Monthly Archives: February 2017

Donald Trump

It suddenly occurred to me who Donald Trump reminds me of.  He’s like one of the boys with ADHD I used to work with in a special school, as a Careers Adviser.  He’s the one sat on his own in the referral unit for misbehaving.  High on fizzy drinks and E-numbers, all he can do to amuse himself is watch porn on his phone and send stupid tweets. He needs to take his Ritalin.

That said, like many of the kids I worked with, I find him quite entertaining too.

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Border Patrol

 

(Original Edit of article for Taxi magazine)

2017 is sure to be another interesting year in the London cab trade.  The general public would’ve been aware of some of our gripes last year – including concerns over Uber, and the mad programme of road re-modelling that slowed the traffic down.  People might not be aware of another issue likely to be heatedly discussed this year, and that is cross border hiring.

It’s entirely understandable if no-one outside the cab trade has heard of cross border hiring.  Any member of the public would reasonably expect all taxis and private hire cars to be operating only in the geographical areas they are licensed in.  The thought that drivers are licensed in one area and work in another sounds both crazy – and probably illegal, but it’s happening all over the country.  It’s incredible to believe that when drivers find it hard going in their own licensing area, they can simply work in another town, where trade is better.  Usually, drivers licensed in smaller towns work in bigger towns or cities, though we’ve also seen private hire cars licensed by Transport for London working in cities such as Brighton, Bristol, and Southend.

The satellite towns around Merseyside have drawn chancers in to Liverpool for many years, and one of these licensing areas, Knowsley, recently suspended issuing new taxi licences after being swamped by applications. In December 2016, the council received twice as many applications as they would normally expect.  The suspension was only for fourteen days, but Knowsley Council were left scratching their head as to the reasons for such a surge in demand for licences:  “As a result, we are reviewing our processes and the reasons for the increase in applications.”  I don’t think they need to look far.  Transport provision is a honey pot.  It might not feel like it for us at the moment, as it’s spread so thinl; but in many areas of the country it’s easy to get a taxi or private hire licence, and it’s getting easier.  It looks likely that Knowsley’s sudden popularity is down to the council’s lifting of the “Street Knowledge” section of the application process.

I doubt the Knowledge of Knowsley bears any resemblance to the Knowledge of London, but a study of geography still takes a degree of effort and commitment.  The new knowledge-free licensing regime is insulting to the established Knowsley drivers who have seen their work eroded by newcomers.  The aim of many of these drivers is to go to work in the bigger cities of Liverpool or Manchester.  This practice of cross border hiring is seemingly legal, and now unwittingly encouraged by a council with no idea what they unleashed.  Would-be taxi and PH drivers looking for big city honey pots just have to apply for a licence with the fewest restrictions.  Knowsley fits the bill with its £49 licence application.  Just show you are a “Fit and Proper Person”, pass a DBS and DVLA check, have a medical and show a year’s driving experience.  Once you’ve passed the checks, you need to complete the Level 2 Certificate in “The Introduction to Role of the Professional Taxi and Private Hire Driver” and take driver skills assessment with the council.

Knowsley Council did something that our own licensing authority claims they couldn’t do – suspend licences.  This is interesting in itself.  London is saturated with mini-cabs, but the 400 or so licensed each week can’t be all working in London.  They go where the work is; where the streets aren’t so clogged.

A statement on Knowsley Council’s website said:  The current rate of applications is not sustainable as the council’s licensing service simply has not currently got the resources to manage and regulate the increasing level of drivers, particularly if some of these drivers have no intention of operating within in the Knowsley area.”  They acknowledge that some drivers won’t be working in their licensing area, just as TfL know they are licensing nomads, pitching up their in areas where the work is.  TfL have the resources to carry on licensing hundreds of licences a week because it’s a money spinner.  They’ve tightened things up recently with English language and licence requirements, but they are still essentially “selling” licences.  Licensing hundreds of drivers each week takes a lot of resources, but it’s obviously worthwhile.  How quickly are these licences turned out anyway?

Cross border hiring is sure to be discussed later this year, during a consultation on The Policing and Crime Bill.  It’s not fair that drivers who have sat tests to become taxi drivers in their own area have to put up with pirates coming in from elsewhere.  De-regulation has allowed this farcical situation to grow.  Private hire seem to be able to legally operate outside their area; and taxis, which are more highly regulated, can also work in other areas if they are operating as private hire. Or something like that. I’m not sure if drivers licensed in other countries can come to work in our cities, but we already have foreign interlopers in the shape of Uber.  I think we need to close our taxi borders as soon as possible.

