Monthly Archives: March 2017

More About Uber…

(original edit of my article for Taxi magazine).

Know Your Enemy

In order to combat Uber, we first need to understand why people use them.  After talking to friends about their transport use recently, I came away with a better understanding of the appeal of our competitors.

My research was undertaken at the Upminster TapRoom on a Saturday evening.  In the streets outside there was a sea of yellow lights.  The phrase: “It’s like Piccadilly Circus”, was apt.  This is a suburban yellow badge area, but where many green badge drivers also live.  Judging by the high number of empty cabs, it appeared to be an area where the cab trade are finding it hard going.

The two friends I spoke to admire the taxi trade, but more often than not, use Uber to get around.  My Upminster friend can clearly find a cab straight away, so there’s no problem with supply.  The only issue is cost when he needs to take a longer than average journey.  He spoke of wanting to get home one night from Liverpool Street.  He took an Uber as it only cost £30.  He asked how much it would’ve cost in my cab.  I said at least £70, but thinking about it later, it would be considerably more than that.  How can they do it that cheaply?  It must take the best part of an hour to get there; and when you factor in returning empty to the City, you’re talking £15 an hour.  When Uber have taken their commission, it doesn’t leave the driver with much.

We all know drivers are lured in with ludicrous claims of high earnings.  Driver dissatisfaction in the private hire sector has been well publicised, but Uber still manage to offer up an impressive brigade of drivers.  Uber pride themselves on supplying car within three minutes, and my friend confirms they turn up quickly.

It all works by over-supply.   It doesn’t matter to Uber if they have thousands of drivers parked up doing nothing.  It only affects the drivers.  The customer wants a car within three minutes, and Uber can arrange it.  Driver turnover is high, with new arrivals coming to take the place of those who have left disillusioned.  There’s always someone there to drive you to Essex for a pittance.

London is saturated by private hire.  I’ve heard colleagues complain there are too many taxis too.  But the number of taxi licences has hardly gone up in several decades.  There aren’t too many cabs, it’s that the drivers are staying out longer to make their money up, or are working extra days (weekend work has plummeted over the last year or two).  Taxi numbers are only kept down because of The Knowledge.   Imagine if it was as easy to get a taxi licence as a private hire licence.  If we over-supplied there would be a public enquiry.  Imagine the rank space we’d need if our numbers were going up by several hundred every week like the minis.  Never mind the unofficial Paddington rank starting at the Metropole; cabs would be queuing from Marble Arch.  The public don’t notice the mini-cabs parked up, or circuiting around.  London private hire cars don’t display a PH plate:  they display a virtually unreadable licence sticker, further disguised by the tinted windows that taxis aren’t allowed to have.

The over- supply of PH licences means Uber can cover all of Central London, the suburbs, the airports, and any other town they fancy – current hotspots for London licensed Uber seem to be Southend and Brighton.  Not every booked Uber car will turn up, and not every driver will know where they’re going.  The driver might be funny about guide dogs, or gays; or he might throw you out if you criticise his choice of route (or his sat nav’s).  Thirty quid all the way to Upminster though  – the customer will take the risk and pocket a sizeable saving!

I reminded my friend that many of our drivers now use hailing apps, and he could book a taxi the same way as an Uber car.  He knows that, but says it’s not that well publicised.

People now know about Uber’s tax avoidance.  They know their drivers are being exploited.  They have heard the term Uberisation, used to describe the gig economy, zero hours contracts, and the sham of self-employed status.  We queue for work on actual ranks, but things are even worse on the virtual rank that the PH and zero-hours contractors are on.

The thing is, the bottom line is all that matters to many people.  I’m no better.  I use companies that dodge UK tax and treat their employees – or self-employed “partners” – abominably.  I know I shouldn’t; but the price, convenience, and delivery times, overrides my conscience.

