Monthly Archives: August 2017

Speed Awareness Course

(original edit of article written for Taxi magazine.  If you’re looking for something to do in Newport Pagnell on a Sunday morning, please read on…)

Summer of Discontent

One of the best aspects of our job is its flexibility:  there is satisfaction in knowing we can use the 24-hour clock to choose which days and times to work, and it’s nobody’s decision but ours.  However, I’m increasingly changing my week around to accommodate London’s disruptive programme of special events and road closures.

Some road closures are so extensive that a day off is the only sensible course of action.  I often take Sundays off in July when they close Regent Street for their summer shopping extravaganzas.  I worked around the first Sunday closure this year, but then the yellow signs sprouted up warning us of various sporting events scheduled for almost every Saturday and Sunday in July (August seems to be going the same way).  How they can schedule running and cycle racing in Central London on the day they shut Regents Street and surrounding roads?

Why Regent Street anyway?  The Mayor missed a trick here:  If he’s planning to permanently close Oxford Street, he could have tried to soften us up there first.  While we’re at it, is there some kind of bus festival going on around Cavendish Square this summer?

I intended to work Saturday the 29th, but on checking the TfL website it seemed that almost every useful road in Central London was being turned into a cycle race track. I’d already decided to take Sunday the 30th off as I wasn’t prepared to try to work around a cycle race while Regent Street was closed.

I chose Sunday 30th to book my Speed Awareness course.  I’ve a pretty good driving record, but I’ve clocked up two incidents so far this year.  My first crime was getting caught on camera touching the yellow box junction as I turned left from Midland Road into Euston Road  (buses also touch the sacred yellow grid, but I’m sure they don’t get photos of their vehicles posted to them with a demand for money).

My second unfortunate incident was getting caught driving at 48 miles per hour in a 40mph limit.  This was on the A5 in Dunstable as I drove home from London one evening.  I had the choice of a £100 fine and points on my licence, or to attend a speed awareness course at my own expense.  I’d attended such a course about seven years’ ago when I lived in Northampton.  I was filmed rushing back with a KFC Bargain Bucket a mile from my home.  Since then, they’d turned off all the speed cameras in Northamptonshire to save money.  I assumed they did the same in Bedfordshire.  I’ve lived there for 2 ½ years and I’ve never seen any flashes go off.

I was interested to learn that you can book a course in any location you want to.  At first I thought I might like to make a day of it and book a course in a seaside town:  maybe even work a weekend in Devon around it. Thinking more seriously, it wouldn’t really be fair on the missus to leave her to amuse herself for several hours while I get lectured at.  I decided to go somewhere on my own, nearer to home.  So, I found myself in an office block in Newport Pagnell on that Sunday morning.  Newport Pagnell is only thirty-five minutes away – if I put my foot down.   The courses also vary in cost: mine was one of the cheaper ones at £80.

I’ve got to say, it was quite an enjoyable experience.  After checking there were no wives of politicians present, proceedings commenced dead on 8am.  Talk about speeding:  the male trainer clearly wanted this event over with as quickly as possible, and spoke so fast it was hard to keep up. He set a challenge: if any of us could correctly identify the speed limits of various classes of roads, we could go home at coffee break.  None of us did.  It took me the full four hours to get into my head the difference between a single and a double carriageway (what looks like a dual carriageway is actually a single carriageway if there’s no central reservation).  The speed limit on a dual carriageway is 70mph unless otherwise indicated, so you don’t want to get it wrong.  We learned that we concentrate for fifteen minutes in every driving hour, and that we tend to drive faster if the music we are playing is faster than our heartbeat.  The trainer quipped that we should be OK with Coldplay (I suspect I was blasting out Motorhead on that fateful day in June).

Do you get irritated by the constant changes in speed limits on a smart motorway?  The red-circled speed limit signs aren’t triggered by a person, but are set automatically by radar in the cats’ eyes.  Rather than having everyone come to a halt on a congested motorway, the system merely slows you down, so you progress smoothly through.  Our two-wheeled friends weren’t discussed very favourably, but when one man claimed that all motorcyclists break the speed limits, the trainer reminded us that out of the twenty-four of us, there were no bikers present.  When we were asked to list a hazard I held back from shouting out “Uber drivers!”

I don’t want to give the impression I’m a serial speeder – I’m not.  I rarely go above 65 on the motorway, and I’m always scratching my head at the speeds some people drive at on country roads (the deadliest roads of all).  The course did its job:  I try to drive more carefully, and I’m thinking of switching to Classic FM. I don’t intend to get done again.  Though if I do, I have a few weekends free next July.

