Monthly Archives: June 2014

Barking Mad

Some people have so much money.   I was having a slow day on Saturday June 21st.  Soon after lunch I responded to an account call in Soho.  I waited a fair time until a woman got in with a dog.  She gave me an address in Battersea.  We had a devil of a job getting out of Central London because of road closures, but I finally delivered her to Barking Bettys (“Grooming for the urban dog”).  The woman asked me to wait 20 minutes, then take her back to Soho.  Parking wasn’t a problem, so I was happy to do so.  She then said it would take an hour.  In the end I waited 2 ¾ hours.  The woman sat in the cab while doggie was pampered, and the clock ticked over 20p every few seconds.  At one point, Mrs Woman went to use the loo at a café (I thought afterwards that I should have suggested she use a litter tray at Barking Betty’s).  We got back to Soho quickly and everyone was happy.  God knows who the account holder was, but it cost them £164 (plus tip).  The dog looked clean and happy, clearly oblivious to the expense involved.  I’m not sure who was the most barking.

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Hailo, Uber & Changes in the London Cab Trade

(original edit of article for Taxi magazine).

Things move slowly in the cab trade.  In 1973, Maurice Levinson’s publisher suggested that his next book reflected the changes in the cab trade over the past ten years.  Maurice was scared of the suggestion at first, as in certain respects nothing much had happened in the past three hundred years, let alone ten.

Suddenly things are happening very fast.  Technology is challenging centuries-old certainties and asking questions on how we go about our business.  The changes are coming at such an alarming rate that no-one seems to know how to react.  Recently we’ve had a lack of support from TfL, and the kerfuffle over Hailo and Uber.  This has resulted in confusion and bad feeling.

Hailo

As we speak, drivers are deleting their Hailo app and getting their logos removed.  The cab drivers who founded Hailo should have known they would lose support for applying for a private hire licence.  With work harder to find, private hire is regarded as competition more than ever.   Many drivers feel betrayed by the company’s promise to deal exclusively with taxis.  The people who saw Hailo as part of the solution, now see them as part of the problem.  

I can’t imagine how difficult it must be to run any kind of taxi booking service.  Marrying customers up with drivers is probably easy enough when there are plum account jobs to dish out, but it must be impossibly frustrating and worrying when demand outstrips supply in busy periods, and when you can’t cover jobs in poorly-served areas going around the corner.

Hailo possibly saw private hire as being able to take up some of the slack.  Maybe they are just responding to corporate clients telling them that they want a choice of cab or car.  Maybe, like they say, this will attract bigger accounts and that taxis will still cover 80% of the work.  It might be too late now, but they might discover that their USP was that it only supplied taxis.

Uber:  They Shall Not Pass

Maybe Hailo merely saw how things were going and panicked?  Maybe they were spooked by Uber’s sleek advertising and bold claims:  “Better, faster and cheaper than a taxi.”  Uber’s business is also marrying up drivers with punters, but it’s all rather mysterious and anonymous, and with a sinister whiff of big business. 

We pay a lot of money to TfL to get licensed and we jump through a lot of hoops.  Cab owners go through the cab licensing procedure every year, and we chase around post offices every three years in order to renew our cab driver’s license.  TfL keep us away from their office and have as little to do with us as possible.  We don’t make big demands:  just a few appropriately-sited ranks, and protection from unregulated operators and drivers.  We expect TfL to keep up with developments and to protect us.  The fact that Uber are essentially using meters isn’t really that important.  A smokescreen.  The fact that they should never have been licensed as an operator is the real issue.  No way are Uber an operator.  Uber’s website says they are “seamlessly connecting riders to drivers through (our) apps.”  Are they using licensed private hire drivers attached to established companies, or independents going it alone?  Either way, jobs are not going through a bona fide operator.  They are not contacted through an office or a landline.  Their drivers – whoever they are – are taking direct bookings while plying for hire in their cars.  They are a virtual mini-cab company and they need to be stopped.   

What possible interest could Google, Amazon and Goldman Sachs have in the London cab trade, apart from making a fast buck off our backs?  Their plan might work in the world’s less-regulated cities.  To drive for Uber in Paris you just need three years’ experience and personal insurance for your vehicle.  Once they crossed the Channel we would have expected TfL to put a stop to it. 

Established private hire businesses are likely to be affected by interlopers more than ours.  Concerned private hire drivers voiced their opinions on LBC radio last month, and I agreed with every word the guest private hire spokesman said.  Interestingly, this is possibly the first time ever that private hire agree with us – history in the making!

Selling Ourselves Short

I can understand and respect drivers wanting no contact with companies with private hire involvement.  The difference in Hailo’s case is that the drivers saw Hailo as 100% on their side when they joined.  They thought they’d be reclaiming the streets and taking work from private hire.  Instead, they will be sharing work with them.  It’ll be interesting to see if Get Taxi stick to their guns.  They’ve been canvassing hard for support lately and must have gained some ex-Hailo drivers.

