Monthly Archives: January 2017

Good For London?

(Original edit of article for Taxi magazine).

Good for London?

Last year’s Christmas traffic was the worst I’ve ever seen it:  you could really feel the presence of 120,000 private hire cars, and the results of the year’s road narrowing.

I’d rather have Sadiq running London than the last chap, but if I ever had Mr Khan in my cab I’d still feel compelled to bend his ear about the traffic.  I’d ask if these new road modelling schemes are good for London.  I’d ask how he thought the Cycle Superhighway between The Tower and Westminster was working out.  Has it got London moving? Has it contributed to cutting harmful emissions?  I’d ask what he thought of the never-ending queue of traffic heading north on Blackfriars Bridge, and whether he thought the system at Blackfriars was clear and coherent for drivers, cyclists and pedestrians (if I were a cyclist I’d prefer it the way it was:  it’s too complicated and too dangerous).  I’d ask if he thought it was good for London to have traffic queuing all day to get past the extra set of lights on Birdcage Walk.   Other crazy road schemes I could mention are available, it’s endless.

Then there are the badly-thought out roadworks.  Tower Bridge was completely closed for nearly from October.  I’d ask the Mayor if it was good for London to close the bridge for long-term roadworks at the same time as even longer term roadworks closed Tooley Street eastbound in the same area.  On a smaller scale, how often do we see a huge pile of rubble surrounded by orange barriers blocking our progress?  It’s not acceptable to allow workmen to go off for the weekend leaving a set of temporary traffic lights guarding a huge hole in the road, as in West End Lane on the busiest Saturday of the year.  If you block a major thoroughfare you should be compelled to work around the clock until the job is finished.

Piccadilly Underpass is a strange one.  It’s often closed on weekend mornings, and was closed for a lengthy period earlier last year.  It was closed again with no apparent warning on one of the busiest weekends of the year, on the 10th and 11th of December.  Every time the underpass re-opens I’m keen to see what improvements have been made, but it’s the same grimy wall and the same poor lighting and lane markings. The outside has become nicer, but these closures have been about putting in huge illuminated advertising screens rather than improving the driving experience.  Talking of electricity, what’s being done to help the switchover to electric cabs next year?  I hear there’s now one rapid charging point in Central London!

Threats to close off streets to us have become constant.  It’s gone a bit quiet on Tottenham Court Road, but the Mayor is still keen on closing Oxford Street, and stopping us driving around Regent’s Park.  The proposed closure of Bank Junction resulted in taxi demos.  Closures are always accompanied by claims that it’ll make things safer, but this one seems to be about bus times.  Average traffic speeds have fallen from 10.9 mph in 2003 to 7.8.  Things moved faster when our ancestors drove horse-drawn cabs.

Next Christmas the traffic is likely to be even worse.  If TfL carry on selling private hire licences at the same rate there will be upwards of an extra 20,000 mini-cabs on London’s roads.  No doubt there will be a new programme of road closures and road narrowing too.

Traffic is the worst thing about London, and it’s the worst thing about our job.  It’s getting beyond the stage now where we can happily consider it an occupational hazard and work around it.  Whole road systems and whole areas are almost permanently congested.  The powers that be have knowingly created this mayhem.  It’s manufactured congestion.

The mayor thinks Brexit is harmful for London, but the one thing that is harming London is the road congestion that he presides over.  Too many people who run London fail to fail to accept that madcap road schemes are part of the problem, not part of the solution.  Businesses are more likely to desert London because their staff can’t move around the city, than uncertainty over Brexit.  If any banks do re-locate, I’ll look out for their stationary removal van on the Victoria Embankment.

Tower Bridge opened eight days early giving us an early Christmas present, and at around the same time, cabs were granted direct access to Tooley Street from Jamaica Road.  I hope the Mayor, and others controlling the streets, continue to see sense and halt the worst excesses of madcap road modernisation schemes and curb private hire licensing.  It’s the only thing that’s going to get things moving this year.

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Police 5

(The story of my police incident from last year – I expect to be finally paid next week.  The article was published in Taxi this week.  This is my original edit).

 

Earlier this year I wrote an article in which I spoke about what you might do if someone in your cab refused to pay, or discovered they had no money at the end of the trip.  No sooner had the ink dried on the page, than I was involved in an incident that put my theory to the test.

