Monthly Archives: May 2016

London Down the Khazi


For those of you who read my Carry On At Your Convenience article, here is a photo of the toilet stall I mentioned, at the corner of Jermyn Street and Haymarket.  I took the photo while waiting for an account job at McKinseys.  When my lady came out she expressed her disgust at the toilet – there was a bloke peeing there as she got into my cab.  I was glad to know that it wasn’t just me!   

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Dogs Must Be Carried

A blind woman recently won a court case against an Uber driver after he refused to carry her guide dog.  I’m surprised we’re still hearing about our mini-cab friends refusing to take assistance dogs in their cars.  Surely by now they know it’s a legal requirement?   Maybe they need a talk about their responsibilities when they get their licence?  (I’m assuming the minis don’t get the private hire equivalent of a Finals Talk, given the high number of licenses issued each week?).

There are 7000 assistance dogs working in the UK.  There are hearing dogs, dogs for the blind; and a variety of other dogs used to accompany adults or children with other disabilities. There are six main categories of dog; each wearing one of six different coloured jackets, with their owners carrying an identity card bearing the name of the relevant charity.

All assistance dogs have undergone two years of intensive training and are very well behaved; certainly more than those kids who start fiddling with the switches as soon as they get in your cab.  They all have regular heath checks – and don’t bite!  There are no religious reasons for refusing a dog under UK law.  When you refuse the dog, you’re refusing a vulnerable person.  A taxi or private hire vehicle gives people with assistance dogs the confidence to travel independently.  Those running a transport service should be proud to provide such an essential service.

Never mind the legislation, I go the extra mile to promote equal opportunities for all God’s creatures, whether they’re working animals or pets.  I’ve never had a problem with animals in the cab, but I’ve had plenty of problems with people.  In fact the only problems I’ve had with animals is at home when I’m slow to feed the cat, or when he’s dragging off household items:  such as when he took a bunch of keys upstairs to hide under the bed; or when he hid the TV speaker remote control under a mat for a week.  Bless his furry little self.  I welcome our furry friends in all areas of life.  For me, a comfortable pub is one where you have to step over a sleeping dog to get to the bar, and where the irritable pub cat dares you to sit on his chair.  I like the way that in France you can take your pet out to dinner as part of the family.  I’ve yet to see a cat or rabbit sat at the dinner table, but I love it when I see the dog’s head emerge from a lady’s handbag.  Those Frenchies are way ahead.

I always stop to pick up people with dogs, and they’re usually grateful as they obviously get refusals.  A dog invariably settles straight down to enjoy the ride in quiet contemplation – as our human customers should do.  I’ve never had a dog making a noise, being drunk and obnoxious, smearing my clean windows, picking away foam from the spongy arm rest, criticising my route, or leaving pistachio shells on the carpet.

My strangest cab job involving an animal happened two years’ ago after responding to an account call in Soho.  I waited a fair time until a woman got in with a dog.  She sent me to Battersea, and to Barking Bettys (“Grooming for the Urban Dog”).  The woman asked me to wait 20 minutes before taking her back to Soho.  Parking wasn’t a problem, so I was happy to do so.  She returned to say it would take another hour.  The woman sat in the cab while doggie was pampered, and the clock ticked over 20p every few seconds.  The pampering was taking longer than she anticipated and the lady decided she needed the loo.  She found a café to use – though I thought afterwards I should have suggested she use a litter tray at Barking Betty’s.  In the end I waited 2 ¾ hours, but we got back to Soho quickly and everyone was happy.  God knows who the account holder was, but it cost them £164 (plus automatic tip).  The dog looked clean and happy, clearly oblivious to the expense involved.  I’m not sure who was the most barking that day.

In these austere times we can’t afford to turn passengers down; either when they’re going south when we want to go north, or if the passenger has a dog with them.  You may not want to take a regular pet dog, but its good customer practice to take all animals.  You might actually enjoy the experience.


Copyright: Chris Ackrill, 2016.


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British Steel

(Original edit of article for Taxi magazine).


British Steel (original title)

I’m sure many of you have been following the story of the British steel industry with sadness.  This once proud industry is struggling to survive because it cannot compete with a flood of cheap state-subsidised steel from China, high export tariffs, high energy costs, and green taxes.  While most people are sad to see long-established industries declining, some unfairly characterise the situation as a struggle between free market progress and industries stuck in the past.

I’m starting to think the cab trade is in a similar position.  As an analogy, we are the Port Talbot steel workers struggling to compete with foreign companies on an uneven playing field.  It’s not a level playing field when less stringent conditions abroad allow the domestic product to be undercut.  Foreign suppliers don’t operate under the strict health and safety laws conditions that domestic industries do:  the factories are less safe, the workers less protected; and I’d be surprised if the goods were transported by vehicles that would pass a British MOT.

There’s also an almost unlimited supply of labour.  In private hire there’s a revolving door, through which drivers can be recruited both domestically and from abroad.  Modern-day slave masters tempt people in with unrealistic claims of high earnings, and encourage them to top up their money with benefits.  Not many private hire drivers stay around for long when they realise they’re being exploited, and when they leave the trade, they are quickly replaced by new drivers operating under TfL’s open door licensing policy.

In the cab trade, if a driver can’t make his business work and drops out, there is no-one to take his place.  On the face of it, that means more work for the rest of us; but as a trade we’re diminished.  With fewer of us, we have less power.  The number of taxis hasn’t gone up much in the last few decades, but the number of private hire vehicles has multiplied – and continues to do so by several hundred every week.  The taxi and private hire industries have co-existed side by side for a long time now.  Traditional private hire are also threatened by foreign app-based providers, and the two industries often find themselves in agreement.  Many established private hire companies support the clarification and enforcement of rules, as well as the capping of numbers.  TfL say they can’t legally suspend private hire licensing, yet they suspended issuing taxi licences in certain suburban sectors a few years’ ago.

Foreign app-based private hire operators do nothing for this country when most of their tax is paid abroad, and some of its drivers are claiming benefits.  I was bored by the media’s fascination with Mr Cameron’s investments and tax affairs, but it’s interesting how he seems to support a company that makes a lot of money in this country while avoiding paying tax here.  Many drivers are working long hours at subsistence levels, and it does nobody any good.  It’s understandable that customers go for the cheapest option, but in this case it’s only cheap because profits go to a tax-dodging company who pays its drivers a pittance.  I believe the public are becoming wiser to their operations now.  There have been well-publicised instances of criminal activity by app-based private hire drivers, and there is always doubt over insurance.  Many people have been enraged by surge pricing and have had money taken from their credit cards without their knowledge.  Some of the drivers’ route planning has been the stuff of legend.

The steel industry seems to have had inadequate protection from the government, and the cab trade enjoys little protection from our licensing body.  A Britain without a steel industry is unthinkable.  A London without a cab industry is also unthinkable.  As I write, the future of steel is being discussed on the world stage.  The cab trade could be improved locally, here in London.  Plying for hire needs clarifying and enforcing, private hire licensing needs to be suspended, and we need a serious look at the road systems that are slowing down the traffic and killing people with the resulting pollution.  One hope is that a sensible, fair-minded, mayor could bring in positive changes and re-form taxi and private hire licensing.  Someone certainly needs to bring in some British steel.

Copyright: Chris Ackrill, 2016.

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Uber Article (Guardian)

If you only read one cab-related article this year, make it this one.  I normally only post my own writings as other bloggers cover this sort of journalism better than I.  It describes how Uber got started, then aimed to take over existing taxi trades around the world – seeing London’s highly regulated trade as the big prize.  It’s fascinating reading, though also scary for us cab drivers.

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