Radio circuits use private hire too.  When I joined ComCab I had to make a business decision, and weigh up whether it was worthwhile.  None of the circuits or app providers are charities.  They are all doing it to make money.  Who needs who the most is debatable, but they all take a piece of us.  They either charge a subscription fee, take a cut of the fare, or make deals with account holders to provide cut price rides and free waiting time.  Often all three.  If I’m having a slow day I might take an £18 job from the City to Paddington knowing that there’s likely to be £24 on the meter.  I weigh it up at the time and make the decision.  We do the same job on the street and we keep 100% of the fare, the old fashioned way, like Mr Levinson in 1973.  Will I get more Roaders through a circuit or working the streets?  Do we rely on ourselves and go it alone, or do we buy into a service provider?  We are not given jobs, we are sold jobs.  We all sell ourselves to some extent.  The question we need to ask is for how much?

 

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Uber Alles

(No, nothing to do with Germany or the World Cup).

It’s been well over a week since cab drivers brought London to a standstill.  The demo was a show of strength against the way Transport for London (TfL) have gone about things, particularly in the way they granted an operator’s licence to American private hire company, Uber. 

The main reason cited by the media was their use of mobile phone apps as a meter.  The meter issue isn’t that important.  Uber take bookings for private hire vehicles through an app. The company are based abroad and have no landline (they presumably pay taxes abroad too).  They are a virtual supplier of mini cabs, not a bona fide operator.  Only taxis can ply for hire on the street.  Private hire vehicles must be pre-booked.  Uber’s cars can be booked instantly by app.  Their drivers can park up and effectively ply for hire.  Established private hire operators are highly regulated by TfL and also feel aggrieved at TfL’s lack of support.  Uber have been shown the door in other world cities. Interestingly this is the first time in history that taxi drivers and mini cab drivers have agreed on something! 

I’ve heard comments such as:  “Holding London to ransom” and Bringing London to a standstill.”  I’ve used these phrases myself when the tube drivers walk out.  It makes a change for cab drivers to bring London to a standstill as nearly every day there’s needless disruption caused by someone.  A few days after the demo the West End was brought to the standstill because of the Queen’s Trooping the Colour ceremony (OK, I’ll let her off, she is the Queen).  Regent Street was closed from 4am to midnight last Sunday for a car rally (I thought TfL wanted to keep cars out of London).  There are the familiar yellow signs going up warning of another all day closure of Regent Street this Sunday, and I believe the street will be closed every Sunday in July so people can shop without getting run over.  Regent Street is a major road, and Sunday afternoon is about the busiest time of the week (especially with cabs travelling between train stations as the tubes are so erratic at weekends).  There’s the gay march at the end of June, cycling early July, and the usual pop-up demos.  Make no mistake, TfL are holding London to ransom:  they just don’t want people driving there.

Ps. The Congestion Charge has just gone up to £11.50.

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Plastic Bags, Fracking, and the Punk Summer of 1977

Out all day in the cab I only get to hear snatches of news, and rarely any TV.  Here are just a few comments on the bits I’ve heard this week. I managed to hear the start of the Queen’s speech to Parliament, whilst in a traffic jam caused by the said events in Westminster.  Hearing her drone on in someone else’s words I wondered how many other folk of my generation can’t help thinking of the Punk Summer of 1977, the Jubilee, and the Sex Pistols’ God Save the Queen single (banned by the BBC?).

A few interesting points:  we can now sack MPs who’ve been convicted of criminal activity.  You mean we couldn’t before?  It should be a given, or a “no brainer,” as my American readers might have it.  If I overcharge someone by 20p, or are rude to a passenger’s guide dog, I’d lose my cab licence and will be run out of London on a rail.  

Did the Government really use our figurehead to talk about having to pay for plastic shopping bags?  A real vote winner (yawn).  

So, am I right in thinking that a fracking company can come along and dig for gas under my house without even asking for permission??  When did the Cameron/Clegg Junta agree that one?!

I also understand that we have fallen into line with less democratic countries across the world, and have introduced secret court trials behind closed doors!  Maybe they’re being set up for people who complain about having their homes fracked and having to pay Tesco 5p for a shopping bag.

I caught a bit of the D-Day re-enactment on TV at the King’s Cross Taxi Centre earlier.  It was nice to learn that the French, Dutch, Americans and Canadians were playing such a prominent role.  Bit there was someone missing…   Why not invite the Germans?  OK, they’d have to play the on the losing team, but in the spirit of European unity and British fair play, they’re bound to get their own back at a penalty shoot-out at the World Cup.

Perhaps have a bit more role play: how about Prince Charles as Churchill, and Vladimir Putin as Hitler?  OK, he’s probably not all bad, but I wouldn’t want him looking after my pets when I go on holiday, and I don’t trust any man who talks like a meerkat.

More half-baked political comment next time…

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