Brighton Life

Minutes of the WHAT meeting re Taxi Rank 8 December

Background to why the meeting was called

Stephen Anderson (SA)
The West Hill neighbourhood suffered intolerable inconvenience, noise and pollution during the Gateway works to Brighton Station where traffic management was poor, and the Council did not respond to complaints and comments. Residents put up with the situation as we were told repeatedly that this was only a temporary arrangement. However, throughout the Brighton Station Gateway works, there were isolated instances when Terminus Road was used as a Taxi Rank without either prior warning or adequate traffic management, and this created an atmosphere of mistrust regarding the Council’s intentions.

A neighbour drew my attention to a report in the Brighton & Hove News on 17 November http://www.brightonandhovenews.org/2015/11/17/18-month-terminus-road-taxi-trial-set-to-begin/43618 which described the proposals in detail, and pointed out that the Environment, Transport and Sustainability Committee meeting on the 24 November had the proposal as an agenda item. At this stage, the impression was that the presentation to the Committee was very much a formality, and that the trial was to go ahead. It is worth noting the support for the scheme by Martin Harris of Brighton Buses in the article.

I then contacted local Councillor Lizzie Deane and suggested that a meeting should be arranged, where local residents could express their views, to which she agreed and the Council were supportive of this. In the interim, many local residents wrote to Lizzie Deane and Gill Mitchell and received responses that suggested that the proposal had been advanced as the preferred option and that local consultation would be limited to input into this scheme, notwithstanding the fact that no local residents had been approached for consultation regarding the effect of the proposals on the local community.

Present at the meeting on 8 December 2015 at West Hill Hall
Lizzie Deane – Councillor, St Peters and North Laine and chair of the evening’s meeting
Gill Mitchell – Councillor, East Brighton and chair of the Environment, Transport, and Sustainability Committee
Mark Prior – Head of Transport
Richard Bradley – Acting Director of Environment, Development & Housing
80-90 local residents

Gill Mitchell (GM) made an opening statement that the purpose of the meeting was to seek residents’ views on proposed solutions to the chaotic traffic situation that has developed around the front of Brighton Station due to the congestion caused by the overflowing taxi rank at the Station and queuing taxis in Surrey Street, which has become an unofficial ranking site (to consternation of residents). She said there was not one easy solution but that the Council has a responsibility to sort out the dangerous road situation and congestion, Station as the bus companies have complained that they are unable to stick to their timetables due to the congestion, and if it is not resolved by the Council itself, the Traffic Commissioner will force a serious action on the Council under the Traffic Management Act.

GM explained that, as part of the Brighton Station Gateway works, the taxi rank was moved to Terminus Road not on a “trial” basis but on a “temporary” basis. During this time the situation was monitored and it was found that a considerable amount of traffic diverted down Clifton Street and away from the main roads.

In September 2014, Govia (Go-Ahead 65% / Keolis 35% joint venture) was awarded the Southern, Gatwick Express and Thameslink train services that operate out of Brighton Station. These new arrangements came into force in July 2015. This change in the franchise operation resulted in a hiatus in communication between the rail operators and the Council, which sought dialogue to sort out the increasing problems that were developing over the summer, and the Council found it difficult to engage with the relevant railway personnel to understand their plans for the Station and its environs, particularly the taxi ranking.

GM confirmed that there was to be a meeting of the Environment, Transport, and Sustainability Committee in January but that the proposals for alternative solutions to the traffic crisis at the Station would only be put forward when the Council was ready with a clear, and consulted solution.

Mark Prior (MP) confirmed that the Traffic Commissioner was looking at the issue of congestion around the Station which is having a detrimental effect on the traffic through-put.

Richard Bradley (RB) agreed that urgent action was to be implemented with the help of residents’ input.

Jim Weadon (JW) resident West Hill Road, asked why the taxis were not ranked at the back (the North) of the Station. The answer from the panel was that this idea had been rejected by the private owners (ie the rail operators).

Mr Simmons (Mr S) resident of 39 years West Hill Place, expressed his opinion that the residents should have been contacted/consulted at a much earlier stage and that he was disgusted at the “stupid schemes that were being put forward.”

