(This week, I compare TfL with North Korea – I think I can safely say I won’t be working for TfL again. This is my original edit and original title of article published in Taxi magazine).
I always chuckle to myself when I see a copy of Taxi left on the back shelf of a cab. The magazine is casually arranged to look like it’s been left there accidently, but the headline revealing Uber-related crime statistics gives the game away: a point is being made.
Earlier this year, some drivers started displaying the esteemed LTDA publication Taxi – or a tabloid newspaper – on the back shelf of their cabs whenever it carried a prominent headline about our Uber friends. And there have been plenty of headlines: the Cameron government pressurising Boris to leave Uber alone; Uber drivers implicated in terrorist attacks; and the shocking Uber-related sex crime figures that few people want the public to know. Factual reports, but unpalatable to those charged with the responsibility of doing something about them.
It’s good that TfL have expanded their army of enforcement officers, but they took things too far when they accused a driver of having “unauthorised signage” and removed a copy of Taxi from the back shelf of a cab on Harrods rank. They felt the headline “Rapist Uber Driver Jailed for 12 Years” was “misleading” and “not TfL’s belief!” The headline was a fact, not an opinion: it wasn’t open to the charge of being misleading. The Harrods driver was actually accused of not agreeing with the opinion of two TfL enforcement officers. I don’t see how TfL can take any action against a driver displaying unapproved materials: how can they prove a magazine wasn’t left there by a passenger?
Are TfL spooks officially called enforcement officers or compliance officers? I’m not sure, but both titles sound rather militaristic and scary: what are they enforcing? What must we comply with: the opinions of TfL staff?
Where else do we hear about people being intimidated for holding views contrary to the regime?… Ah yes, the Democratic People’s Republic of North Korea. When you think about it, North Korea and TfL are quite similar: both regimes supress free speech and operate a totalitarian approach; and their top people have delusions of grandeur. And far reaching tentacles.
For a London transport licensing body, TfL have some strange outposts. I’m sure we’ve all received TfL documents originating from Sheffield. As a knowledge examiner I had to make phone calls to Sheffield to get clearance to use the photocopier. And it took a suspiciously long time to get security clearance and finally obtain my laminated identity card: “007: licensed to print A4 sheets in black & white.” If TfL operate out of Sheffield, why not further afield? Maybe they have an office in North Korea?
Has anyone heard from the harassed driver since this sorry incident? Perhaps he was whisked away to Pyongyang under the cover of darkness, and is currently undergoing interrogation and brain-washing? I imagine grainy images of the arrested driver being shown on North Korean TV. In a stilted voice, and with a glazed expression, he can warn others thinking of displaying subversive publications on the back shelves of their cabs. With his face perhaps showing evidence of confessing his crimes under duress, he can assure us that the regime is firm but fair: “I’m not being harmed by the regime…” After ideological re-education he could well be transported back to London, his memory skilfully wiped by James Bond villain-type scientists. He will then be free to take his place as a servant of the regime. He might even be turned into becoming an enforcement officer himself.
Have any other drivers disappeared? There are cab drivers I used to see regularly in the caffs who I don’t see any more. Perhaps they’ve retired? Perhaps they’ve gone to the great cab rank in the sky? Or their disappearance could point to something more sinister. Thinking about it, some of them were prone to express opinions contrary to the regime.
Following the Harrods bust, I’ve noticed a lot more newspapers and magazines on the back shelves of cabs displaying contentious headlines. The LTDA, and the newspapers, continue to supply headlines on the shortcomings of Uber – and the LTDA advan is out and about spreading warnings of Uber even further. Transport for London’s censorship didn’t really work, did it?
TfLs role is as a licensing body; not as a censor or an enforcer of political correctness. As for drivers wishing to take things further, is there any chance they can flash up any contentious headlines on those illuminated roof signs?