Monthly Archives: May 2017

Real Life Scenarios

(Original edit of article written for Taxi magazine)

From December 4th, the driving test is being updated to respond to the demands of 21st century driving, and real life scenarios will take the place of some familiar features.  Following a satnav will form part of the test, and reversing around corners will become history.  Does this mean obeying an electrical device is more important than parking and reversing?

Certainly not.  Anyway, removing reversing from the test was something of a media scare story in the lead up to a quiet Easter break.  The radio stations I listened to neglected to say that although reversing around corners, and three-point turns, won’t be tested; bigger and better additions are on the menu.  Reversing in and out of a bay, and parallel parking, are new features that could be asked for.  As most people have to reverse into a parking bay at some time or another the changes seem a good idea.

I’m less sure about the satnav element of the test though.  Many people use a satnav, but it’s not essential.  You can drive perfectly safely without a satnav – in fact I’d say it’s safer without the distraction.  One in five driving tests will feature a satnav, supplied and set up by the examiner.  The daft thing about it is that you’ll “be able to ask the examiner for confirmation of where you’re going if you’re not sure.  It won’t matter if you go the wrong way unless you make a fault while doing it.”  In this case, I don’t see much point.

The Drive

Driving tests bring back both good and bad memories from my past.  I passed my regular driving test at the second attempt nine months after I started the Knowledge.  As for the taxi driving test, these days you take the “Drive” when you are still on the Knowledge.  Back in the eighties this was the final hurdle before gaining your badge.  I’d finished the Knowledge, but still had the Drive hanging over me.  I didn’t know it at the time, but I was to have an even longer gap before I was let loose on the public.

The taxi driving test centre was in Southgate Road at the corner of Balls Pond Road (predictably now a block of flats).  As I drove out of the gate with the examiner in the back, someone stopped me and asked for directions.  This threw me, and I ended up making mistakes and failing the test.

I failed the next one too.  Reversing around cones evidently wasn’t my strong point.  I was also told off for driving above thirty miles per hour on what the examiner called the “Turkish Sector” on Green Lanes.  I’d apparently run a red light to boot.  I swear it was amber guv.

Advanced Driving Test for London

If things continue, most cars in London will be mini-cabs before long.  I wonder if this is the idea behind the satnav test?  The GOV.UK website says the changes to the driving test “are designed to make sure new drivers have the skills they’ll need to help them through a lifetime of safe driving.” Perhaps there should be a special advanced test for London driving?  I can think of some real life scenarios that could be incorporated into future taxi tests, and in any future private hire driving test.  Here are some scenarios that could be used (no satnav allowed):

  • You’ve never driven in London before. Make a left turn on to Blackfriars Road without accidently driving into the oncoming cycle lane
  • You’re heading west along the Cycle Super Highway intending to turn left on to Westminster Bridge. You then realise it’s a banned turn.  Can you work out how to make it over the bridge?  Please explain to your examiner why on earth the left turn on to Westminster Bridge should be outlawed.  Extra points will be awarded if you can say how much more time and mileage you’ve wasted, and how much pollution the extra mileage has caused
  • You are in Museum Street aiming for the City. The traffic is turning right into Bloomsbury Way, but the signs are indicating Ahead Only.  Do you go straight ahead as directed or follow everyone else?
  • Both outside lanes on New Bond Street are blocked by vans and mini-cabs. Try to stick to the middle lane the whole length of the road without letting other vehicles push in
  • Attempt to drive between Ye Olde Swiss Cottage and Platt’s Lane on Finchley Road (either direction). You will be required to remain in the Bus Lane at all times.  A taxi will be provided for the test
  • Emergency Braking section: from a steady thirty miles per hour, brake when the light turns amber and stop before the advance cycle srea
  • From Cranbourn Street, go straight ahead as if to drop a passenger off at the Hampshire Hotel in Leicester Square. This section tests how you deal with surly rickshaw drivers, and how you negotiate crowds of pedestrians looking at their phones
  • From Cartwright Gardens you are bound for St Pancras International. There’s a giant crane blocking the whole of Mabledon Place.  What do you do?

In this section satnavs can be used:

  • Set your satnav from Manor House Station to Gibson Square. Your mission is to make the journey in the estimated time.  Take care with the speed bumps and twenty miles per hour speed limit
  • While listening to difficult jazz, use any combination of map, satnav, or direction signs, and find your way to Trafalgar Square, Parliament Square, Hyde Park Corner and Marble Arch on a Sunday afternoon. Oh, there’s a march and rally starting right now on Park Lane.  It was too late to tell you, sorry.

