(original edit of article for CallOver magazine)
Lost on the Wharf
When you get your licence you need to decide whether to buy or rent a cab. Most people start with renting and see how they get on with their new career before committing to several years of finance payments and all the responsibilities that go with owning a cab. Renting suits some people as you pay a certain amount each week and you have peace of mind should anything go wrong. The finance payments on even a brand new cab will be lower than the rental costs, but the expense of running a cab will push your costs up considerably. The big difference is that you have pride in owning your cab, and when it’s eventually paid for, you will have several thousand pounds to use as a deposit on your next one.
When you own your own cab and something goes wrong it’s down to you to sort out. Even when things aren’t going wrong there is plenty of expense and stress – particularly when you live seventy miles from London and cover 1000 miles a week. I need three services a year, which can run into several hundred pounds if parts need replacing.
One of the biggest stresses is the annual Inspection. March is always an expensive month for me as this is the month when my cab needs re-licensing. Surprisingly, the annual inspection process is cheaper than it used to be in the past. When I bought my first Fairway nearly twenty-five years ago, it was common practice to pay a garage several hundred pounds to overhaul your cab and present it to the PCO for licensing. In order to meet the exacting standards of the licensing regime, you’d have the chassis painted, the engine steam cleaned, and God knows what else. I now just have a regular service, plus the two MOTs per year we now need.
Everything went smoothly this year. The first part of the process to get sorted was my meter hire. This cost me £179. By the time you read this we will have had a 0.7% rise. Personally I think the rise should have been in line with inflation, but I’m not complaining too much about it. Few others in the cab trade have complained either. Times are hard for everyone, and for most people taking a taxi is a luxury. The meter tariff change is also becoming easier than it used to be. You normally have to queue up on some wasteland in a God-forsaken part of London in order to get a microchip replaced. My meter now allows me to adjust it myself through a chip sent in the post.
The Service and MOT went smoothly at the Long Lane Cab Centre. I’d brought the missus to spend the day in London with me, but found my Knowledge put to shame en route to luncheon in Greenwich. It should have been straightforward: Jubilee Line from Southwark to Canary Wharf, then the DLR to Cutty Sark. Either I missed the signs at Canary Wharf, or the DLR station is nowhere near the Jubilee Line station. Exiting the Jubilee Line station we might as well have been in the Hong Kong Central Business District. I’ve only experienced the Wharf by road and was totally disorientated. Going back into the station looking for the DLR we found ourselves walking miles through shopping centres and up and down escalators and stairs. We never did find Canary Wharf DLR station, but ended up at Heron Keys. Despite the confusion, a ride on the DLR is something I always recommend to visitors to London, and the shopping centre is pretty nice too, if you’re into that sort of thing.
*Note to Knowledge Boys: don’t let old cab drivers tell you the Knowledge was harder in their day. This part of London barely existed twenty-five years ago. Canary Wharf was all fields!
For the second year running I took the cab to the inspection centre myself. You phone TfL in Sheffield (Yes, Sheffield) and pay £109 to book an inspection. They don’t send any details out, and you’ve no idea what the inspectors are looking for. You’re pretty much in the dark so it’s quite stressful.
Last year my cab took about half an hour to be passed. This year the bodywork was a bit ropey, due to my own crude paint touch-ups, but three days earlier it had passed its MOT so I was reasonably confident. I booked in and five minutes later saw a man put my cab on a ramp. I was too nervous to even read my book, so just texted a cab driver friend to talk about how nervous I was seeing my cab go on the ramp.
After about eight minutes my man came out with my keys. My heart sank. He was surely going to tell me to take my excuse for a cab as far from his inspection centre as possible, and not show my face until I’d had £££s of work done on it. But no, he said I could collect my new plate!
I screwed on the new plate and sped off before he changed his mind!