Comments on items of interest over the last week:
Little Britton. Leon Britton’s death inevitably started more talk about a child sex enquiry. I wouldn’t bother, it’s not going to happen. It’ll be like the Chilcott Report but worse. If it ever gets under way it’ll take many years, with the final report being delayed until more of those who know too much are dead in order to save embarrassment to the families of the Westminster Family. They really want to keep this one under wraps.
The Sun. Talking of sexual abuse, I congratulate the Super Soaraway Sun on its little publicity stunt, where its sister paper claimed the Sun’s traditional photos and comment on a topless model on page 3 was to be stopped. I heard it said the Sun hates women. I don’t know; it pays someone with no apparent talent money just to take her top off for a photo shoot. Money for old rope, I’d say. Yes, it’s silly, and not particularly, er, titilating, but Page 3 is a a British institution. One of the paper’s ex-models complained she had to sit in a muddy field to be photographed. Some people spend their whole day in muddy fields as part of their work. I don’t particularly want to spend my day pushing a cab down Oxford Street, but sadly, nobody’s going to offer me vast sums of money to strip off. Well done the Sun for dropping an ice cream down the cleavage of political correctness. I hope the paper comes back with bigger and better boobs.
King Abdullah. Opinions were mixed on the news of King Abdullah’s death last week in that revered bastion of liberal democracy, Saudi Arabia. Prince Charles and David Cameron were criticised for attending the funeral. So is the King’s condition satisfactory? I couldn’t possibly say, though I expect a slow move towards improved human rights – for men anyway – may eventually start. I hear twenty lashes will be taken off a bottle of Scotch in the next Saudi budget. I wonder what the Saudis would make of the Sun? Let’s hope Saudi Arabia can handle its knockers as well as the Sun.
(original edit of article for CallOver magazine).
The Christmas and New Year period is one where you think of others as well as yourself. So, while stressing about working the festive period, I’ve also reflected on the plight of those equally stressed people struggling to get around, and out of, London during this strange period of the year.
Work levels in December are erratic, but I did a bit better than last year. The run-up to Christmas passed off without incident. Three days off, then back on Saturday December 27th. Not a lot of action, so I spent some time on the ranks listening to the radio while the travel mayhem unfolded. Engineering works had over-run and no trains were running in or out of King’s Cross. Some passengers had to get themselves to Letchworth or Welwyn Garden City to catch trains, while others were offered trains running out of Finsbury Park. Finsbury Park might be an important transport hub for North London, but it didn’t prove large enough to handle re-routed inter-city trains to the north and Scotland. Chaos reigned, with quarter mile queues to get into the station. It was an exceptionally cold day and the station was closed on a few occasions due to the inevitable overcrowding. A cab driver friend of mine drove some people up to Finsbury Park, only to be directed back to their West End hotel once they saw the situation. I hope they got a receipt and put in a claim. Over-running engineering works happen, but the bosses were rightly criticised for having no contingency plan in place. Some of these train customers are now facing a 2.2% fare rise. Happy New Year!
The train network is bad enough on regular weekends. You always need to check your journey won’t be disrupted by engineering works and you need to take the dreaded replacement bus service. Engineering works disrupts the tube system at the weekend too. Surely it’ll be worse when they’re running trains all night?
I’d worked the last few New Year’s Eves. I couldn’t work it this year, as my high-mileage Elegance was back in the garage for emergency work. It’s not a particularly busy day, but there’s a jolly atmosphere. When people get drunker and the roads start to get closed for the fireworks, it’s time to go home. Normally I’d be finished by about 6pm. It seems New Year’s Eve is getting more difficult though, because the road closures are expanding. This year some of the closures started earlier, at 2pm. Maybe it would have been too much hassle anyway?
I’d found the last two New Year’s Days quite busy. Again, there’s a good atmosphere and on New Year’s Day the traffic tends to be light, away from the major shopping areas anyway. This year business was slow. There wasn’t much work in the City so I was forced west. I suspect the road closures put in this time had expanded, and I found trying to work around the West End and Westminster thoroughly frustrating and stressful. And it lasted until 6pm. There’s not a lot you can do when Shaftesbury Avenue, Trafalgar Square, Parliament Square, and many surrounding roads are closed. Picking up in Cranbourn Street I was forced to take an American couple to Knightsbridge via Westminster and Lambeth Bridges. The bloke wasn’t pleased and I heard him asking his hotel linkman whether a fare of £43 is normal. No, £43 is not normal for a run from Covent Garden to Knightsbridge, but that sort of money is normal for a run that lasts over half an hour in heavy traffic on a public holiday. I have sympathy, but getting around a closed off city on New Year’s Day is always going to be expensive, if you can find someone to take you at all. In the 24-hour society it’s easy to forget that some people are being forced to work. Those who work should be adequately compensated. I worked voluntarily, but only because of the £4 extras, and because I know that after today, things are going to be as flat as a kipper for about two months. In this case, the man’s wife, and the linkman knew the score, but I suspect the man held me responsible for his credit card taking a bit of kicking on the first day of the year. It’s not nice to benefit from others’ misfortune, it feels like cheating. Some people think we enjoy taking the scenic route and bumping up the fare, but little stresses me more. I made a mental note not to work this day next year. I felt like I’d aged a year.
