselves, or have required insurance to be carried. It is hoped that full licensing will eventually be achieved or required if they continue to be the attraction they are currently.

Westminster City Council's evidence shows that there are very good reasons why the issue of registration needs to be dealt with as swiftly as possible. This should not have to wait for the implementation of a future licensing regime. It is not easy to understand why the Opposed Bill Committee was not convinced of the need for registration, but it was not. The problems would appear to have been opposition from the petitioners and the Government, all of whom argued for regulation by another route, and the prospect of regulation by such a route being on the horizon. But it is not clear what that regulation route is, and any future Transport for London Bill could not introduce the powers to issue penalty charge notices for traffic conventions because a Transport for London Bill cannot address issues that are of concern to both Transport for London and to the London local authorities.

Furthermore, if legislation is required for licensing, this cannot be achieved through a London Local Authorities and Transport for London Bill, because licensing is only a concern for Transport for London. So whatever way you look at it, it does not look as though it is going to be possible. That is why registration is needed so desperately. London local authorities and Transport for London cannot issue penalty charge notices for parking and moving traffic offences to pedicabs without it.

Pedicabs pose potentially serious road safety problems in and around the West End. I also remind noble Lords that people are carried in these pedicabs. They therefore need to be safe before people clamber into them. They are also, I understand, becoming increasing costly, although of course registration would not deal with that. I beg to move.