Monthly Archives: December 2014

No Snow in Guantanamo

Why all the fuss about the CIA’s treatment of suspected terrorists? I’m sure waterboarding is just as much fun as snowboarding. They should be thankful they’re allowed out to enjoy such activities.

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The Customer is Not Always Right

(original edit of article for CallOver magazine).

Whether you are on the Knowledge, or out in the cab, it doesn’t take much to knock your confidence. A bad Appearance up at the Towers can make you doubt yourself, as can one or two runs in the cab that draw criticisms from your passengers.
Last month I had a job from Hermitage Lane to Victoria Street. In my experience, Fitzjohn’s Avenue always runs better than Finchley Road, so I used West Heath Road up to Whitestone Pond, then aimed for Fitzjohn’s Avenue using Heath Street. “Why come this way? It’s always bad,” came the voice from the back. “You should’ve used the bus lane in Finchley Road.” I didn’t know what to think. There’s no bus lane in operation at 11am and I know we would’ve been swerving around parked vans all the way to Swiss Cottage. Then again, I don’t often find myself in Heath Street at 11am and had to admit the traffic was bad. Self-doubt crept in as I struggled to work out who was right. Maybe Heath Street is always like this at this time of day? Maybe everybody knows that?
Fitzjohn’s Avenue was predictably clear, but once we cleared St John’s Wood we continued on a long and tortuous journey, encountering more hold-ups on the way. Thankfully, she said no more, as I was wound up ready to retaliate. She wasn’t nasty about it, but the damage had been done, my professionalism had been questioned. I’d lost confidence in myself.
Some days later I had a job from Golders Green to Abbey Road. I now faced a dilemma; Finchley Road or Fitzjohn’s Avenue. In the end I chose to risk the horror of before and chose the latter. It was at about the same time of day as before and I wanted to see if Heath Street was always bad. I wanted to know one way or the other who was right. I was delighted to say that Heath Street was clear and we flew down Fitzjohn’s Avenue. The lady even said I was the only person who knew the right way to go! I was vindicated. I’d gained my confidence back. For a while…
Which Knowledge Boy wants to run Stratford Place to Riverside House at the top of Southwark Bridge Road? As I saw it I could fight my way around Piccadilly Circus and Trafalgar Square and use the Embankment, or turn left on to Oxford Street and keep going. I didn’t relish the thought of the Piccadilly area, so stuck with Oxford Street all the way. Just past Oxford Circus the traffic came to a standstill. My man wasn’t happy. I cut through Covent Garden and joined the Embankment at Temple Place. At the conclusion to a fraught journey he leaned in to my window to say I shouldn’t have used Oxford Street. All I could say that it’s not usually so bad at 2.30 pm.
My confidence had been knocked again, but later in the day I did draw a compliment from two blokes who said mine was the cleanest cab they’d ever been in. Straight afterwards I did a job from the Strand to Euston. As we crawled up Charing Cross Road I waited for the woman to comment on the traffic, and hold me responsible for it. Instead, she gave me £20 for a £14 fare.
I like black and white. I don’t like dilemmas and having to choose. With lots of alternatives, there’s anxiety in making the right calls. If you hit heavy traffic you cost your passenger money, and they’re not always happy about it. I try not to beat myself up about a bad choice if it was the route considered the best at the time. Once I’ve committed myself – as I did in Oxford Street – I usually stay with it if I’ve gone too far to turn back. Getting caught in traffic is a nasty business, but sometimes there’s nothing you can do about it. You can’t get it right every time. You just have to make choices to the best of your ability. It’s unreasonable to expect more.
The Knowledge provides a sound basis to build your decisions on, but choosing the most successful route suited to the prevailing conditions only comes with experience. And while experience can help your decision, only a clairvoyant can predict if certain roads are going to be busy or not, at whatever time of day.
People take cabs because it’s too difficult or too expensive to drive themselves. Our job only exists for this reason. If you return home having done your best, you can take satisfaction from that. If a certain route hasn’t worked and it’s cost a passenger an extra few quid, you still deserve a good night’s sleep. I try to keep this thought in my mind at all times.

