If there’s an upside to the amusing/ outrageous tale of Green London Assembly member Darren Johnson bumbling home from City Hall’s festive bash in an illegal “minicab”, and texting Twitter about it on the way (I’d advise Darren, who I’ve met a couple of times and is a very nice guy, to make friends with @tweetalondoncab), it’s that a few more people might be aware of the dangers of taking them, because they can lead to consequences more serious than a hysterical Evening Standard splash.
I did think this year’s harrowing campaign was a bit over the top, but after hearing of the case of Kwaku Acheampong, jailed for raping a woman he persuaded to get into his car at North Greenwich, I changed my mind. If it takes shock tactics to make people that getting into a random stranger’s car is a bloody dangerous thing to do, then so be it. The embarrassment Darren Johnson’s suffered will fade, but it may have pressed home the message in a different way.
The shocking thing for me about the North Greenwich case is that the area around the Dome is pretty secure – it’s covered by CCTV, the station is well-lit, and only black cabs have access to the station area, although a minicab firm now operates out of the O2. I was reminded of this while waiting at Kidbrooke station on Saturday evening, in a dismal little corner called Henley Cross…
If you look at the bus stop in the distance, you might just be able to see one of the anti-dodgy cab ads. Let a bus anorak site fill you in on what this is:
This has the grandiose name of Henley Cross Integrated Transport Link. Opened on 29 July 1998 by Minister for London Nick Raynsford. It was the work of five organisations working in partnership: Highways Agency, London Borough of Greenwich, Connex South Eastern, Railtrack and London Transport Buses.
The work included reinstating a disused link road to Kidbrooke Station, a new cycle route and improved pedestrian facilities. The new bus link meant that buses could extend route 178 from Kidbrooke Way to Kidbrooke Station, creating an interchange to and from trains to central London.
On a drizzly winter Saturday evening, it felt like anything but an “integrated transport link”, as I strode off a train to find I’d just missed a 178. The central traffic island is full of overgrown weeds, there was no “next bus” information, the lettering on the bus stops had faded over the years and it was hard to tell which bus stop served which route and where, one of the lamp posts over the site had failed.
What you can’t see, because it’s lit up by a waiting bus, is that the lights in the bus shelter (for Lewisham-bound 178s) have also failed. And once those people walking away from the station had gone, along with the bus, the place was deserted. It was only 6pm, but it was an unpleasant (and lengthy) wait.
Somehow, the great spirit of co-operation that created Henley Cross seems to have broken down, with both bus stops and streets poorly maintained. Nasty corners like this deter people from using public transport, and encourage illegal “cabs” because people might think that they’re no riskier than waiting in a shady spot like Henley Cross. (Admittedly, there is a minicab office on the other side of Kidbrooke station, although it’s not obvious from Henley Cross.)
So while fixing up the bus stops and lighting should be easy to do – shouldn’t it? – maybe the organisations now in charge of this corner (Greenwich Council, Southeastern, Network Rail and TfL) might like to sit down one day and work out how to do it properly this time. Some Countdown indicators, some better lighting, some flowers, even? A sign for the minicab office? Just make it feel a bit less like a prison yard, eh? Who knows, maybe Nick Raynsford will be around to open it up once again. Or maybe even a certain Mr Johnson…