(Article written for Taxi magazine. This is my maddest article to date, but they published it! The title was changed. I don’t know what other edits were made, I haven’t read the finished piece yet)
Stuck behind one of those big yellow tourist vehicles recently, I had an Eureka moment. I could barely contain my excitement as I started to work out how the cab trade could be boosted by a few modifications to our cabs. Forget about Uber, forget driver-less cabs: I could see new opportunities to raise the game in surface transport technology.
An exciting new initiative will make a mockery of the Cycle Superhighway, and will allow cabs to navigate the near-traffic free thoroughfares of London and beyond. It’s simple: fix a propeller to the back of our cabs and use the river.
If we convert our vehicles to something resembling the London Duck many of our problems will be over. Simply drive up and down slipways on the embankment and away we go. Compare today’s tortuous road journey from Canary Wharf with tomorrow’s smooth sailing into the City and beyond!
The technology will have to be worked on, but it should be within the ability of engineering to fit a propeller to the cab. I shan’t attempt to discuss the finer points of seamanship here, but we could provide new work for nautical engineers in Brexit Britain, and choose whether we get our cabs serviced at a traditional garage or a boatyard. That ship chandler’s shop on Shaftesbury Avenue could advise us on any nautical-related issues.
River cabs won’t be like the gondolas of Venice; I’m talking about powerful cab-boats with engines. I’m not sure the TX2 will have the power required for work on the tidal Thames, so best carry life vests and subscribe to a river breakdown service. The TX4 should be OK as I understand the VM Motori engine is already used on motor boats. Waterproofing should be easy enough; just a little more involved than the painting of the chassis we used to have for the cab’s annual overhaul. I’ll have the rubber seals on my door sills replaced before tasking to the waves, and we’ll have to remember to close the doors and windows properly – it was bad enough leaving the windows open at the Morrison’s car wash recently. We need to be on our guard against all manner of critters that live in the tidal Thames. I’m partial to a bit of plaice, but those flatfish and eels can get everywhere. We can drive around the whales and dolphins that occasionally get into the Thames.
This initiative will open up the waterways and bring new life to London. We don’t have to stop at Canary Wharf or the City; we could navigate down river as far as our vehicles will allow. There are plenty of folk living near the river around Chelsea, Fulham and beyond who would use our service. Could we make it to Southend Pier? There are a lot of cab drivers who live down that way who would welcome a less troublesome commute to Central London.
Some drivers fear the Knowledge is going to be watered down, but it can be expanded to include the inland waterways. Not every driver will want to take to the river, so perhaps offer the Knowledge with or without the rivercraft element.
Once our nautical skills are established we might be able to use Britain’s proud network of canals. A night school course could teach us how to navigate canals and open and close locks (there are a lot of locks between my town of Leighton Buzzard and Paddington so I’ll be sticking with the M1 for the time being). Perhaps Little Venice could be developed as a taxi marina, with a bustling interchange between land and water-based transport? There could be cab cafes and service centres – rather like Three Colts Lane on the water.
TfL might have something to say about all this. There’s sure to be some kind of law against converting your cab into a boat without authorisation, but I reckon it’s do-able. The best way to handle TfL is to do it first, then ask for permission. By the time they’ve caught up with what’s happening it’ll be too late. The new regime will be established. Any objections will result in a long appeals process, and by then we’ll have captured the public’s imagination like never before.
London clearly can’t accommodate 120,000-plus mini-cabs taking to the river, so the Thames would have to become like a bus lane. We’ll have to keep an eye out for pirates, but hopefully we can get the Mayor on our side to further our case and repel any invaders.
Some of my ideas might be less than half-baked, but I really don’t think the idea of river taxis is any less credible than the driver-less cabs that some people think are inevitable.
Taking things further, what about submarine taxis? Perhaps painted yellow to attract the tourists? OK, I’m taking things too far now. I concede that submarines probably aren’t allowed to operate in the Thames, but I quite fancy being the captain of “Das Cab” complete with a periscope and a scanner that goes “Ping”. Aye Aye Cap’n, It’s full steam ahead on the Thames Superhighway!