Ever since private hire started, the two services have appealed to a different clientele.  Some people only use a mini-cab, some only use a taxi.  There’s a floating middle, who use both.  We’ll probably never win the custom of those who just look at the bottom line, but we could win over the middle ground.  In the years when things were better we lost some of the middle ground while chasing the top end.  The only way we can compete now is to appeal to everyone.  We now all take credit cards, and our apps are getting known.  We must provide a quality service at all times.  We need to consider fixed price fares on occasions.  A century or so ago, we appealed to the gentry because a gentleman could get into our cabs without taking his top hat off.  In order to wear the trousers, we have to remember that gentlemen no longer wear top hats.

 

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Insensitive & Unreasonable?

On Wednesday March 22nd, 2017, a Muslim convert drove a hired car into pedestrians on Westminster Bridge.  Three people were killed, and about fifty injured.  On attempting to storm the Houses of Parliament he stabbed a policeman to death, before being shot dead himself.

On the following day there were many road closures still in place in the Westminster area, when I was allocated an account job from Goldman Sachs to Cambridge Street, Pimlico.  The route went right through the heart of Westminster, so I had to take a slightly amended route.  I did really well to avoid the closures and resulting queues of diverted traffic, and was sure my esteemed passenger would appreciate my sterling efforts.  There were police vehicles speeding around, and we went past Millbank Circus where rows of international TV crews were parked up.  It was like a war zone.

We were almost there when m’lady commented that it would’ve ben better had I chosen a different left turn from Warwick Way, thus saving maybe a hundred yards.

I didn’t say anything, as it was a wait and return job and I still had a long ride back with her to the City.  All she was up to was picking up some papers, then returning to the office.  She cost her bank £53.  Honestly, some people.

 

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A Week in Politics

No wonder there’s such unemployment – George Osborne has taken all the jobs for himself!  He’s the new editor of the Evening Standard, while remaining the MP for Tatton. He has no experience of running a newspaper, and thinks he can fit it all into four mornings a week.  Being an MP clearly isn’t demanding enough. He also has his hands full with big business consultancy and trousering many thousands for after dinner speeches. As Chairman of the Northern Powerhouse, I wonder how that fits in with the Southern Powerhouse of the London Evening Standard?  If I were Mrs May, I’d tell him there was a conflict of interest and give him the boot.  He’s hardly going to be impartial as a Conservative MP on the Standard.  He probably drives for Uber in his spare time too. Anyway, thanks for your threat of financial Armageddon and an austerity budget.  That’s what made people like me vote Brexit.

Jimmy Krankie lookalike, Nicola Sturgeon, has demanded another referendum about Scotland leaving the union. It’s only 2 1/2 years since the last one.  It’s outrageous splitting the UK is discussed before formal discussions have even started on leaving the EU.  In the unlikely event that Scotland votes to leave, we can hardly negotiate two exits simultaneously.  Can’t you wait two or three years?  You’ll have a better idea how things are looking.  I think there could be a civil war in Scotland if they vote to leave.  Many Scots like being British and would like to stay in the UK.  It’s be no means certain the EU would have them either.  If they do leave and manage to join the EU, should their economy collapse, it’ll be the EU bailing them out, not us. Get real.

Donald Trump reckons British Intelligence spied on him for Obama.  Is this man high on spice?  Yes, and MI6 are still spying on him through his TV.  Every time he switches on repeats of Downton Abbey, Jim Carter is recording everything he says.

 

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The War on Diesel

(Original edit of article for Taxi magazine)

Evil Diesel

London Mayor, Sadiq Khan, has delivered a report to the government on how it can deliver a national scrappage scheme for diesel vehicles.  I wonder if that will include taxis?  And if so, how much we can expect to be offered?

It’s said that air pollution causes 50,000 premature deaths.  The government is becoming increasingly concerned, and City Hall is advising against unnecessary travel on high-pollution days.  I smiled wryly to myself as such a message flashed up by the side of Marylebone Road recently – having by-passed Euston Underpass to escape congestion exacerbated by the closure of Tavistock Place.  I’ve criticised London’s mad cap road schemes enough in the past, so I’m not going to get into road rage mode now, except to assert that road narrowing has a lot to answer for.

