(My edit of article written for Taxi magazine).
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?