An e-petition to revoke the licence of London's largest taxi firm Addison Lee following its chairman's anti-cycling rhetoric has attracted nearly 3,000 signatures.
John Griffin, who is also founder of the company which employs 3,500 drivers, last week used the firm's in-house magazine, Add Lib, to pin the blame of deaths and serious injuries of inner city cyclists on untrained riders who choose to ride on congested roads on "a vehicle which offers them no protection except a padded plastic hat."
The inflammatory tone of the article, which was published in the 'Chairman's Column' section of a magazine which is distributed to all customers of Addison Lee, has angered cycling campaigners in the capital. The London Cycling Campaign (LCC) has written to Griffin to make him aware of a study by the independent Transport Research Laboratory (TRL) which shows that bad driving is the major cause of crashes involving adult cyclists.
Referring to those who are "up in arms about what they see as the murder of cyclists on London roads" - roads that he called an "abyss" for cyclists - Griffin argued that they should undergo the same training, and pay the same taxes as motorists if they want to use the roads, ignorant to the fact motorists pay taxes on their vehicle, not the roads.
He's spent several days in the spotlight, following earlier comments ordering his drivers to ignore the law and use bus lanes with the promise that he'd reimburse any fines. Transport for London, who set the bus lane policy, warned drivers stand to lose their licences should they heed Griffin's call.
LCC Spokesman Mike Cavenett believes Griffin's comments are only likely to incite his drivers to behave even more irresponsibly. "It's hard to see how the government departments and corporate clients that currently use Addison Lee services can continue to do so without appearing to condone the chairman's complete disregard for cyclist safety", he said.
A spokesman for Mayor of London's re-election campaign called the comments "irresponsible and unacceptable", while his rival in the upcoming election, Green Party candidate Jenny Jones, said she would no longer use the firm and was happy to support those calling for a boycott of the organisation. Unconfirmed reports have suggested Barclays, sponsors of the Cycle Superhighways and bike hire scheme in London, have cancelled their account.
Dr. Robert Davis, Chair of the Road Danger Reduction Forum, told Bikebiz that the "self-pitying bigotry and victim-blaming is, above all, the kind of incendiary message that exacerbates rule and law breaking behaviour by motorists".
In an article for the Huffington Post, Griffin said that he was glad his comments had provoked such an online storm and that he stood by his argument for compulsory training and insurance for London’s bike owners.
But in a later statement released by Addison Lee, Griffin added: "I accept that the tone of the article was perhaps a little too inflammatory. It was meant to entertain and generate debate, but the online reaction has obscured the main message that there are many inexperienced cyclists who need better training to be safe on London's busy roads.
"Contrary to what has been reported, at no point did I suggest that motorists are never to blame. Both cyclists and motorists have a responsibility to use the roads safely".
His statement has done nothing calm the storm of his original comments, which created a whirlwind of bad sentiment towards his company. The hashtag #boycottaddisonlee is trending on Twitter, while the taxi firm's iPhone app, which has over 20,000 users and responsible for £23m in revenue since its launch, has received a deluge of one-star reviews lambasting its "embarrassing, awful" chairman (a selection of the best can be found here at ipayroadtax.com).
A 'die in' has also been arranged for tonight (Monday 23 April, 6pm), where cyclists will gather outside Addison Lee's London HQ at 35-37 William Road (NW1 3ER) and lie down on the pavement outside to highlight the dangers motorists pose to cyclists.
A full transcript of Griffin's Add Lib column can be found here.