Monthly Archives: June 2016

England to Exit World Cup

Football & Politics

Blimey, at least England didn’t lose to an EU country. Good luck to Iceland in the next round. Maybe Roy Hodgson could swap jobs with Jeremy Corbyn? I could see Roy as Leader of the Opposition, and Jeremy could bring in some strong left wingers.

Poor old Roy though.  It’s not his fault if his players aim their shots into Row Z.  Is it too late to set up a referendum to withdraw from the World Cup?   There are far too many foreign teams able to beat us.  Maybe leave more spirited Wales and Norn Iron to fly the flag for the UK next time?  I think we should withdraw from the Eurovision Song Contest to save further embarrassment too.

In politics, maybe Boris would make a good caretaker manager of the Conservative Party, as he’s committed to an exit (or so he says).  I wouldn’t like him to stay on though, and I’d favour a general election once the two main parties have sorted themselves out.

Why is it likely to take two years to actually exit?  Just stop the direct debit and tick Unsubscribe.  That’s what I did when I stopped going to Fitness First.

Anyway, for the benefit of my foreign readers, here’s a reminder of what Boris looks like:

Boris?

(My rabbit, Tufty).

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EU Exit: Thank You Obama, Osborne & Junckers.

The people have spoken, and we’re leaving the EU.  Ultimately, there was little enthusiasm shown by the Remainers.  There were no compelling reasons given for staying, apart from keeping things the same.  Things wouldn’t be kept the same though.  Our leaving might prove to be a disaster, but the EU was doomed anyway.  We didn’t cause the breakup of the EU, though we’ve probably sped things up a bit.

The EU bears no resemblance to the Common Market that we joined in 1972 (when I was ten).  Ted Heath would be spinning in his grave to see what it’s become.  Over-bureaucratised, and weakened by the inclusion of many weaker countries.  And it’ll be weakened further when another five or so weak countries are invited to join. The European Union will eventually become an Eastern European Union.  Albania and Serbia will empty overnight when they join.  Weren’t they at war a few years’ ago?  They might as well let Russia and Ukraine in to make it interesting.

Thank you Obama for your “Back of the queue” threat (Brits don’t take kindly to threats, especially by arrogant Americans.  Why not have an open border with Mexico?).  Thank you George Osborne for your threat of a punishment budget if we didn’t vote the way you wanted (Pathetic).  And thank you Monsieur Juncker for telling us there’s no way back should we leave his little club (fair enough).

The people didn’t trust the big business fat cats, the bankers, or the scaremongering politicians, who told us not to rock the boat.  Well I’m glad the boat’s rocked.  These people don’t live in our world.  They’re not affected by the issues that regular people face.

On the negative side, we have people like Boris on our side.  I fear for the country if Boris does what he’s done to London to the rest of the country.  Farage’s excesses need to be reined in too.  I feel sorry for Mr Corbyn.  He seems a nice, genuine, bloke, but he needs to go now.  I also worry about the possibility of losing Scotland, and what might happen in Ireland re. the north/south border.

The UK is said to be the world’s fifth richest country.  I’m sceptical as to that claim, but if it is, whatever way you cut it, we are being held back by an expanded rag bag of weaker countries.  They don’t like us anyway.  And we’re patronised by the Americans.  No-one likes us, but we don’t care.  We need to dig deep and find the inner–Millwall supporter within us.  We should show new confidence as we forge a more autonomous future (hopefully winning the European Championships will help).

I saw a BBC news programme before the referendum.  It showed packs of Danish bacon in a supermarket, and warned that EU goods would become more expensive.  So?  I think we need to start buying British whenever possible.  I can’t do anything about the half-Chinese cab I drive, but I can choose British foods over European.  Maybe the BMWs that Uber use will become more expensive – Ha!  We should be supporting local producers.

Anyway, onwards and upwards.  I would have respected whatever decision the referendum returned, and I remain a proud European.

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Uber Threaten Buses

(Original edit of article for Taxi magazine).