Writing as a self-styled consultant I reckon I have the essentials of London driving covered.  I’m now working on a driving test for driverless cars.

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National Licensing Bureau

(Original edit of article published in Taxi magazine)

I didn’t write about cross border hiring too long ago, but things are getting worse.  The menace is spreading.  With the borders down, Transport for London has unwittingly become a national licensing centre for private hire, supplying mini-cabs to the whole of the country.  Hundreds of lucky drivers gain their TfL licences each week, and it’s a licence to print money in the town of their choice.

Since de-regulation, word has got around the taxi and private hire world that drivers are free to work wherever they like.  It’s now a total free-for-all.  The Berlin Wall has been breached, and it’s liberation day.  All you have to do is identify the licensing authority with the slackest regime and apply there.  Aspiring taxi drivers might live in an area with a stringent licensing process, and possibly a Knowledge test.  No problem, just get licensed in another borough.  Thereafter simply work where you feel like.

Earlier in the year I spoke about how Knowsley Council suspended licensing for a few weeks at the end of 2016 as it couldn’t cope with the flood of applications.  Knowsley Council had stopped testing taxi drivers’ Knowledge, and it was clear that many drivers were applying for Knowsley licences with the intention of working in Liverpool or Manchester where the regime was tighter.

More recently it was found that 177 private hire drivers residing in Sheffield were licensed in a city hundreds of miles away.  Guess where?  Yes, London.  Over the last six months there has been a 330% rise in TfL private hire licences for drivers with a Sheffield address.

In addition to the London licensed drivers, there are 400 PH drivers with Sheffield addresses licensed by Rossendale, near Blackburn.  Drivers are coming into Sheffield from many other places, including Wales.  Here’s what Sheffield Heeley MP Louise Haigh said: “Sheffield Council prides itself on its strict licensing and rigorous training conditions which help keep taxi and PH users in our city safe.  But the change in the law is riding roughshod over these protections meaning drivers from across the country can get a licence from areas with different standards and requirements and still operate in Sheffield”.

Sheffield Council have done everything right.  They’ve have tried to run a tight ship, only to have it overrun by pirates from foreign lands.  Their reward is to be flooded by drivers who’ve gained licences where the regulations are lax and there are no restrictions in numbers, notably London.  The situation is grim for genuine Sheffield drivers, and for the cab-riding public who might reasonably expect to be driven around by a local expert accountable to the local licensing authority.  Not so.  Safety and standards are out of the window:  Sheffield Council have limited enforcement powers because their drivers are licensed elsewhere!

You might not think this affects us, but Sheffield drivers licensed in London can work in London too of course.  When Sheffield is full, they can come back to London.

It amazes me how someone can drive around a strange town with confidence.  I’ve lived in the small town of Leighton Buzzard for over two years, but I’ve little idea of what goes on past the train station.  If I had to drive a cab here I would have no idea.  You don’t soak up the geography of a town just by living there, not for cab driving purposes anyway.  The area needs to be studied and experienced.  You need to learn every main road, every suburb, and every main route in and out of town to have any idea.  We all know that.

I find sat navs next to useless in big cities.  I’ve driven in Sheffield a few times and have found it challenging to say the least.  The sat nav was sending me down streets that were permanently blocked off and around and around one-way systems and ring roads until I got dizzy.  A few years’ ago I took a taxi from a Sheffield city centre rank to a restaurant in Kelham Island, barely a mile away.   Another driver had to explain it to my man before he attempted the journey.  Maybe he was really a mini-cab driver from London?

TfL either can’t, or won’t restrict, PH licences.  Sorry, but it seems absurd to me that they can totally transform London’s road system, yet complain that they need an Act of Parliament to restrict mini-cab numbers.  I can’t imagine many MPs voting for the traffic mayhem around Westminster.

London is seen as a soft touch and has become the go-to authority for a quickie licence.  In desperation TfL have put up hurdles to try and stem the tide: things that the public should expect as standard; such as proper insurance, topographical testing, and a good standard of English.  Whether or not licensing will slow down with the English language tests, who knows?  When they’re all speaking like Nigel Havers we could all be in trouble.

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