Monthly Archives: July 2017

Code of Practice for Cab Customers

(original edit of piece written for Taxi magazine, and published this week).

Code of Practice

Putting aside traffic-related issues, most of our problems come from our interaction with passengers.  It’s not always their fault: there’s poor communication and misunderstanding on both sides, and either party can be reluctant to make clear their wishes and expectations.  I think it’s time we compiled a Code of Practice for cab customers:

 

  • Just looking at the oncoming driver is not enough: you need to thrust your arm out with confident intent.  London is no place for limp-wristed hails (an underarm Asian-style hail is acceptable so long as it’s clear)
  • If you’re not hailing a cab, please don’t wave your arms around on a London street: we’ve all stopped for people waving to their friend across the road
  • Stop a cab somewhere sensible. Don’t expect a cab to stop at a busy junction or at traffic lights (yes, I know many cab drivers indulge you and stop at such daft places, but they spoil it for everyone.  Please don’t encourage it)

The same applies to setting down:  it takes a couple of minutes to process a credit card, so have your cash ready if you really must get out on double red lines on Euston Road.  We also don’t like you sitting in the back counting out the contents of your piggy bank with a queue of buses behind us on Oxford Street

  • Don’t stand at the back of the cab at Pancras expecting the driver to put your bags in the boot. Taxi boots are tiny, and are only big enough to accommodate the equipment we’re obliged to carry in order to make us accessible:  such as a wheelchair ramp and harnesses. There’s room for little else, even the driver’s golf clubs
  • Please try not to stop a cab on one-way streets if you are going in the opposite direction: particularly on northbound streets like Tottenham Court Road if you’re going south.  You’re quite within your rights, but it spoils it for the driver who thinks he’s on his way home if he stops for you
  • State your destination clearly and accurately. I know you’ve read about a cab driver’s enlarged hippocampus, but it doesn’t help him read your mind as to what part of Edgware Road you want.  It’s a very long road…
  • Don’t send your husband out into the street to stop a cab while you’re still at the till at The Rainforest Café gift shop. Or before you’ve got your kids in the pushchair and your shopping bags ready
  • Yes, you can bring your dog, cat, rabbit, or any other pet, with you: it’s the humans I’m suspicious of
  • Don’t put your feet on the seats, eat or drink without asking first, or throw pistachio shells on the carpet
  • No, you can’t smoke. Even if you open the window.  It’s against the law.  Vaping is also against the law, according to a sticker TfL made me put in my cab
  • Don’t indulge in any other anti-social behaviour not mentioned above. There’s one notable exception:  Man Spread isn’t encouraged on the tube, but it’s fine in a cab.  Go ahead, enjoy yourself Sir
  • Don’t ask for Paddington; then add that you want an obscure B&B on Sussex Gardens when we’re going down the ramp off Bishops Bridge Road
  • It’s bad luck say “the roads are clear today” when you are only half way there
  • Saying you want to be dropped off “half way down” is meaningless when the driver can’t see how long the road is. Just shout when we’re there
  • The driver is not responsible for the traffic. Please direct your comments on madcap road schemes to TfL
  • We have no control over taxi fares either
  • “I’m in a hurry” doesn’t cut any ice. Everyone’s in a hurry, and all trips are urgent.  In fact, Every Journey Matters – for want of a better phrase.  I respectfully suggest you look at your own time management.  Don’t try to turn your problem into my   If you’re running late for a hospital appointment, I have sympathy.  If you’re having to wait twenty minutes for the next train home, tough
  • Best not attempt to engage the driver in a discussion on Uber: like the afore-mentioned madcap traffic schemes, this is another touchy subject best avoided
  • I’ll take Euros, but ask first. My exchange rate is 1:1
  • I’ll stop at a cashpoint if you insist, but it’ll be easier for us both if you use a credit card. The meter’s still running while you queue at the cashpoint, so a card would be cheaper

Well, there you have it; these are my top tips for smooth customer relations.  I think we now understand each other.  So, sit well back in your seat for comfort and safety, sir, and away we go…  …feet off seats please…

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Anti-Social Worker

(Here’s my own edit of my article for Taxi magazine this week).