Lizzie Deane (LD) said that the licensing committee of the Council only grants 5 new taxi licences per year and that private hire taxi companies, eg Uber, will not be under Council jurisdiction.

Mrs Partridge (Mrs P) said there had been no consultation with residents to date about the Terminus Road proposal.

Celia Steer (CS) resident of 16 years Buckingham Place, said she could not see why any traffic flow should be changed.

GM said that the Terminus Road trial proposal would include measures to divert through traffic to Dyke Road and Montpelier Road, away from ‘residential streets’.

Marigold Ashwell (MA) asked the panel what the criteria are to determine taxi rank locations.

The panel answered that Brighton is a major transport interchange and that it needs visible taxi ranks. At the Station official ranking has room for only 17 taxis but 300 permits have been issued by the rail operators. The Council is constrained by the law in that it has no jurisdiction over the Station taxi rank (which is owned and operated by Govia) and it can only enforce breaches of over-ranking on public highways. It can also look for alternative ranks on the public highway, eg Terminus Road which used to have a taxi rank in years past.

Nick Ashwell (NA) called for the back of the Station to be opened up for taxi ranking and commented that in the face of the rail operator’s intransigence, residents must not let one street be played off against another.

SA said that with regards to the idea of the taxis being moved to the north entrance of the Station, amongst very comprehensive minutes about other proposals, he could not find any documentation of discussions between the rail operators (Southern at the time) and the Council, except a note dated 30 April 2013 when Southern apologised for the behaviour of the taxis. SA said that it is a well-known fact that the taxi companies do not favour ranking at the north entrance of the Station. Since 2011 there have been 11 options put forward as part of the Brighton Station Gateway proposals. The proposal for the Terminus Road rank put forward at the 24 November meeting of the Environment, Transport and Sustainability Committee included positive feedback from the taxi companies but zero consultation or feedback from local residents.

Mark Prior (MP) responded by saying that there had been a communication and information gap during the time of the franchise changeover from Southern to Govia. Before that there had been many discussions about siting the ranks in both the northern and the southern entrances of the Station, and Southern had been reluctant to use the northern entrance. When the franchise changed over, discussions came to an end and have to be started again. MP stated that the new franchise owners may be more receptive to idea of using the north entrance.

Mr S stated that the buses were in chaos as well as the congestion issues and asked why there were no representatives present from the bus companies at the meeting tonight.

LD said that at this stage, it was felt that the meeting was better to be community-led, and that other stakeholders could be invited later.

MP assured the meeting that bus operations would be part of the overall report/proposal.

JW pointed out that many major Stations in London and other cities have taxi ranking at both front and back entrances. At Brighton, there had been an opportunity to build an extra floor for a taxi rank in the car park at the back entrance. He finds it shocking that residents must fight for space and clean air in residential roads: the congestion is obscene. As a father of 3 children, during his daily walk to school along Buckingham Road he often sees cars and through traffic speeding along the road and it can only be a matter of time before a fatal accident occurs.

Emily More (EM) resident Clifton Street, asked why it is proposed to have a trial taxi rank on Terminus Road when there has already been a trial during the summer and it resulted in environmental hazards of fumes and noise at night. Police were called out when cars drivers were behaving like maniacs as they cut down Clifton Street during this time. Quoting GM’s opening statement about results of the temporary arrangement earlier in the year being monitored, she asked what the results were of this monitoring?

MP said that technically the arrangement was not a ‘trial’ because during official trials additional measures are put in place to prevent rat running. One such measure could be a ‘taxi gate’ which would include signs, lines, fines, and CCTV to control exactly what types of vehicles are allowed to enter the affected roads.

Ian Warren (IW) resident Clifton Street, said that when Uber arrives in Brighton, the number of taxis will increase and although they may not be able to operate on an official taxi rank, they will still be able to drop off passengers on streets near the Station.

