Taxi! – The new Cab Rank at Paddington

Other than to report on GLA meetings we don’t normally mention taxis on London Reconnections. The reason for this is simple. They are boring. It was quite a surprise therefore when the conversation at an editorial meeting digressed to discuss the taxi rank at Paddington. The thing that struck us was how well planned and well organised it is. So, by way of a contrast to our usual themes, we take a look at recent developments there.

Taxis – Public Transport or Not ?

As we primarily write about public transport in London it is questionable whether we really should be devoting space to taxis. It does seem that taxis do occupy a sort of twilight zone between public and private transport. In a sense a taxi for hire is public transport because any member of the public can use it if they are willing to pay the fare but as soon as it is no longer for hire it is a private vehicle although it is of course regulated.

The Part Taxis Play in a Public Transport Role

Some would argue that taxis have no place in the overall scenario of public transport and should not be afforded any priority or special consideration. Many pragmatists would retort that sometimes a journey in London is not possible or not practical by public transport and taxis fulfil a vital role for these occasions and supplement public transport. So taxis aid the public transport user for those occasions when either the bus or train will not do (because for example the passenger has too much luggage) or as part of their journey of which the bulk of it was made by public transport – and the alternative may well be to use the private car for all of the journey. Of particular relevance to this article are the people who catch the Heathrow Express from the airport and then continue their journey by taxi. In reality many of them need door-to-door service and are probably doing public transport users a favour by not using the Undergound, buses or (in future) Crossrail to continue their journey.

The Paddington Integration Project

With Crossrail, the restoration of Paddington roof (now complete) and the rebuilding of the Hammersmith & City and Circle line Underground Station, Paddington is undergoing extensive change. Fortunately the projects were combined in the planning stage to minimise problems and maximise benefits. The taxi rank plays a critical part in this. It was needed because Crossrail took advantage of the opportunity to close Eastbourne Terrace, where the cabs used to wait, and build a the Crossrail platforms using the cut-and-cover method. The displaced cabs needed a new home but this had to be integrated with the rebuilding of the Underground station because the ramp down to the cab rank goes over the station ticket hall and forms the roof of it.

The strongest initial impression one gets of the cab rank is the sheer scale of it. There is room for at least forty cabs, probably more. This is despite being built on top of the main station. Although not that close to the main platforms it is served by both escalators and lifts.

It is surprising how busy it is and the planners should be congratulated for anticipating the enormous demand and doing whatever necessary to accommodate it. It is not obvious in the photo but the queueing barrier has gaps in it so that the passenger does not have to walk further than necessary to join the end of the queue.

The taxi queue is incredibly well organised. At busy times two Network Rail marshalls direct passengers to the next available cab and there is room for eight cabs at a time. If the passenger has a lot of luggage they are advised to wait for the current cabs to clear so that they can have the one at the front. There are two lanes for boarding so if one cab gets delayed it doesn’t mean that all the taxi departures come to a temporary halt.

Another feature is a prebooked area which doubles as a dropping off point. This is well away from the picking up point. Licensed Minicabs are also permitted to use this. The bays are numbered so that the cab driver or potential passenger can identify exactly where they are waiting.

Traffic lights with this restriction are not common. These are located on Bishops Bridge Road for traffic approaching from the north and south respectively. It is better if taxis approach from the north because there is a feed-in lane for taxis located prior to reaching the lights here in case the cab rank is full. Because taxis are in great demand at Paddington and boarding is very fast, a cab can be waiting here and a few minutes later have a fare on board.

This monitor at the front of the holding area enables the queueing cabs to see when there is space to enter. Unfortunately no equivalent facility is possible for cabs approaching from the south and turning right.

Paddington almost certainly has the best facilities for taxis of any London main line station. King’s Cross is probably next best but appears not to be able to allow passengers to board so fast. It seems that finally the needs of taxi users are planned as an integral part of main public transport schemes and not added on as an afterthought.

Written by Pedantic of Purley