Monthly Archives: March 2018

Spring Has Sprung

(The snow is a distant memory… Here’s my edit of my article published in Taxi magazine this week.  I’ve now put my ice scraper and windscreen frost sheet away for the year…)

The snow is now a distant memory. I’m confident that by the time you read this we can see sunshine and the green shoots of spring. It wasn’t like that at the beginning of the month.

I usually have Monday and Tuesday off. On Monday February 26th I was watching the BBC News. The talk was of the “Beast from the East”, the killer weather on its way from Siberia. There were dire warnings of serious travel disruption, and sub-zero temperatures that were going to cause folk to drop dead from heart attacks. Some parts of the UK were already suffering from The Beast, and it looked like we were all going to get it sometime over the next few days.

BBC reporters stood on motorway bridges and told of mayhem up north, down south, Wales and the west. Train companies had cancelled trains in areas where not a single snowflake had dropped. This both appalled and amused me. I certainly would have been annoyed had I needed to catch a train today. Anyway, how were they coping in Siberia where this weather was meant to originate from? Do the trains stop running in Iceland and Canada every winter?

The media love talking about extreme weather. I later joined in with the jovial humour by posting slightly smug messages on my blog. The sunshine was streaming through my windows as I spoke about how lovely and spring-like the weather was in Leighton Buzzard (I’d already got my sunglasses out, ready to put in the cab, and I was thinking about bringing my ice scraper inside for the next nine months).

I asked my twelve or so blog followers why this country grinds to a halt at the first drop of a snowflake. I spoke about the woman I saw leaving the gym that morning. She had a hat on and she was only walking to the car park a few yards away. Yes, it was cold, but I wore my shorts at Morrison’s as I always do when I’ve come straight from the gym. I later caught a bus into the town centre. They were talking about grim weather coming in the Golden Bell. The bus drivers were talking excitedly about the day off they were going to enjoy the following day when the Beast hit Bedfordshire. Dream on, I thought.

Tuesday was the same: cold but sunny.

I woke up as normal on Wednesday and prepared for work. I looked out of the window and there was a blanket of white. Oh dear. There were four inches of snow on the cab roof, and it was still snowing lightly. Even the cat refused to go out for a look.

I was now faced with the dilemma of trying to make it to London and hope things were all right there, or write the day off. It’s a terrible dilemma when you’re self-employed as if you don’t work you don’t get paid. I thought of those delivery people on zero-hours contracts who were facing the same choice. We’re all on tight margins.

Even if I could get the cab out of the car park at the back of my house I would still be faced with treacherous snow-covered roads on my estate. I found out later the main roads were passable, but a lot could happen in the forty miles between here and London. And what if I got a job to Hampstead Village or somewhere and got stuck there? The TV was already showing vehicles stuck on motorways for several hours. I took the only decision I felt I could and called a writing day.

Thursday was also snowed off. Unbelievably it was now March, and the start of spring.

If anything, things were even worse on Friday. I’d enjoyed a couple of days off, but by now I was fed up and really wanted it to end.

I was confident I’d be able to work Saturday. I started the cab, but I wasn’t confident in getting off the driveway and around the little roads without getting stuck. I felt my time would be better spent on an early lunch at Wetherspoons so walked into town. Just about everyone else had the same idea. The pub was packed at 11.45. It was like the Spirit of the Blitz and we were all huddled down a tube station waiting for the all clear. By the way, if you’re writing a book, as I am, you have every justification for sitting in pubs. I was editing my work. I was working. While there was no guilt on that score, my food and drink bill was mounting.

Most of the snow had cleared by Sunday and I got a decent day’s work in. In London you wouldn’t have known anything untoward had happened weather-wise at all. Spring was coming, I was sure of it. And feeling hopeful, I declared the kipper season over.