Leave a comment

Filed under Published Articles

Round the U-Bend

(Original edit of article for Taxi magazine).

Some people still think there are too many cabs on the streets – or more accurately, too many cab drivers.  In fact, driver numbers are reducing, and there are fewer people starting the Knowledge. Drivers are retiring, and fewer would-be cab drivers are prepared to sign up for three years of blood, sweat and tears; not knowing what kind of future the trade holds for them.  Their big question is:  will Uber destroy the London cab trade?

Uber’s aim is clear:  to build up a power base of investors and government lobbyists, then use loopholes in taxi and private hire legislation in order to dismantle taxi and private hire operations around the world (well done to Reading and North Tyneside for having the courage to ban Uber).

There’s been a lot of talk about English tests for private hire drivers, but it’s a minor factor.  It might slow licensing down, but other factors are likely to prove more decisive.  The employment status factor is interesting:  should Uber lose their appeal and be forced to treat its drivers as employees, they will have to provide the rights and benefits that apply to regular employees.  Uber can currently undercut taxis and competing PH firms, but if they are forced to grant employment rights it’s a different story.  Uber’s business model will be destroyed and it won’t be able to sustain cheap fares.

Then there’s the publicity angle.  Many high-ranking employees have left in the wake of negative publicity:  over twenty staff members left following allegations of sexual harassment and discrimination of female staff.  The high number of sex attacks Uber’s drivers have been accused of has also caused concern:  the Met recently reported a 50% rise in allegations against Uber drivers.  One of the most alarming incidents concerned the rape of a woman in India by an Uber driver.  The driver who attacked the woman was jailed for this, and other crimes; but not before an Uber executive obtained the medical records of the victim in order to discredit her.  The executive responsible was sacked after journalists discovered details of the incident.

As the bad publicity continued, Dodgy Dave Cameron’s friend, Rachel Whetsone found it too hot and left.  More recently, CEO Travis Kalanick, was forced to resign when investors turned against him.

The biggest turning point will be when investors start to pull out of this increasingly toxic brand.  Reports suggest that those trying to sell their investment are finding it hard to find buyers.

There’s such a vast conveyor belt of drivers required to maintain Uber’s model of over-supply, that if licences are capped, the company will be weakened.  It will no longer be able to guarantee a car within three minutes – a pretty impressive selling point to be fair.  Its drivers might be less inclined to put up with current working practices should they become more sought after.

The good news is that private hire licensing is already slowing down.  It’s reached saturation point where too many drivers are chasing too few jobs and no-one is making any money.  Unless numbers continue to fall, a cap on licences looks inevitable.  No-one thinks having 117,000 mini-cabs on the streets of London is a good thing, and if that figure rises, something will have to be done.

London Mayor, Sadiq Khan, isn’t happy about the traffic mayhem and pollution that unrestricted PH licensing has caused.  Mr Khan and the government have been arguing whether the Mayor actually sought a change in the law to restrict PH numbers.  Mr Khan said he’s “written a number of times” to Transport Under Secretary, Andrew Jones.  Mr Jones replied in the House claiming he’d “made no formal representations on capping the number of private hire licences in London to the Secretary of State or Department of Transport Ministers.”  Who should we believe?  This sounds like Cameron’s government denying they’d put pressure on Boris when he wanted to curb Uber.  We’ve seen the emails, Dave.

Uber, as they stand now, can put competing PH firms out of business in the race to the bottom.  We’re in a stronger position as we can ply for hire in the traditional way.  Our numbers might be gradually reducing, but there’s still a trickle of new blood through the Knowledge system.  Those of us left standing will still be able to respond to street hails and service the many hotel and station ranks.  That work won’t necessarily go to Uber.

If PH licensing is capped, the number of drivers will reduce dramatically.  Most people don’t stay in the PH trade for long.  There will be a queue of drivers attempting to apply, but those already licensed will still renew their licence every year.  Those who stop driving a mini-cab will keep their licence should they ever want to return in the future.  A PH license also serves as a Congestion Charge season ticket:  who’s going to give that up? (something else that needs looking at).

I don’t think TfL have the courage to refuse Uber another licence: there’s too much pressure from powerful people.  But I think things will become less favourable for the PH trade anyway; particularly for Uber, when their investors desert the sinking ship.  With Uber gone, or at least greatly weakened, many of its drivers might return to the less rapacious PH companies.  Things might settle down in the taxi and private hire world and go back to where they were a few years’ ago.  Wasn’t it great when all we had to worry about were Addison Lee?

Leave a comment

Filed under Published Articles