AS ANYONE would anticipate following the closure of a major thoroughfare between the north and south of town and gridlock everywhere, emergency services teams have demonstrated concern at the lack of routes for their rapid response vehicles, ambulances, fire appliances and of course police vehicles to take in order to quickly get to the scene of an emergency.
The latest route proposed by Highways officer Ian Large sees southbound vehicles using Market Street and Church Street to bypass areas of construction on the Promenade before cutting across the Promenade on to the tram tracks, but Large has alerted local taxi representatives that taxis are blocking Market Street off through “over ranking” and therefore enforcement officers will be ‘strictly’ enforcing in this area to keep it clear. Over ranking is the practise of joining the back of the queue of taxis at a rank, but exceeding the marked rank in doing so; essentially it’s an overflow of taxis from the rank.
One should not be too surprised to see over-ranking going on in Blackpool; it’s way too congested and expensive for a driver to tour the streets looking for a fare, and in addition to ‘huge numbers’ of rank spaces being lost over the last few years, Blackpool Licenced Taxi Operators Association (BLTOA) chairman Bill Lewtas claims a further 30 taxi rank spaces have been lost due to the Promenade closure.
In another blow to cabbies, the new tram stops that are being created as part of the Promenade works are raised such that cabs at neighbouring ranks are unable to open their doors fully without hitting them. This is fine if you are an able bodied passenger and can squeeze in, but if you are disabled, there is no way that the cab can deploy its wheelchair ramps safely. The lack of consultation and notice in relation to this rank encroachment apparently breaches the Local Government (Misc Provisions) Act 1976.
Further to this, Blackpool Transport have now placed a temporary bus stop on the taxi rank outside the Sandcastle.
Whether you like the Blackpool taxi driver or not, you have to have sympathy for their plight against the constant constriction of their operations. It’s almost as if the council are trying to frustrate drivers into not bothering to go out to work.
Anyhow, Ian Large has stated that if a bus stopped opposite the rank on Market Street and if taxi drivers were over-ranking, then there would only be a narrow gap between the two, which could be blocked by more or less any vehicle and therefore provide no path for emergency vehicles.
But the problem is not necessarily taxis over-ranking at all.
So here we have one, two, three, four, five,… six buses on one street, with the first bus not being anywhere near the front of the bus stop and the second bus not passing the lead bus to pull in front. Oh well, lets see what happens when the number 7 moves off. Maybe they’ll all move up.
Looks like the number 14 didn’t want to move up the bus stop either, creating horrific congestion and most importantly leaving emergency vehicles absolutely no chance of getting past. As you can see, there are no taxis blocking the road at all.
Watch out Mereside Tesco bus! Once again, Market Street is jam-packed with buses blocking the road, but there is no sign of any council officials moving them on.
The problem here is obvious. Ian Large might well have visited the route once and discovered some over-ranking of taxis, but he has drawn conclusions and taken action based on that single instance in time. The above photographs demonstrate no over-ranking, but Market Street blocked by buses. It doesn’t say a lot about Ian Large’s competence that he jumped to a rash conclusion such as this one when his decisions could put lives on the line.
So why is Large not lecturing Blackpool Transport here? After all, buses that do not use the full bus stop and cause a queue backing up to Talbot Square appear to be the real danger to life in Blackpool when the Promenade closes. Is it fair to single out and bully taxi drivers on this issue?
Of course it isn’t.
I just hope that in the short window of time following an emergency that if emergency vehicles are stuck behind a convoy of slow-moving buses whilst children are suffocating to death in a burning building that the right people are held accountable. Not necessarily the bus drivers, not necessarily taxi drivers, but the people that created this madness in the first place. Those sat in the executive box at Blackpool council, as well as the elected council leaders, have created what cannot be anything other than a tragedy waiting to happen.