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Russian Poisoning

I never did trust those meerkats that appear at the start of Coronation Street. I’m sure Sergei is brewing up a nice samovar of plumonium 210 at Roy’s Rolls in readiness for the next ex-KGB spy come to retire in Wetherfield. Makes you think…

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Down the Tubes

(Original edit of article for Taxi magazine)

I picked up a copy of the Evening Standard a few weeks’ ago and found a most interesting story. The piece revealed that people were deserting the London Underground, and TfL were losing money fast. Apparently, the tube is overcrowded, full of rowdy people, and prone to delays and cancellations. Shoot, I never knew that…

TfL are expected to lose £400 million. Income from fares will fall £239 million below expectations this year, with commercial income from advertising, retail and property £160 million down. This is all “according to confidential documents seen by the Standard.” I’m not sure how the Standard got their hands on confidential documents; I’d suggest they’re not confidential at all. Anyway, let’s go with it.

The tube is the only TfL passenger service that makes a profit – for now anyway. The article goes on to say how the tube is badly hit, with passenger numbers down nearly 4%. What follows forms part of the answer: cycling in Central London is at an all-time high, up 5.8% per year. I bet TfL wished they never started this Cycle Superhighway nonsense.

That’s only part of the story, of course. Other factors are at work; including an annual 7% rise in crime on the TfL train network; plus passenger aggression, acerbated partly by overcrowding, delays and cancellations.

I often pick passengers up at the weekend who have been let down by line closures. I’m not gloating. The tube is an essential lifeline for many, and I don’t like to see people inconvenienced. But I don’t remember such disruption when I lived in London in the 1990s and used the tube regularly. Why are things are so bad now? You’d think that technological advances would have improved things and helped to mend problems quicker.

The next day’s super soaraway Standard carried another thought-provoking piece.  This one told us that electric on-demand pedicabs were being rolled out. This time, I’m definitely not gloating as it affects cab drivers too. George Osborne’s mouthpiece couldn’t resist informing its readership that a vehicle can be booked through an Uber-style app.

Mayor Khan has said nothing about the menace of pedicabs since taking over from Boris, and look what’s happened? London’s about to be flooded by motorised pedicabs.  They can travel at 15.5 mph, and they’re allowed on the Cycle Superhighway cycle lanes. Pedicabs have previously been little more than an irritation. They get in everyone’s way – especially buses – but they’ve never posed a serious threat to the revenue of licenced taxis or mini-cabs. Not until now.  These vehicles are going to undercut taxis, as well as the Mayor’s beloved transport provision. Let’s just hope that we gain a bit of work from TfLs unreliable tube system and increasingly slow buses.

I wonder how much revenue TfL have lost to Uber? People found they could travel almost as cheaply as they could on the tube, and they didn’t have to sit on buses as they lumbered along Regent Street nose to tail. TfL licensed an unfit operator thinking it would only harm taxis and mini-cabs, but neglected the fact that Uber’s use of slave labour and dubious tax arrangements, would allow Uber to undercut TfLs own transport. TfL are a transport provider who have undermined their own products!

Anyway, here’s my own confidential report: my earnings have gone down about 20% in the last five years. The reasons include wage stagnation that affects our customers; plus the illegal licensing of Uber. Permanent road closures and miss-managed temporary closures have compounded the problem, and have made cab rides more expensive. The City has become virtually a no-go area since the closure of Bank Junction, and all the other temporary closures in the area. Oxford Street looks to be going the same way. And Bloomsbury, when Tottenham Court Road is closed.

We have little control over our working environment. Much of it is in the hands of TfL, and they have harmed us all. They’ve stopped the traffic flowing as part of their anti-motorist agenda; yet have bowed to pressure from powerful lobbyists on behalf of Uber and flooded the streets with cars. I’m sure there are fewer private motorists driving in London, but every available the space is filled with mini-cabs. No, we don’t need 160,000 mini-cabs, but a private hire licence has other uses. Any motorist wanting a discounted Congestion Charge season ticket can buy one direct from TfL for a couple of hundred quid.

The funniest bit in the Standard article was the claim that Mr Khan and TfL have partly attributed the downturn in TfLs revenue down to the “uncertainty of Brexit.” How ridiculous. Yes, the country’s going to the dogs. Soon, only cockroaches and Uber drivers will be able to survive in London. We’d better all follow Boris over his bridge to France.

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