Anti-Social Worker

It’s not the first time that adverts on the back of buses have given me ideas for articles.  This week, my eye was drawn to an advert for Les Clefs d’Or, the association that recognises exceptional service in hotel concierges.  It was a jolly-looking bit of publicity, depicting a bloke in a suit looking at a map, pen in hand. He looked like a Knowledge Boy.  In fact, the legend was “Nobody knows London like Les Clefs d’Or”.  It’s an audacious claim, though I don’t think it warrants a letter from the LTDA solicitor. All I could think was, what would it be like to be a hotel concierge?

There was a reality TV show earlier this year showing hotel staff at work at the Mandarin Oriental .  I remember thinking at the time how difficult I would find this job.  I was amazed at the patience of hotel staff as they pandered to the whims of wealthy hotel guests accustomed to five-start service.  The enduring image for me was of an Arab woman who had her luggage delivered to the hotel in a removal van, complete with explicit instructions on how her suite should be converted into a children’s play pen.  Some people live in another world.

For those deemed worthy of the prestigious golden keys award, The Les Clefs d’Or website outlines what is expected from the top concierge:

“Concierge Clefs d’Or will accommodate every guest request so long as it is morally, legally, and humanly possible.  Their services run the gamut from the mundane to the extraordinary, yet each request is fulfilled with vigor to the guest’s full satisfaction.

Concierge Clefs d’Or handle all duties with zeal:  mail and messages, recommendations and reservations, travel and meeting planning, personal shopping and personal communication.  They are also supreme social advisors, business expediters, and personal confidantes. 

On those rare occasions when guests’ requests cannot be fulfilled single-handedly, Les Clefs d’Or Concierges have the necessary back-up:  a never-ending network of acquaintances, friends, and colleagues from around the world to see to it that guests’ demands are met.”

Blimey, I always thought I fulfilled all my cab customers’ requests with vigour, but this is something else.  Imagine being chased up every ten minutes for freshly-ironed newspaper, or a new round of roast swan sandwiches.  I wonder how flexible the “morally and legally” thing is?  How far would a concierge go in utilising his “never-ending network” should a Russian gangster request guns and drugs?  Would he point Sir in the right direction while politely explaining that Harrods don’t sell plutonium tea bags? 

I’m still amazed I’m serving the public, as being a socialite doesn’t come naturally to me.  I prefer animals to people, and I’d certainly rather muck out the elephants’ enclosure at a zoo, than pander to demanding people in a luxury hotel.  When I was a Knowledge Examiner, one of my valued customers was a doorman at the Ritz.  When dropping off there I’d sometimes see him go about his business.  I was impressed with the easy way he had with people:  just the right balance of brevity and formality.  I’d be too self-conscious.  It wouldn’t feel natural.  Hotel staff must deal with some very difficult people.   I would find it hard to retain a smile on my face dealing with people I couldn’t stand.

Those who give the most problems are often those who are used to getting everything handed to them on a plate.  In a cab they hold the driver responsible for the weather, the traffic; and for anyone they have been in contact with that morning, who has failed to live up to their exacting expectations.  Rich, demanding, people never seem to be happy.  They just seem to want more and more.  Too many people chase money, fame, attention; but never settle for what they have.  Over the years I have learned not to expect things that I’m unlikely to ever attain. 

In our game we can get by without being sociable.  The garrulous cabbie of popular imagination is largely confined to television drama.  Talkative drivers exist, but in my experience they’re a minority.  Most customers prefer a chat-free ride, and are often plugged into an electrical device before they even enter the hallowed portal of a London cab. 

It’s difficult to hear people properly in a cab anyway, even with the intercom on full.  All but the strongest voices are drowned out by the soundtrack of London.  Maybe it’s a symptom of getting older but I’m always amazed how younger people can carry out a phone conversation on a busy street.  All I can hear is buses and cement mixers.

