The Cabs We Drive

(original edit of article for Taxi magazine 14/10/14)

Hailo recently confirmed the introduction of a ”high-end car option” at the request of business users. Hailo have had a lot of flak recently and I’m not about to make criticisms here. I’m just wondering why certain people demand “high end” cars rather than taxis. Is there something wrong with the good old London taxi?
The high-end cars considered the epitome of prestige tend to be BMWs and Mercedes. These cars are quiet and comfortable, but they lack the space and character of a traditional taxi. I’m sure they are wonderful cars to drive, but for the passenger, are they anything special?
On the occasion that I need to hire and car and driver it’s unthinkable that I’d go for anything other than a taxi. For one thing, the purpose-built taxi has space and accessibility. I don’t like to bend down too far to get into a saloon as it sets my arthritis off, and once inside I welcome the space in which to spread my legs. It’s the character that I really go for though – even though I might get a silly little van living up here in the Midlands.
Unfortunately, we are currently restricted to two models of new taxi. Private hire operators have a wide choice of vehicle at their disposal, and unless individual drivers sign up to a company supplying a uniform vehicle, they can make their own choice based on personal taste and economy. We don’t have the luxury of choice, and what we can offer doesn’t seem to satisfy the tastes of certain business users. We’re not allowed to drive a BMW, and we can only drive a Mercedes if it’s a van. We can’t advertise our vehicles as “green.” Until things change our vehicles will always be associated with noise and air pollution, and black smoke (check your cab after your MOT and you’ll notice that you’re still pumping out horrible black smoke).
New taxi models are coming though, including the exciting prospect of electric vehicles. There must be other models in production that can be adapted to satisfy London’s turning circle requirement, with the comfort, if not the character, of a taxi. The forthcoming Nissan NV200 taxi has been tweaked to give it some uniqueness. Time will tell if drivers and passengers take to it. Initially offered with a petrol engine, an electric version is likely to be added later. The biggest concern over electric vehicles is over charging. Although Boris wants us to go electric in a few years, the new electric Nissan is being launched in Barcelona as there are no rapid charging points in London! I doubt there are any where I live in Northampton either, and I wouldn’t like to run out of fuel before I get to Milton Keynes every day. If electronic vehicles ever take off here, you can be sure the cost of charging will soar. The government make a lot of money out of fuel duty; they aren’t going to let you “fill up” for a couple of quid a day once people have made the switch.
Despite the sleek lines and fancy badges of the BMWs and Mercedes, these cars are still private hire vehicles. The users and suppliers of these “executive” vehicles might try to dissociate themselves from regular private hire, but their vehicles are still mini-cabs, driven by mini-cab drivers.
Surely the fussy business user isn’t objecting to the driver of the taxi? The so-called executive car driver looks resplendent in a suit as back and shiny as his car; but it’s all about appearance, style over substance. When his satnav packs up we’ll see who the real professionals are.
I suppose some of our drivers could smarten themselves up a bit, but many of us went into the cab trade because we don’t like rules, or being told what to wear. We guard our freedom fiercely. For me, only shorts will do in the hot summer months (do you remember the summer?). I’ll leave the shiny suit and tie for special occasions. Let’s get things into perspective: all we’re doing is driving people around, we’re not trying to get them to invest in our hedge fund.
Customers on ComCab sometimes stipulate “No Vito” or “Vito Only.” It shouldn’t really matter, but as a cab customer arriving at Northampton train station, I admit I hold back a bit at the taxi rank to ensure I don’t get a van. The game is then to try to secure the prize of a fairway, the living dinosaur of sherbert dabbery. it’s not just business users who show a seemingly irrational preference.
On the surface, HailoExec customers seem to be exercising a strange kind of snobbery by sacrificing the expertise of a taxi driver, for an anonymous black car driven by a bloke in a black suit. Then again, we all know how fussy some people are. Me included.

Copyright: Chris Ackrill, 2014.

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