It can’t be nice getting around London when it’s so congested. I can only imagine what it’s like late on New Year’s Eve. I’m at home with my warm milk and teddy bear by midnight. The tube trains run, but it must be a thoroughly unpleasant experience. Sometimes we hear people complain that there are no cabs around. The fact is, they’ve made driving so difficult that more and more drivers will stay at home when major road closures are implemented. I can’t imagine myself working the next New Year period, though I shall be around on December 27th to take stranded train passengers to Welwyn Garden City should I be called upon to do so. I’ll also go to Letchworth if I can find it.
(original draft of article written for Taxi magazine).
January’s average 2.2% rise in train fares was trumpeted as the lowest price hike in five years. Wow. It looks London cab fares are going up by 0.3 % in the spring. Combined with last year’s 0.7% rise, this gives us 1% over two years. There’s been no fanfare from us though, and surprisingly few drivers have asked for more. Most of us accept that things are difficult for many people and we can’t afford to lose customers through pricing ourselves out of the market.
Many people rely on the train companies to get them to work. Customers can shout as much as they like about fare increases, but it makes no difference in Rip Off Britain. They’re a captive market. The stark choice is, pay up or give up your job. The utility companies are the same; it takes the government to keep them in check when price hikes get outrageous. Everyone needs gas and electricity, and we’re all held to ransom. They all say they need to raise prices so they can invest in modernisation. It’s a shame we can’t charge more when we want to invest in new rolling stock.
Some people rely on us to get them to where they want to go too – I’m particularly thinking of Taxicard users; but a cab ride is more often a luxury than a necessity. It’s a nuisance if you are hauling freight around on public transport, have kids in tow, or if you’re unfamiliar with the geography of London; but it’s still a luxury. It’s discretionary spending. As an interesting thought, if we provide a luxury service, you could argue that we could justify a bigger rise than the train companies- though as I said, I don’t think the support is there for anything but a nominal rise in cab fares.
Commuting is a nasty business. I had a taste of it when I was a Knowledge Examiner a few years’ ago. I could see why people were tempted into a taxi ride. It can be thoroughly unpleasant on the trains and tubes, and walking can be more difficult than driving. Pedestrians are harder to negotiate around than other cars. Personally I think there should be local and express pavements, and some one-way workings like the pedestrian walkway at Birmingham New Street Station.
I had to get myself from the northern suburbs of Northampton to Palestra for 8am. I’d park near the train station for the 5.46 train to Euston. The journey out was bearable as I’d easily secure a seat. The remaining tube journey was fine as London hadn’t fully woken up yet. The return journey was more fraught. There I’d be, waiting on the concourse at Euston until my train’s platform was announced. The second it flashed up on the boards there would be a rush from all directions and I’d feel like part of a football crowd surging down the ramp towards the platform. As the train pulled in, there would be a mad, stressful, crush as we all fought our way to secure a prized seat (only the big cats survive in the commuter jungle: pussies have to stand all the way to Milton Keynes). Sometimes you’d only get a four-carriage train. Sometimes they’d open up First Class to everyone as things were so overcrowded (not very nice for folk who’d paid extra money for First Class just so they could avoid all this madness). So, my most recent experience of commuting was a too-short train, and if I was lucky, a seat barely large enough to accommodate an arse larger than that of a supermodel. All this, and inflation-busting fare rises every year.
When I first started work at sixteen I took the Upminster to Marble Arch commute in my stride. Knocking fifty, the delights of travelling into London on overcrowded public transport soon wore thin. Initially, you think you’re hard: a warrior going into battle every morning, scornfully imagining those public sector drones in Northampton who wouldn’t even be out of bed yet. I wouldn’t even be home when they’re having their tea! Getting up at 4.30 every morning I was permanently tired. It’s amazing the way you can convince yourself that this way of life is normal. Inevitably, I couldn’t go on like that, and it was the main reason why I reluctantly left the job I loved.
Back on the cab full time and I was driving in at a civilised hour (9am). Many people express surprise when I tell them I drive seventy miles into London five days a week. I reply that you get used to it. I don’t think I would have got used to doing the journey on public transport. Home to Brent Cross takes me seventy-five minutes. Some people spend an hour of more just getting across London. Leaving London at night I usually join the M1 at Brent Cross. People wouldn’t think it odd living in Watford or Luton and commuting to London, but once on the motorway what’s an extra forty minutes? Of course it costs me considerably more than the price of my £4,400 annual season ticket, but it’s swings and roundabouts. What I lose in time and money I gain on house prices. When the cab fare rise is officially announced I shall take some time on the M1 to think what I’m going to spend my 0.3% on. It should only take a minute out of my busy day.