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Taking Stock

(My edit of article written for Taxi magazine).

Taking Stock

Late last year the subject of cryonics came up.  This is where you have your body frozen in the hope that you can be brought back to life at a later date.  With the Kipper Season biting, now might be a good time to be cryogenically frozen.  When might I like to be thawed out?  Should I hang around until I can see West Ham win the Champions League?  When Uber are run out of town?  Or for just long enough to see trade improve?

I expect the process is more involved than freezing a pack of chicken legs though.  Freezing humans sounds weird and scary; something from science fiction – maybe as fictional as West Ham winning the Champions League – yet, a few years’ ago the idea that all London taxis would accept credit cards sounded like science fiction.  A year ago I believe only about 40% of us took cards, so it was a rapid turnaround, and a rapid change in cab culture.  Many things happened in the trade last year, and towards the end of the year we had several reasons to be cheerful going into 2017.

The word is getting round that we all take credit cards, and I’m sure this will result in more business.  We are also being granted more rank space.  I didn’t use ranks much in the past, but I’ve found them useful over the last couple of years when I’ve bored of driving around burning diesel.  I’m excited about the prospect of greater access to bus lanes.  I hear we’ll be able to follow the buses across the westbound slip to the left of Euston Underpass.  This will prove invaluable when the underpass is jammed; as it is most of the day since Tavistock Place westbound was closed to us.  I’m not sure whether it might happen, but wouldn’t it be great if we could turn right from the Strand directly on to Waterloo Bridge like the buses?  Or make the right from Bloomsbury Street into New Oxford Street.  I believe worsening traffic poses more of a threat than an increase in PH licences, as it puts potential customers off.  Just getting access to short stretches of extra bus lanes is a step in the right direction.

I think we generally have the support of the new Mayor.  He’s not going to give us everything we want, but I think he’ll treat us with fairness.

New Private Hire rules are being brought in that will protect the public and make things fairer for us.  Some elements within Private Hire are up in arms, but the new regulations are only what the public could reasonably expect as a matter of course.  Every PH customer should expect their driver to be able to understand English and have proper insurance on display.  Customers should expect operators to have a base in London and be easily contactable should they have queries or any complaints.  Many of the reforms are supported by the traditional PH companies, and many PH drivers also support a cap on PH licence numbers.  TfL need to get their finger out on this one.  They complain that they need parliamentary approval, yet they capped Suburban taxi licences easily enough.

It’s interesting to see that the taxi and PH groups find themselves in agreement on many issues:  it’s mostly Uber who are complaining.  The Mayor is “disappointed” that Uber are fighting reforms.  I expect TfL are disappointed too.  Talk about biting the hand that feeds!   TfL licensed a tech company as a mini-cab operator, knowing that it had no contact phone number, was going to use a mobile phone as a meter, ply for immediate hire, and would pay tax abroad.  If Uber are only supplying the App, as they claim, how could they ever be licensed as a London Private Hire operator?  I bet TfL regret rolling over so easily now Uber are taking them to court over the new regulations.

There was more bad news for Uber when their drivers were ruled to be employees rather than self-employed.  This could be catastrophic for Uber, as will have to treat their drivers to holiday and sick pay, maternity & paternity leave, and pensions.  Maybe they will also have to collect tax and National Insurance from them too.  Uber are appealing this one too.  They’re certainly spending a lot of time, money and effort on legal disputes.  They obviously think control of London is worth fighting for, but if the employment status ruling holds they’ll be well on the back foot this year.  Imagine every Uber driver demanding backdated holiday pay!  Their fares are sure to rise making them less attractive, and many of their drivers will struggle to pay huge increases in income tax and national insurance.

Cab drivers have become more commercially astute over the last few years of famine, uncertainty, and rapid technological changes.  We’ve been forced to think more about ways to get business, and to research new opportunities.  There are various Apps available, to compliment the more traditional radio circuits.  We have all, or at least, most bases covered.  This wasn’t the case in the past.  We’ve upped our game in the face of new, rapacious and unfair, competition.  We need to stay organised and united as we take the fight into the New Year.

So, I think I’ll arrange to be de-frosted in the Spring of 2018 and see how things are.  If I can still smell the kippers would someone just pour some more ice cubes over me?

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