With just over a week until next week’s referendum, a London cab company is lashing out against the proposed late night bus service, calling it an attack on the taxi industry.
The March 18 referendum will pose three questions, among them whether students want to pay $12.15 for a late night bus program. The nearly $370,000 initiative would pay for buses around campus and downtown from 11 p.m. to 1:50 a.m. Thursday to Sunday.
It’s a proposal that Yellow London Taxi owner Hasan Savehilaghi is campaigning against.
“This is an attempt to damage the taxi industry,” he said. “Really, this is a deal made behind closed doors between the student council and Aboutown.”
Savehilaghi cited safety and service as his two main concerns, noting students will still have to walk home from campus or the few bus stops offered on the routes. He also argued while all students will pay the mandatory $12.15 fee, not all students will use it.
On Tuesday, the London Taxi Association had a meeting where several taxi drivers — including some from Aboutown — raised the issue, according to Savehilaghi. Aboutown had a separate meeting yesterday and Savehilaghi expected drivers raised concerns over the transportation issue there as well.
Meaghan Coker, vice-president university affairs for the University Students’ Council, said the idea was introduced after years of demand — both from students wanting easier transportation and city officials wanting to end drunken congestion on Richmond Row.
The USC has a tentative deal with Aboutown — London’s largest cab company — to provide the same shuttle buses they use on campus. Coker said the buses would improve safety for students attempting to travel home from the bar district.
“The complaints we’ve heard are that students are stranded downtown and can’t get a cab. They need to be able to get home at that time of night, and the only option is to walk or wait several hours or fight each other for cabs,” she said, adding the complaints came from London’s city council and local police.
The idea, Coker said, is to not only transport students from downtown, but to transport students home after studying late at night on campus.
But Savehilaghi was unconvinced, saying the buses would only exacerbate safety concerns by concentrating belligerent students in one location.
“I drove a cab myself for 13 years and I know how the atmosphere is after midnight,” he said. “A taxi would take four people. They can be easily contained and communicated with and negotiated with. But when they’re on a bus, how are you going to control them?”
The USC has included one security guard per bus in their budget, something Coker said could be adjusted depending on student safety.
“I think it’s a flexible model,” she said, adding the buses shouldn’t be thought of as strictly transportation from Richmond Row. “That’s not what we’re doing. That’s a shortsighted view of what a late night bus shuttle could be.”
Next week’s referendum will include two other questions: whether students want to pay for a 12-month bus pass and whether a Western club should receive guaranteed funding.
Coker said the referendum is the best way to let students decide. But for the vote to stand, at least 5,200 students must vote — a significant challenge considering February’s much-hyped USC presidential election netted 8,095 votes, representing 31 per cent of the student population.