(Original edit of article for Taxi magazine).
So the decision’s been taken and Heathrow is getting a third runway. Business experts say we need more capacity in order to compete with European hub airports. Experts have been telling us all sorts lately, and I’m sceptical. Anyway, if we need a new runway, I’m glad it’s Heathrow.
For as long as I remember, we’ve been told that airport expansion destroys the environment and devastates communities. But those captains of industry are saying we need more planes, and more space on which to land them on. Never mind that air quality will plummet, wildlife put at risk, and villages cut in half – this is good for Britain. I hear four thousand homes are at risk in the villages around Heathrow. The fuel aeroplanes use is at least as bad as the stuff our cabs run on – and I’ve heard no calls for electric capability here. Or a Congestion Charge.
Business people are also driving the expensive and damaging HS2 project – all to save twenty minutes on a journey from London to Birmingham. I thought we lived in a technological age. I didn’t think business had to be conducted face to face anymore. Surely most of it could all be done through video conferencing? Technology allows people to work on trains, so I’m not convinced HS2 is worth it. I’m sceptical about anything big business bods tell us: it never seems to be for our good, always for the benefit of big business shareholders, and for those high rollers jetting around the world on jollies. Concerns about community and environment always seem to be trumped by business concerns. I presume it’s the same business people who also said we needed to remain part of the European Union in order to compete. I still suspect they only want us in the EU so they can access cheap labour from Eastern Europe. Fracking is another controversial pursuit, and even if it proves to be clean and safe, you can be sure that the main beneficiaries will be the shareholders involved in the project. I notice that it’s started up north, a few hundred miles away from the bulk of Tory voters.
I’m not sure why Luton Airport wasn’t looked at for expansion, as getting to Luton from Central London isn’t too bad. Speaking personally, for last summer’s annual holiday I left a two-hour carbon footprint driving my diesel-powered filth cart to Gatwick. Luton would have taken me only twenty-five minutes, and I might have been able to do it on public transport. I’ve heard City Airport is a nice hassle-free airport to fly from, but I’ve dismissed it as an airport to use for my summer holiday as I imagine the nightmare of carting suitcases across London by tube and the Docklands Light Railway. I could make it to Euston and get a cab, but I know what dent the fare could make to my holiday funds should we encounter any flak. Stansted is a bit of a slog driving through Hackney and Walthamstow. Heathrow is closer and is reasonably accessible by road.
If expansion at Heathrow results in more passengers it follows that we’ll enjoy more custom too; but to some extent what we’d gain in increased custom would be offset by traffic congestion. We’ll lose some customers as extra congestion will put people off making the journey by road. This is why I would’ve opposed London City Airport or Gatwick. City Airport is closer to Central London than Heathrow, but the journey by road is a nightmare. It can cost the passenger just as much in money and time as the longer run to Heathrow if the Cycle Superhighway is in a particularly angry mood.
I’ve never understood why Gatwick is marketed as a London airport. It’s nearer to Brighton than it is to Central London, and on an average day it takes ninety minutes to drive there. On the rare occasion a customer asks me to take them for Gatwick I always explain that it’s going to be a long, horrible, and very expensive drive through some of South London’s busiest High Streets. I normally try to put them off and drive them to Victoria instead. The only thing that would make Gatwick viable for expansion would be if a motorway was built from Stockwell. I’d only support expansion of Gatwick if Streatham High Road was also expanded.
Birmingham was never mentioned in discussions. Experts say there isn’t the demand outside the south-east, but if HS2 is built we’ll be able to get from Euston to Birmingham Airport in about an hour.
So, most people agree that an increase in air travel is a bad thing, but the government have decided to support it anyway. Planes are Bad, Bad, Bad! That’s why we pay extra taxes to fly these days. Occasional holidaymakers like myself are charged extra taxes, but they should tax the frequent fliers and leave the occasional users alone. Mind you, we won’t see it in action for at least nine years. Call me controversial, but stuck in traffic today, I was wondering whether planes normally using City Airport could land on the deserted strip of the cycle superhighway at weekends?
Monthly Archives: November 2016
(Original edit of article for Taxi magazine).
When I voted in the referendum I didn’t see a disclaimer in small print saying “Subject to further voting in parliament.” No wonder Dave was so keen to resign and have it away on his toes. The voting form didn’t ask if I wanted a soft or hard-boiled Brexit either. No, I voted for a total exit, and that’s what the government should have delivered without delay. Dave should’ve triggered Article 50 before he went, then cancelled the direct debit and unsubscribed from the newsletter. If nothing happens by early next year, I predict a riot. Look for me in Trafalgar Square setting fire to the EU flag.