Busman’s Holiday
At this year’s UK Bus Summit, TfL Managing Director of Surface Transport, Leon Daniels, warned that London’s buses are under threat by Uber. I found the idea unlikely at first, but the dynamic of transport is certainly changing. Could low mini-cab fares really herald the decline of the bus?
What’s certain is a race to the bottom between private hire operators, and with buses being the cheapest form of transport in London, they could prove to be the most vulnerable should private hire fares become cheaper. Transport users in London are familiar with the long line of red on Regent Street and Oxford Street, and they know they’re in for a long journey should they choose the bus option.
Transport users know a taxi can be an expensive option, but we’re popular because we offer a private door-to-door service, and we’re quicker than the buses. Regular customers also know we are increasingly prone to get stuck in traffic though, and if we get caught in heavy traffic, a £15 fare can easily become £20 or £25, or even £30. And there’s no definitive rush hour; we can get stuck in traffic at any part of the day – and on any day too; weekends aren’t exempt.
Tourists like to ride in a cab, and we’re useful to people with luggage using train stations. Taxis also serve the huge Taxicard account for customers with limited mobility, subsidised by the London boroughs. Apart from that, we’re largely used by those with a bit of money. Not so well off people might use us for a quick dash to Euston or Waterloo, but it’s a gamble. People are wary because of the possible cost implications.
Private hire gained a measure of respectability when they became officially licensed, and the smart corporate image of some of the companies has attracted higher-earning individuals, as well as corporate account customers. Uber’s use of the app. is nothing new, but few people seem to be aware that new technology is available to book a taxi. Computer dispatch and phone applications have been used by the London taxi trade since they first became available. There’s some good publicity coming out to publicise alternative ways to hail a taxi, and it’s positive that all taxis will be known to process credit cards from October.
Although trade is still depressed, I’m confident that our position will strengthen. Established private hire companies are surely having it harder than us, and if Uber cuts its fares, other private hire companies will have to follow or risk going to the wall. I can see private hire being in the hands of just a few mega-companies before long. How low can the fares go? Low enough to challenge the buses?
Mr Daniels seems to think so, when he reminded the busmen that their opposition offer a personal, door to door service, and that private hire can work out cheaper than the bus if there are more than one of you travelling. The taxi trade has had advertising campaigns pointing out that any cab fare applies to the whole vehicle: five or six passengers. Not everyone considers this, so it’s useful to point it out. If there are a few of you, taking a taxi to Heathrow is cheaper than taking a train, particularly when you have to get yourself to Paddington first. Even a cab ride to Gatwick, Luton, or Stansted, can be cost effective.
So what if private hire targeted the buses and took more work from them? What if the bus companies didn’t find it economical to run to current timetables and cut some buses? Waiting times between buses would increase, and private hire (and taxis) would become more attractive. Passengers fed up of waiting for a bus will increasingly reach for their mobile to book an Uber, or flag down a passing taxi. Yes, what benefits Uber could benefit taxis too. Road congestion would be lessened on many routes, benefitting everybody. The reduced bus fleet will cause less congestion, and minis and taxis will be moving around faster. Imagine no more queuing to get around Trafalgar Square or Piccadilly Circus! The cleaner air will also keep everyone happy.
Uber Alles
Through their publicity machine, everyone has heard of Uber. Everyone knows they can download their app. and have a car arrive after a few minutes. It’s also a global brand, so there’s a certain element of trust. If successful, they could challenge the Heathrow and Gatwick Express trains, and maybe have a pop at the Oxford Tube too for good measure. With their power, will Uber get permission to take Oyster cards? I wouldn’t bet against it.
Their fares will surely have to get even lower though. I don’t think drivers’ disputes over Uber’s commission will bother customers so much. The fact is that people just want a cheap service, and Uber, and private hire generally, is seen as a relatively inexpensive option.
But they are a fashionable brand, and fashions come and go. As a fashionable brand, Uber are reliant on a sympathetic media to promote them, and also on celebrity endorsement. Publicity over Uber’s tax arrangements make people with a conscience think twice; as well as reports on some drivers’ criminal activities, insurance irregularities, and unorthodox route planning. Should the glamour wear off, they haven’t the history or tradition to sustain a fickle London public’s interest. The tide could turn against them. If they do establish themselves as a serious challenge to the buses they might be tempted to put up fares again, and to increase their surge pricing periods. We could all go back to square one again. Then what? Who knows!
Copyright: Chris Ackrill, 2016.

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Why I’m Voting Out

EU Referendum

I don’t feel strongly either way, but I’m likely to vote Out.  Fact is, non-one really knows whether we’ll be better off without the EU or not.  It’s a leap of faith.  Consequently, my reasons are as valid as anyone else’s.  The scope of my coverage is as narrow as that of any layman with little time free for independent research – and relying largely on radio phone-ins and a gut feeling.  My views on this huge and complex subject might well prove to be naïve and half-baked, with the dough so unproven that you might get a dicky tummy.  Anyway, here they are:

  • Membership is very expensive (not that I think the current government will do much with the money we save)
  • We keep our sovereignty and make our own rules
  • I’m unconvinced trade will be affected. If EU states impose tariffs, we do the same
  • I hear GB is the fifth biggest economy in the world.  There are 28 EU states.  We were originally part of a premier league but we’re now part of a diverse rag–tag bunch of countries with vastly different economies and cultures.  The EU has expanded to take in weaker countries, and will probably be weakened further when new countries inevitably join
  • We’ll have more control over our borders and we’ll be able to decide who to let in
  • The EU charged us extra because our economy improved.  Despite Cam saying he wouldn’t pay the bill, he did.  We shouldn’t be penalised for handling our finances responsibly
  • Switzerland and Norway seem to be doing all right.  Guernsey isn’t part of the EU and is doing fine
  • Obama’s “Back of the queue” statement was a telling threat.  It suits others if we stay, but I’m unconvinced it’ll suit us.  Big business bods want us to stay.  Of course they do:  they have an endless supply of EU labour and they can keep wages at subsidence level.  Supermarkets (and Uber) can pay their workers the minimum and encourage them to claim tax credits to make their money up.  Neither the government, nor the EU are helping us avoid a race to the bottom
  • The bigger, more powerful, companies can pay most of their tax in other EU countries
  • People from EU countries can come over here and claim benefits and access free healthcare (when I lived in Louisiana I had to take out medical insurance).  We can’t always do the same in other countries, certainly at the same level.  They get a better deal
  • I think our farmers and fishermen will do better without the EUs restrictions
  • The very fact that this referendum has come about will make other countries think. Stronger countries might think about leaving. What if France and Germany leave and leave us with the poorer Eastern European countries?

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The EU & the Cab Trade

(Here’d my edit of my article in Taxi this week.  My ideas here are half-baked and intended as a bit of fun, rather than serious political comment. I’m currently deciding on my voting intention re. The EU.  I might post my ideas, though like most people’s, they will be equally half-baked too):

What Has The European Union Ever Done For Us?

I’m not really a political person and I don’t feel strongly either way in the debate over Britain leaving the European Union.  Britain has been part of a union since I was at junior school:  I remember little else and don’t know whether we’d be best in or out.  I don’t believe anyone does, it’s largely guesswork.

Many people confuse being part of Europe with being part of a political union.  If you’re against membership of the EU you are seen as anti-Europe.  Not necessarily so.  We don’t have to salute the blue flag in order to respect our historical ties to continental Europe, and to enjoy what Europe has to offer by way of culture and entertainment.  Ordinary Britons have been embracing European culture since package holidays to Spain became popular in the 1970s.  Whether we’re part of the EU or not, we can still enjoy a super-strong ale in a Belgian bar, or a boozy evening in a German bierkeller.  We can drink as much vin rouge, and eat as much cheese strained through an old man’s sock as we want, anywhere in Europe.  Anyway, I started wondering whether the EU has helped the cab trade in any way.  I came up with a couple of possible examples…

The Evening Standard recently quoted Clean Air in London as saying that tiny particulate pollution has killed a thousand people in London in less than four months.  On the matter of roadside pollution I believe the EU has tried to help us by threatening the government with fines (do we actually pay them??).  Without the EU expressing displeasure at our inability to control pollution, TfL might be narrowing and closing even more roads, and flooding London with even more buses and mini-cabs, if that’s possible.  Tottenham Court Road, Oxford Street and Judd Street, remain open at present, but tension mounts as we wait to see if they are going to carry out their threat to close these crucial thoroughfares.  With so many roads out of commission, options are limited, and roads that remain open are invariably at saturation point.  During the preparation of this article I took a job from Chiswell Street to Queen Street Place.  It was a tortuous journey along Moorgate and King William Street in order to get on to Lower Thames Street.  When I started out in this game you could get from Gresham Street and go all the way through King Street, Queen Street, Queen Street Place, and on to Southwark Bridge.  It’s not good for air quality when journeys are made longer and vehicles are on the roads longer than they need to be.

The European Court of Justice also reinforced a TfL ruling that benefitted the cab trade.  Do you remember when David Griffin of Addison Lee advised his drivers to ignore the rules and to drive in bus lanes?  The case went to TfL, who told him where to go.  Dave then took the case to appeal at the European Court, who also told him where to go; or rather where he couldn’t go – in the bus lanes.

European rules have probably made vehicles cleaner, but this has to some extent been offset by road “modernisation”.  In China, modernisation is ditching your bike and buying a car.  In Europe we’re encouraged to do the opposite.  I’m not saying who has the best philosophy, but here in London there is no balance.  Truth be told, if I wasn’t driving for a living I’d probably be campaigning to turn most of our roads into cobbled alleys.  But people need to get around, and journeys are getting longer for many of us.  People have been priced out of London and have been forced further out into the outer suburbs and beyond.  People need to work and deliveries need to be made.  When commuters converge on London there’s unbearable strain on all our transport systems.  It’s so anti-car now, and there are no sensible, workable, solutions.  The desperate move to remove older cabs is a mockery when London has been flooded with hundreds more mini-cabs every week.  Why we need more buses than New York, I don’t know.  There’s more room in other European cities.  What works in Amsterdam and Copenhagen can’t work here.