Peta (P) resident thinks the north entrance of the Station is the most logical solution for the taxi rank. She questioned the definition of a residential road and pointed out that with all its houses and flats there is no doubt that Terminus Road is residential. When the rank was there temporarily there were lights and loud talking from the taxis drivers well beyond midnight but because the arrangement was advertised as being temporary the residents put up with it. With taxis parked up all along the road, any disabled residents who wanted to get into a taxi was faced with the ludicrous situation of walking or being pushed to the front of the queue as they could not call for a taxi to stop outside their front door.

MP assured the meeting that if the trial went ahead, the rank would not be allowed to extend back as far as Buckingham Place and that the Council would have lots of powers to enforce the licensing laws to govern the behaviour of the taxi drivers.

Sheila Morton (SM) resident Terminus Road, reported that during the temporary arrangement of the Terminus Road taxi rank, taxis constantly made U-turns, mounting the pavements while pedestrians were walking on it. She echoed the sentiment that residents generally did not complain at the time as they thought the situation was temporary.

Sarah (S) resident Clifton Street, stated that her biggest concern was for public safety and that her experience is that taxi drivers pay no attention to road laws. The northern entrance is the only logical solution.

Unidentified 1 resident wanted the trial to be stopped, the results of the temporary arrangements to be reviewed, and local residents to be consulted.

LD agreed with the suggestion that the trial should be shelved until the Council can meet with Govia and hear the views of residents.

GM agreed that the proposal/trial cannot go ahead before the Council is able to conduct a meaningful discussion with Govia to ascertain what their plans are for the Station, particularly the taxi rank. She suggested that residents (or the West Hill Action Team on their behalf) write to Govia themselves. She said that, currently, there are too many unknowns about Govia’s plans and alternative solutions and that she is not 100% certain that any report about the Terminus Road proposal will be put forward to the 19 January meeting of the Environment, Transport and Sustainability Committee meeting. The next meeting of the Committee is in March.

Jane Manze (JM) resident corner of Buckingham Road and Buckingham Place, said she often sees BHASVIC students crossing this junction, where the drains are constantly blocked (resulting in deep puddles) and where cars often cut the corner. She feels the combination of school children, the state of the road and careless driving is an accident waiting to happen. She offered to host any member of the panel who wanted to observe the situation from her window.

GM and MP said that, incidentally, they were currently focusing on road safety with schools and the importance of students not being distracted by ear phones or chatting when crossing roads.

Andy Barber (AB) resident Terminus Road, lived through the temporary arrangements earlier this year and confirmed that the experience of residents were 24/7 slamming of taxi doors, loud chatting by taxi drivers outside residential windows, and that recently he had counted 24 taxis in the 17 place rank at the Station.

MP said that if the trial went ahead, there would be ways of enforcing the proper behaviour of taxi drivers, including the threat of removal of taxi licences. MP did not answer an interjection from a resident who asked how many taxi drivers have actually ever lost their licence. He said that when taxi ranks are on the public highway, and they become full, drivers are obliged by the conditions of their licence to move to another highway taxi rank.

Bob resident Guildford Street, said that, in his experience, taxi drivers will always find the quickest route to get back into the rank, including joining the back of unofficial ranks, and he had never seen any evidence of enforcement to stop this. He echoed the general opinion of the meeting that there was plenty of space for ranking at the back of the Station.

Peta suggested that there could be a ‘trial’ taxi rank at the back of the Station.

Guy Hunt (GH) resident West Hill Street, asked the panel what elements of safety are considered as part of any new traffic layout design. The answer from MP was that any trial will include both technical solutions and that a safety audit will be carried out.

Janet resident Buckingham Road, wanted to ensure that the panel were in no doubt that the message from residents at this meeting is that the proposal for a taxi rank in Terminus Road is unacceptable.

GM said that there could be an option to do nothing at all but this is unlikely as the bus companies are regulated by the Traffic Commissioner and they will force the Council to take steps to ease the congestion which is affecting the bus operation around the Station. She said that doing nothing and not introducing proper traffic enforcement measures would also result in the rat-running getting worse. She repeated that a meeting between the Council Chief Executive and officers and Govia must take place before any decision can be made and she promised that the Council would consult with every household. In the meantime, other congestion-easing measures would be examined and put into place.