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Fit & Proper?

(original edit of article for Taxi magazine).

As reported in the last issue of Taxi, TfL are advertising Uber on the Taxis & Minicabs section of their website. Could the LTDA advertise on the TfL website too? Or Addison Lee? Is it just a matter of paying so much money that TfL can’t resist?
It seems inappropriate for our licensing authority to use advertising for this purpose. Putting aside the fact that Uber and their drivers are subject to legal action in London and around the world, it seems inappropriate for our licensing authority to take advertising of this nature. It’s like the NHS promoting individual doctors or medical practices, and those with the most money getting a mention.
It all leaves a nasty taste in the mouth at a time where the taxi trade is being undermined by a virtual operator that’s being chased around the world with lawsuits. If I went over to Paris and tried to operate my cab business I’m sure the Parisian equivalent of TfL would say “Non.” And quite rightly so. Following a stiff warning letter or two, I’d fully expect an invitation to discuss the matter with m’learned friends in a court of law, and a single ticket back to St Pancras International. If I brazened it out and decided to continue I wouldn’t expect TfL to renew my licence should I ever return. I would have shown contempt for the laws of the land and would not be deemed a fit and proper person. Uber continue to operate in the European cities they have been banned in, showing total disregard for the laws of those countries. And they’re still considered worthy of an operator’s licence in London.
Maybe the LTDA and Addison Lee do have adverts on the TfL website. I didn’t get that far in my research as I was so mesmerised by Uber’s advert claiming that I could earn £1200 per week as a driver. If I could make £1200 as a day driver I’d be a happy man, so I ticked the information box to find out more. The advert says I need to be a current taxi driver “certified and licensed by the city”, and my vehicle needs to be “a commercial taxi Vehicle.” I easily satisfy Uber’s stringent specifications so wanted to know how to claim my £1200 per week. Unfortunately there were no further details. I would have had to leave my contact details for someone to get back to me. This was as far as I was prepared to venture into the world of Uber so I left it there.
I imagine I’d have to work every hour God sends in order to pull in that kind of money. Scare stories concerning tachographs in cabs were prevalent a few years’ ago. Maybe it’s time to look again at a restriction driving hours? I’m just saying…
Meanwhile, Uber have recently been fined $128,000 by a French court for falsely marketing its car-pooling service, and its drivers have been warned that they face criminal conviction. That’s not a lot of money, but it might put its drivers off if they think they might attract criminal convictions. India are also on their case over tax. The state of Nevada has also been added to the growing list of places banning Uber. They’ve been banned from offering their shared ride service pending a court hearing, and five drivers have been cited by regulators. They could be fined up to $10,000. A Las Vegas driver, Michael Elsner, told reporters that Uber are worth more than $18 million: “do you think the Nevada Taxicab authority is going to win? I mean, come on, come on.” Herein lies the problem; the company is too powerful. Any fines that the Las Vegas drivers receive will be reimbursed by Uber, according to Uber’s Western Region spokeswoman, Eve Behrend: “Uber vigorously defends the rights of our partner drivers and firmly stands by them when they are wrongly cited or impounded. We will cover and financial or legal costs associated with these unjust actions”. It puts Addison Lee’s promise to reimburse bus lane fines in perspective, doesn’t it?
Uber have exploited technology and have undermined the taxi – and private hire – trade worldwide. The fear is that they’ve become so powerful that no-one can stop them. Wild West Sheriffs have tried running them out of town, but they keep riding back on their shiny black steeds. If they’re worth over $18 million, that’s a lot of money. But it’s not finite. If they face expensive lawsuits and end up paying all their driver’s fines they’ll run out of cash eventually.
The most important element in this scenario is the drivers. They are also the weakest link. If the drivers start to pick up damaging criminal convictions they will lose confidence. The company will then surely fail. As for London drivers, if they get criminal convictions won’t that mean their TfL private hire licences will be revoked? Will they continue to put up with all the hassle – even for £1200 per week?

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