The new mayor seems serious about tackling air quality, though I’m worried about his plans to pedestrianise Oxford Street.  We need to keep up the opposition to this, as there’s nowhere else the traffic can go.  If this proves to be a lost cause, I hope he keeps a reign on TfL’s worst excesses and makes them more accountable.

Maybe EU could have been used more.  Perhaps the European Court could have decided on the taxi meter issue?  Maybe they could still make a definitive ruling on what constitutes plying for hire?

In the spirit of democracy; once the Europe issue is decided, I think there should be a referendum to decide whether taxi licensing should leave TfL.  I’m sure there would be a big voter turnout for this one, and I think I could predict the result.

 

Copyright:  Chris Ackrill, 2016.

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Fantasy Driving Jobs

(Original edit of piece written for CallOver magazine)

Inspired by a schedule of driving-related TV programmes over the winter, I found myself fantasising about other driving jobs I could do.  My programmes of choice during the worst kipper season known to man included Ice Road Truckers and Double Decker Driving School.

I often joke about swapping the cab for a “rig” and moving to Alaska, but the wife says the cat won’t like the cold weather.  I wondered if I might be able to become the first ice road trucker in Leighton Buzzard, but my plans were scuppered by one solitary day of snow this winter.  Once I got the cab off the snowy driveway, and onto the main road the snow was just mush.  In Central London you wouldn’t even know it’d been snowing.  That was the extent of my career as an ice road trucker.

When I was an examiner, I dreamt of the Knowledge and cab driving every night.  Away from the sharp edge of the Knowledge I dream about road systems a little less frequently, but it’s still common for me to dream of the complexities of road systems.  I remember one morning waking in panic because I couldn’t find my way out of Victoria one-way system.  I often have strange dreams about driving my cab.  Once, my cab turned into a cycle and I had to deliver my passengers the best I could.  Another time, I dreamt my vehicle disappeared completely, and I had to piggy-back my passengers over puddles.

In a common re-occurring dream I am driving a bus.  Sometimes I’m driving it from the top deck, where I feel I have less control.  Bus driving is clearly a frightening scenario in my subconscious.  I once sat in the driver’s seat on a bus at the London Transport Museum, but doing it for a living has never appealed to me.  I wouldn’t like to drive anything bigger than a TX4 in London.  After pretending to drive the museum bus to Lewisham, the tube train driving simulator seemed much more fun.  Gissa job, I can do that…

I cringed on my sofa while watching the would-be bus drivers on Double Decker Driving School.  I imagine it as one of the hardest, most frustrating, jobs in London.  All those narrow congested roads, constant diversions, swarms of cycles, pop-up pedestrians; and the anxiety of trying to clear box junctions.  Everyone’s trying to cut you up.  I don’t know if they still have bus inspectors, but I’m sure there’s pressure to make timetables.  And they know exactly where you are and what you’re doing at all times.  No nipping in to see other blokes’ wives like in the 1970s comedy, On the Buses.  Then there’s the customer side of things.  I’m nervous enough carrying one passenger; I can only imagine the stress of having fifty passengers taking their frustration of the traffic out on you.

Each to their own.  What comes over in Double Decker Driving School is how determined and enthusiastic the trainees are.  They see bus driving as a stable, secure, career.  Doing the best for their families is the re-occurring theme.  The pride the bus driving trainees have when they pass their test was an inspiration.

During the writing of this article I had the misfortune to experience the work of more professional drivers after I ground to a halt on the M1 on my way home.  My RAC rescuers included a bloke who used to be a taxi inspector at Penton Street; and Romanian George, who transported me and my cab home from London Gateway Services.  I said I don’t think I could drive anything as big as a breakdown truck, but he said it was easy.  It seemed easy enough on the motorway, but I wouldn’t want to get called out to a breakdown in Hanway Street.

George seemed happy in his work. The bloke who loaded up my cab to take it from my home to the garage was proud of his work too. He provided a lively running commentary as he connected up a complicated series of straps and cables and winched the cab up ready for removal (I’ll never complain again about strapping in a wheelchair and using the ramp extension).  I would have shown more interest had I not been so concerned about the fate of my cab in Luton, and the enforced three-day holiday.

I suppose there are good and bad aspects to all jobs.  I might still imagine hauling my rig across the ice roads of North America, but I probably wouldn’t get on with the reality of it.  And the missus is right; it’d be too cold for me and the cat.  No, I’ll stick to the cab for now.

There’s a perverse dictum that says the more challenging a job is, the more you value it.  Few of my friends would like to do my job.  The satisfaction comes from doing something that others couldn’t do, and rising to the daily challenge.  There’s probably more than a hint of masochism at play here.  Bus drivers probably already know that.

Blog:  pubcat.co

Copyright:  Chris Ackrill.

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