SA urged caution about the bus companies using the excuse of congestion round the Station being the sole cause of their operating difficulties.

Lucy Grout (LG) resident Buckingham Road, said she could not understand why such a flawed proposal had been suggested in the first place: the gradient on Terminus Road itself was very dangerous. Another proposal for siting the taxi rank in Frederick Place feeding up Trafalgar Street had been rejected by the North Laine Traders Association in 2013.

Sean (S) resident West Hill Street, asked whether there could be a resident representative at the meeting between the Council and Govia.

Andy (A) resident West Hill Place, asked why the Frederick Place proposal could not be revisited.

MP said that part of the objection to this proposal had been concerns about the impact of major traffic flow changes in the North Laine.

JW suggested that the Council should enforce a holding pattern that removed waiting taxis from around the Station into other streets away from the Station and that technology could be used to control the flow of taxis into the designated rank.

MP said that this suggestion had been considered but that Southern (previous franchise owner) had refused to look at this solution, and they indicated that the taxi rank at the front of the Station may be closed anyway. However, all discussions had stopped at the point of the franchise cut over.

GM said that one of the original design options had been to build an escalator down to Mangalore Way, which also belongs to the railway operators, where there was and still is lots of wasted space. This was her own personal favourite option, and she feels it is a wasted opportunity.

David Cuff (DC) resident Buckingham Road, said that traffic flow from Hove to the east side of Brighton is not helped by current restrictions preventing drivers going down Dyke Road into North Street and he suggested that this route be opened up, and if there were congestion it was more acceptable for jams to be in front of shops rather than in residential areas.

GM said that air quality issues are a concern for the city, wherever they are.

Keith (K) resident West Hill Street, said that it was a difficult situation but he was absolutely against the trial taking place. If it did go ahead in the face of overwhelming opposition he asked who would write the report about the results and what would be the local input into it? He also asked what the Council’s expectations are for the meeting with Govia.

GM said she was not certain that the trial will go ahead and it has not been discussed in Committee. Her expectations of the meeting with Govia are to bottom out a plan, put forward suggestions and get their response. If the situation gets worse, then the Council will come back and consult with the community.

Amy (A) resident Albert Road, asked whether there had been other options considered, and warned against the Council only discussing the Terminus Road trial as an option with Govia.

GM/David Bradley (DB) said that Govia was aware of the Terminus Road option. The key purpose of the meeting will be for the Council to ascertain Govia’s plans. The discussion will be about Govia taking responsibility for the taxis on their land, and the Council will feed back the residents’ feelings about the current and proposed situation.

Unidentified 2 resident Terminus Street, said during the temporary siting of the taxi rank in Terminus Road, people had to walk up the hill to access taxis, and this went on between midnight and 4/5am as the Station rank is closed overnight. Why cannot dropping-off be forbidden on Terminus Road, similar to the restrictions near the public swimming pool? There is currently no policing of taxi driver behaviour in this area. To say that there used to be a taxi rank on Terminus Road is a fatuous argument: it was in a different age when pollution concerns were a fraction of what they are today.

Femi (F) resident West Hill Street, said she appreciated the fact that members of the panel and local residents were attending the meeting.

LD suggested that a spokesperson from the West Hill Action Team (WHAT*) and a resident be nominated to attend the meeting between the Council and Govia. Green Councillors Pete West and Louisa Greenbaum are in the loop of what is happening.

*WHAT is part of the Council sponsored local action teams. These were originally a local police initiative, designed to bring local people together, along with other agencies, including the Council.

JW said that he had voted for the Greens in the last election and that he expected some payback. He suggested cutting Queen’s Road off as a through road and turning the junction round the Queen’s Head public house at the top of Queen’s Road into the main taxi rank for the Station.

SA said that this had been Option No 6 in the 2011 proposals.

MA reiterated her appreciation of the meeting being called and the concerns being aired.

GM said she gave her word that she will work on behalf of the residents and put forward their views.

Angela resident Clifton Street, asked that the Council put pressure on the rail operators and reiterated the message of the evening: the Terminus Road proposal is unacceptable. She questioned whether the Council has powers to compulsory purchase the land at the back of the Station.