Talking of civil disobedience, 53 soap-dodgers were arrested in London on Saturday night. No-one knows exactly what these masked demonstrators are campaigning for, nor do they. But you need to be really hard to throw bottles at the Polis wearing a mask.
I understand FIFA have threatened the England football team with sanctions should they wear poppies for an international game, as it’s political. More Johnny Foreigners interfering with our business. I hope Gareth Southgate encourages the wearing of poppies. If he wants to ban something, stop players wearing those stupid headphones when they get off the team coach.
(Original edit of article for Taxi magazine. I don’t like to read my own pieces, and I haven’t read the published version in the magazine yet. There are some nice pictures though).
Keep it Unique
Taxi licensing bodies around the country are driving a move towards electric cabs. Are we ready for changes to the vehicles we drive, and what do we want the new generation of taxis to look like?
For one, it has to look like a taxi – that’s our Unique Selling Point. It can retain the semblance of the FX/TX shape that we’ve had since 1958, or it can be something radically different. The crucial thing is that it’s recognised as a taxi and it can’t be used by private hire. The forthcoming TX6 will be a variation on what we have at the moment, and will be a continuation of the cab known and loved around the world. As for the radically different, there’s the new Metrocab. This has a truly unique shape and an impressive range of modern features. It’s sure to impress any taxi customer, and I think once it becomes familiar, it’ll be a real winner.
I’m not sure exactly when we’ll see these cabs on the street, but it looks a year or two away. The move to electric vehicles is exciting, and many drivers agree. I’ve read that 80% of drivers are interested in buying a zero emission-capable cab. There’s clearly a willingness to go electric, but there are still concerns that need addressing.
Firstly, trade needs to pick up over the next year or two. Purpose-built taxis are expensive vehicles as they are a specialist vehicle with a limited customer base. We appreciate that. We don’t realistically expect a cheaper cab, but it can’t be much more expensive than current models. With work levels being depressed, few drivers have the confidence, or the money, to invest in a new vehicle. Do the makers realise the uncertainty in the trade at present? Earnings are lower than they were several years’ ago and we need to feel confident things will improve in the near future. A rise in the current cost of a new vehicle will not install confidence with drivers who’ve seen their earnings fall and their costs rise year by year. The London Taxi Company has invested in a new production site and aims to provide up to a thousand new jobs. If their next offering is priced too high, it won’t be just the drivers worrying over their futures.
There are of course, van conversions available. I’m sure the Vito is comfortable for passengers: some account customers specifically request a Vito, as other customers request a TX. However nice a Vito is, it’s not uniquely a cab! It’s not what tourists have in mind when they come to London to ride in the famous black cab. I firmly believe a London taxi has to be unique. We need as much differentiation as possible.
We nearly got the Nissan NV200, but Boris scared them off in indecision over licensing. Personally, I like the Ford Galaxy. I know Addison Lee got there first, but I’d be interested to see what would happen should several thousand Galaxy taxi conversions hit the streets. The Galaxy might be too small for our customers’ needs, but a smaller vehicle would be easier to drive, and would be cheaper than the alternatives.
Other existing van or people carriers could be converted, were it not for the turning circle requirement. I’d like to retain the turning circle myself, but perhaps we should be given the choice. If there are over 100,000 mini-cabs; shouldn’t they have to have a twenty-five foot turning circle rather than us? It would save us a lot of trouble waiting for three of them to do a three-point turn in Pancras Road. We could argue that with private hire outnumbering us about four-to-one, it’s they who should be forced to comply: not only with the turning circle requirement, but for wheelchair accessibility. I’m not sure we should continue making our taxis so tall! I’ve yet to pick up a gent wearing a top hat, and even if I did, I’d expect him to take it off before getting in.
Another major concern with going electric is that there are only seven hundred rapid charging points in the whole of the UK. Where are these charging points, and how do you actually charge them? Can you plug your cab in at home and run a cable through your letter box? How much electricity does it take to charge a cab? Does it take a month’s worth in one go, or is it like boiling a kettle? What if you live in an upstairs flat? No-one seems to know how far the range is. I’ve heard thirty miles mentioned. Driving in to work, I’m still on the M1 after thirty miles, so I’m naturally a bit apprehensive.
I expect concerns over charging will be remedied in time, and I’m sure the forthcoming electric-capable cabs will impress drivers and passengers. It’ll be nice to be able to hear our passengers speak without the rumble of a diesel engine, and the cab should be cheaper to run – until the government find new ways of taxing us anyway. I just hope the new cabs impress customers enough to improve trade.