One Saturday in mid-September I was thinking of home when I stopped for one last job in Shaftesbury Avenue.  A stroke of luck, he was going to Hampstead, only ten minutes from the M1.  It was about 6pm and still light, but I felt a bit uneasy about him.  He was a young bloke with a posh accent, but seemed nervous.  He inexplicably put £3.60 in the cash tray at Swiss Cottage, which I thought was strange.  When we arrived at an upmarket address in the Frognal area he indicated for me to wait two minutes while he went inside to get some money.  Tension mounted.

After about ten minutes he came out and stood by the door, fiddling with his headphones.  After another five minutes, he walked past me at a brisk pace and disappeared.  He ignored me completely, so I suspected he wasn’t coming back any time soon.  There appeared to be nobody at home when I knocked on the door and peered through the letter box.  I gave it about ten minutes before phoning 101.  I told the police what had happened and that there was £41 on the meter.  I was told to leave it with them.

I didn’t think of taking a photo on my phone until afterwards.  Had I photographed the person on his doorstep when I first felt suspicious, it could have sped things up with the police enquiry.  I also neglected to print out a receipt as evidence.

I knew it wasn’t the crime of the century.  Even in leafy Hampstead there must be enough crime to keep the gendarmerie busy:  burglary, dodgy antique dealing, dog fouling, &c.  I was therefore prepared for a brick wall of silence, perhaps to be treated as an irritation.  Not so.  I received texts, phone messages, and emails to re-assure me they were still on the case.  I asked if I should make contact myself; after all, I knew the address.  I was advised to leave it to them.

I eventually got to speak to a policeman on the phone.  He was chatty, and was interested in the cab trade.  He’d visited the address but found no signs of occupancy.  He told me houses in the area are often rented out – at £2000 per week – and so have periods of being unoccupied.  We agreed that it looked a very posh house:  it looked like a setting for The Antiques Roadshow when I looked through the letter box.  There was no CCTV in the road, and as you know, I neglected to take a photo of the miscreant.  Unless something new came up, there was no more they could do.  I asked if one of us should post a letter at the address.  The PC said he’d do that.

A week or two later I had an email to say the case was still live, but I was realistic enough to know I’d probably have to write off my £41.  I tried to forget about it and move on.

Out of the blue I received a voicemail message from my PC.  He said he’d “identified the culprit.”  He went on to say that he’d “facilitate payment.”  My PC had turned into a bank manager, but I didn’t care, I was going to get my money!

My knowledge of police procedural is informed by TV programmes.  I imagined a couple of detectives celebrating the solving of this heinous crime over a pint at a pub on Hampstead Heath, like Inspector Morse and Lewis would’ve done.  I wondered if the offender had come quietly, or if there had been a struggle.  I imagined a crack team of cops in checked baseball caps kicking the door in, and a hardened criminal shouting “You won’t take me alive, Copper!”  The response would surely be a splintering of the wooden door, and the miscreant dragged out with a few licks of a truncheon, and perhaps a Taser for good measure.  I’d have the opportunity to put on a show in court by pointing out the thieving scroat:  “It’s him wot done it!”  Or something like that.

Of course, there would be no day in court.  I didn’t want to waste any time on that.  I told my PC I just wanted my money back and no fuss.  The PC said he would get the money and I could pop into the station to collect it.  I asked what it was all about.  It was pretty much how I imagined:  a first year student was horribly drunk and took a cab home (the drunkenness was cunningly disguised by dark glasses).  He knew he had no money but took a gamble on his parents being in.  They were out, and he panicked.  It’s a bit silly doing a runner from your own home though – he must’ve known he wouldn’t get away with it!  All he had to do was ask if he could send a cheque – I’ve done this twice before, with a 50% success rate.  The PC had had a lot of contact with the young lad and his parents.  Apparently they’d dragged him down to the cop shop by his ear and he was embarrassed about the whole thing.

Not all bilkers get caught so easily, but I can re-assure you that bilking is a crime, and the police will take it seriously.  If it happens again, I’d print a receipt after calling the police and stopping the meter, and I’d take photos if possible.

Another thought:  we all have notices in our cabs inviting our passengers to inform TfL should they have any cause for complaint.  Perhaps we should also carry signs warning that non-payers will be prosecuted?

 

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