No, keep your rich and powerful, and attention-seeking punters.  My favourite passenger is a package, and I’ve been known to drive long distances to pick one up on the ComCab circuit.  It’s a nice feeling knowing your customer isn’t going to criticise your route; or expect you to be their supreme social advisor, business expediter, and personal confidante.

Each to their own though.

 

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Sat Nav Johnny

(Original edit of article written for Taxi magazine).

It’s often said that your Knowledge is at its best on the day you get your badge.  I recently had to send my Cabbie’s Mate device away for a battery replacement and updates.  I survived without it for a few days, but it was an anxious time.  Maybe I need to update my Knowledge too?

If you’re not familiar with a Cabbie’s Mate, it works like a sat nav, but you can switch it to A – Z mode and draw a line between two Points of Interest.  The sat nav element has limited use in London, but the A – Z maps and the list of Points can get you out of many a sticky situation.  Anyway, I chose my moment and surrendered my device prior to a few days scheduled holiday.  This way I’d be without it for the weekend rather than on weekdays.  Weekend work is usually less challenging and I figured I could find my way to Harrods and Selfridges without electrical aid.  A few weekend jobs did test me though, and reminded me I’d been getting lazy.

A young American couple got in at Pancras on the Saturday morning.  They wanted a hotel in Shoreditch and consulted their phone for details.  Tension mounted as my mind went through the possibilities.  Shoreditch has always been a weak spot.  From my Knowledge days I’d always been confused by it’s complicated one-way streets and I never learnt them properly.  From 1999 I had eleven years out of the trade, and when I returned they’d changed some of the one-way workings and blocked off some roads.  I avoid the area whenever possible.

Confirmation came:  “It’s the Citizen M in Holywell Lane.”  Strange.  I’d driven down Holywell Lane the previous day but I didn’t notice any hotels.  We set off.  As I turned into Holywell Lane I stopped outside a big multi-coloured building.  It didn’t much look like a hotel but it was the Citizen M.

Emboldened by the successful conclusion to this particular job I responded to a couple who had just left the hotel and wanted a cab.  Columbia Road Flower Market was the destination: a short hop, but one fraught with the potential for disaster if you are out of your West End comfort zone and are dragged even further into the heart of darkness of East London.  And there was no time to consult a map.  The first problem was the No Left Turn onto Shoreditch High Street.  A right, then another right onto Curtain Road might have been the sensible option, but I panicked and went straight ahead into Bethnal Green Road.  Now what do I do?  If I go through Calvert Circus can I get a right into Shoreditch High Street and another into Hackney Road?  I wasn’t sure.  I wasn’t prepared to get caught up in Brick Lane either.  I carried on to Squirries Street, and then made the left into Gosset Street.   It might not have been the shortest route, but it was quick.  It only cost my couple £7 and they were happy.

*Fear not, Knowledge Boys reading this:  you won’t be asked this run in your next Appearance.  I’m no longer an Examiner, and most Examiners would consider this little run beneath them.

On the Sunday I trapped a nice job from the V & A to the IMAX Cinema.  It was a nice clear run, but as the cinema building loomed up as we approached from York Road, I realised I didn’t know where the entrance was.  I felt all I could do was pull in just before the roundabout and advise my man to follow the subway signs.  I suspect this was the best way to access the IMAX anyway, but it did make me reflect on how I’d let my Knowledge slip.  We pass buildings every day, yet we don’t look at them properly.  We constantly need to top our Knowledge up and remain observant at all times.  Sat nav devices are useful, but they can make you lazy if you rely on them too much.  Prior to technology we used to navigate by landmarks and this is a sound strategy that we need to keep up.  On longer runs you have time to think and plan your route.  On a short run there’s no time, you just have to go and hope that your training kicks in.  Your years of training usually gets you through.

I got my device back before the following Saturday when I took an account job from the City to South-East-Off-The-Map.  I liked to think I could find Lewisham without the aid of a map, and indeed could.  I even found my way back to the City all right.  But if anyone finds the door to the IMAX, please let me know.

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