The Mayor believes motorists should be given up to £3,500 to replace their diesel cars with cleaner vehicles.  That won’t do cab drivers much good if we’re offered a similar amount, as that’s not much of a deposit on a new vehicle costing in excess of forty grand.  Of course, another big problem is, there are no electric cabs to offer us in part exchange anyway.  It’s gone a bit quiet on the electric cab front, so we’re probably looking two years into the future at least.  Hopefully by then, there will be more than one rapid charging point in London.

Years ago we were encouraged to buy diesel vehicles, as the carbon dioxide emitted by petrol engines was held responsible for global warming.  We don’t hear much about global warming now, and it’s emissions from nitrogen oxide in diesel that’s cited as the current evil.  Had the taxi manufacturers known that before the diesel backlash, they might have switched to petrol engine cabs.  I seem to remember a petrol option being available some years’ ago, but I don’t think they’re available now.  Anyway, the future is electric, and I think it’s an exciting move.  I just wish they’d get on with it.

I always suspected diesel was dodgy though. I bought my TX4 (Euro 4) cab from new six years’ ago, but was alarmed at the amount of smoke that London’s greenest and cleanest cab emitted.  On its first two annual inspections it failed on the emissions test.

Diesel cars still account for nearly half of all new sales, and as we know, drivers of certain commercial vehicles have no choice in the matter.  So, it’s annoying hearing people on radio phone-ins clamouring for more fuel duty to put on diesel.  The Mayor is also going to charge cars over eleven years old £10 to enter Central London from October, regardless of the vehicle’s mileage, or maintenance record.  I’ll park this particular issue, as we’ve had enough of this nonsense with our cabs’ birthdays under Boris.

What I’ve heard so far is too much stick, and not enough carrot.  Whenever the subject of air quality comes up, we hear experts telling us we should be walking and cycling to work.  As if we all live in Mayfair.  Are they so out of touch they don’t realise most people working in Central London live in the outer suburbs, or outside London completely?  Even if I had somewhere to park my cab in London, I couldn’t cycle in from Bedfordshire, and a train season ticket would cost a lot more than my diesel does.  Even if you have an office job in the City and live in Berkerley Square, a bike’s impractical if you’re carrying more than a sandwich box.

A car is a big investment, and a diesel car is what we were told to buy not so many years’ ago.  Many people will still be driving these.  It would be wrong to change the goalposts now.  I understand a third of the population are living in in-work poverty.  If poor people bought a diesel car way back, they probably couldn’t afford to let it go now. The London cab trade in particular is an industry of around 22,000 vehicles, and converting every vehicle from diesel to electric is going to take many years.  We don’t hear much about buses in all this: what about those nose to tail convoys of red monsters lumbering along Oxford Street and Regent Street?

The government are also concerned about pollution from wood-burning stoves.  Personally, I don’t know anyone with a wood burning stove, either at home, or fuelling their cab.  I don’t think the Carriage Office would allow that, though I think I saw something like it on Top Gear once.

 

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The Week in London: Bombs, Explosions, English Lessons

Friday:  a suspected gas explosion in Soho caused chaos in the West End.  Further north in Brondesbury, an unexploded German bomb caused even more widespread travel problems. It could only have been a month ago that another German bomb was found.  They say they’re left over from the war, but I reckon it’s a Brexit warning from Angela Merkel.

Uber lost their appeal, and their drivers will have to pay for English tests.  When they’re all speaking like Nigel Havers, the game will really be finished, guvnor.

 

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Sturgeon

I don’t like that Nicola Sturgeon, there’s something fishy about her.

I don’t get why she criticises the UK’s wish to leave the EU, but wants Scotland to split from the rest of the UK, for similar reasons.

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