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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