LD said she thought it unlikely.

Tony resident Buckingham Road, requested that in the interim between now and a solution being agreed, tough measures be taken against illegal behaviour by taxi drivers, wherever they are ranking, but in particular in Surrey Street and Guildford Street.

MP agreed that the current situation could be improved by enforcement.

Peta wanted assurance that the outcome of the meeting was not going to place expectations on the residents to make complaints in order for action to be taken. Pollution is an important issue in residential areas.

Unidentified 3 resident stated that it is in the interests of the Station to have a good taxi rank and wondered if the Council could offer financial incentives to Govia to use the land at the back of the Station as a rank.

GM stated that she has heard that the taxi companies and their drivers favour ranking in Terminus Road; and also that Indigo, who is working on behalf of Govia, has recently called in all taxi permits and is putting the price up from £596 to £750, and they will re-issue 300 permits on a first come first served basis. As a result, the taxi drivers do not know if they are going to get a permit and they are not happy at all.

SA pointed out that the price of permits for Brighton Station is currently stated on the Indigo website as costing £647.

NA asked what income the Council earned from taxi permits.

LD answered none as there is no profit allowed to be made and repeated that only 5 per year are issued by the Council.

Paul Jones (PJ) resident West Hill Street, made a contribution which was not recorded.

Liz Baker (LB) stated that if the taxis were to be ranked at the back of the Station, the cost of fares will go up, so that’s one reason why the taxi companies do not want the rank to be located there.

SM suggested that taxis be allowed to go to the Station only at certain hours to mitigate the fact that there are 300 permits but only 17 spaces.

Mr S asked what involvement has the local MP, Caroline Lucas, had in this situation.

GM said she would keep her informed.

DC asked if the Council can use any leverage with Govia in order to influence the desired outcome.

GM said the Council only has jurisdiction over Health and Safety issues in the Station.

Mr McGraff (Mr M) business owner Queens Road, asked why taxis could not be ranked at the top of Queens Road instead of buses, which use the space not only for pick-ups/drop-offs but also for parking, sometimes for up to an hour at a time.

GM made a response which was not recorded.

Andy resident West Hill Street, stated that Govia must find a solution, and that Caroline Lucas should be at the meeting.

GM said that she will make sure that Caroline Lucas is informed.

MA asked if there was anything that the residents can do.

LD repeated that the WHAT will write to Govia and urge them to meet with the Council.

J re-iterated her earlier point that the proposal for a taxi rank in Terminus Road is unacceptable.

GM assured the meeting that the Terminus Road proposal will not be the solution on the table at the meeting with Govia as the residents feel that responsibility lies with the rail company for managing the taxi rank.

SA said that he thought that the WHAT should not send a separate letter to Govia but did think that a resident representative should be involved in the meeting if appropriate.

Actions Agreed
1. A letter from the WHAT will be sent to the Council, the Environment, Transport and Sustainability Committee and copied to the local MP, Caroline Lucas, citing the residents’ objections to the Terminus Road proposal.
2. GM will ensure that a meeting is organised as soon as possible between the Council and Govia; attending will be the CEO, Richard Bradley, Mark Prior, among others representing the Council.
3. MP will ensure that enforcement measures are implemented in Surrey Street, Guildford Street and the public highways around the Station to mitigate the current issues of congestion and illegal ranking.
4. LD asked that residents monitor the behaviour of taxi drivers, record their licence numbers and send any photographic evidence onto her.
5. LD said that as Colette Wilson, the editor of ‘The Whistler’ was present at the meeting, news of proposals, meetings, progress and general updates will be publicised in the West Hill Community Association’s local newspaper, ‘The Whistler’, which is published every two months and which also has an online edition (www.westhillwhistler.wordpress.com) where news can be published immediately as required.
6. GM said that the implementation of the Terminus Road trial will be suspended pending a report (based on the outcome of the meeting with Govia and subsequent consultation with residents) being presented to the Environment, Transport and Sustainability Committee, at a date to be advised.

 

Minutes taken by Colette Wilson 

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