Monthly Archives: May 2018

Electric Dreams

(Original edit of article written for Taxi magazine).

Something strange happened at the start of the year: electric charging points started to mushroom up all over London. The last time I wrote about electric cabs I believe there was one solitary rapid charger in the city. Now they’re everywhere!

To add to the excitement there are expected to be two additional models of electric taxi available by the end of the year. There are still price concerns, but at least the charging situation looks a bit better.

I’m sure many of us are waiting for a sustained improvement in trade before committing to a new cab, particularly with three models to compare. I’m hoping at least one of the new cabs will be affordable. I sigh with relief every year my high-mileage seven-year old TX4 gets through its annual inspection. I feel I’m riding my luck. Every year the dents and the paint blisters get worse. Every year I worry that the gearbox or engine will pack up, and I’ll be faced with the garage bill from hell, or the prospect of committing to several years of huge monthly payments on a new cab. Every year I promise myself a new cab if trade improves. Every year I think how nice it would be to actually hear what my passengers are saying to me.

At the moment though, the idea remains a range-extended pipe dream. I can’t afford the new LEVC offering. I don’t know enough about engines to risk the second-hand market, and if I struck now it’d be another dirty noisy diesel. Like it or not, the future is electric. A diesel cab will feel like the Flintstone’s car in a few years.

Diesel vehicle drivers are already being demonised. Some local authorities are starting to charge extra for parking, and in some areas of London, diesel vehicles aren’t allowed at all. Hackney and Islington have designated some ultra-low emission roads in the Shoreditch area. From July, nine roads will be verboten to petrol and diesel-powered vehicles. Can they legally do this? Who knows, but these directives are hard to challenge. Can we at least assume that every Hackney Council vehicle needing to drive down the banned streets will be electric? All road maintenance vehicles and dust carts? All the social workers and community nurses darting about from place to place. Will fire engines, police cars, and ambulances be exempt? (what fuel do emergency vehicles run on anyway?).

In these days of choice and cut-throat competition, I think the cab trade needs a distinctive vehicle in order to capture the public imagination. Most of the people I pick up at the weekends are tourists. Many cab aficionados want a taxi that looks and feels nothing like the car they have on their driveway at home. I’m not sure a van conversion is going to do it, but we’ll see what the Nissan Dynamo looks like in the summer. The other two models are unique enough. They’re different from the TX4, but they still look like taxis.

We’ll have to compare the range the different vehicles can cover before switching to petrol – and then ultimately running out of petrol and grinding to a halt. The Nissan Dynamo doesn’t come with a petrol engine at all (Will the RAC be equipped with mobile chargers?).  Reading about the new cabs and chargers in Taxi I was thinking about an account job I had recently: Pall Mall to Gatwick. It took one hour and fifty minutes to get there, then two and a half hours to drive eighty miles home to Bedfordshire on three congested motorways. An electric car driver could come unstuck on a run like that. It would have been unbearably stressful had I been worrying about running out of fuel.

Living forty miles from Central London I’ll certainly be researching charging points locally before committing. I haven’t seen any in Leighton Buzzard yet, though we do have electricity. And colour television. I suppose a slow charger will give me an excuse to sit in a pub for an hour or two, but that novelty will soon wear off. Even waiting around for half an hour every day is a no-no for me. That’s twenty-five minutes more than I currently spend re-fuelling. That’s technology going backwards, surely? I’ve no idea how home-charging works: do you just run an extension cable through your letter box like when you mow the lawn?

I’m not sure how much it costs to charge a taxi with electricity, but I assume the current price is an introductory offer. We’re still in the dark as to how much this whole electric cab project is going to cost us day to day. One thing that is only just being talked about is the fact that to be allowed to charge up with electricity at certain sites you need to take out a subscription – up to £32 per month from what I hear.

The last time I wrote about electric cabs, our biggest energy supplier, British Gas were about to put their electricity prices up by 12.5%. During the writing of this piece I heard that their customers on dual-fuel tariffs are facing an additional 5.5% rise, with both British Gas and N-Power. Maybe things will get more competitive? Possibly, but I wouldn’t be surprised to find that by the time most of us have converted we’ll be spending about as much as we’re currently spending on re-fuelling with diesel. We’ll see. ..

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Weather Report

(Original edit of article for Taxi magazine).

I don’t know what the weather is like as you’re reading this, but at the time of writing it feels like summer has been and gone. A month after the last of the snow we enjoyed the hottest April day since 1949. One minute we still had the central heating on at home, the next I’m getting my shorts out for the summer. The weather has now settled into a typically unpredictable spring.

Thursday April 19th was a miserable day as I crawled around the West End in the boiling heat wondering what roads were left open. Roads around Hyde Park Corner were closed off for the Commonwealth meetings.  Pall Mall westbound was closed, and I was alarmed to find Brook Street closed too (I think this one was for roadworks, though there was no notification, as usual). I made it to lunchtime, and thought I’d treat myself to some cool air afterwards. I found out my air-conditioning had packed up. It was like driving a kebab shop.

My cab had recently passed its inspection, but it was still costing me money. That’ll be another £50 for re-gassing my air-conditioning system – when I can afford it. I spent £50 a few days after the inspection when I noticed steam issuing from the bonnet when I put on at the Jermyn Street rank. I got the cab to the Luton Cab Centre without incident before they closed, and had an early finish. I barely made my diesel money for the day. I must have had every section of radiator hose replaced in the last two years. What do they make these hoses out of? Aren’t they meant to be waterproof and heat resistant?

Some days later the cab failed to start when I was about to set off in the morning. The RAC fitted a new battery. I’d lost a day and £147. I wish I took the trouble to learn a bit about engines earlier in my career. At least I’d have an idea what these parts were that I seem to have replaced at every service. Wishbones, bushes, trailing arms, anybody?

I shouldn’t really whinge about not having air-conditioning. In earlier days it was a luxury, and considered a bit flash for a taxi. The first FX4s I drove didn’t have it. You had to open a window, manually. Electrical switches were a rarity. When I bought a new Fairway I didn’t think it was worth spending extra money on air-conditioning. I thought having a sun roof would be enough. I then realised that a sunroof serves as a magnifying glass. Opening up the sunroof to its fullest four inches I didn’t feel any cooler. You get a bit of air, but also a lot of dust and debris from building sites (we all know how many building sites there are in London now; do the new cabs come with opening roofs?).

I don’t know how we survived the hot summers. Over-heating radiators were more common in the 90s. On particularly hot days I’d be swerving around cabs and buses that had ground to a halt in a heap of steam, and were awaiting things to cool down before adding more water.

Cyclists must get really hot peddling away in the heat. Most of us learnt the Knowledge on a motorbike. I was also a motorcycle courier. It was desperately hot in the summer wearing a crash helmet and protective clothing, but I felt I needed some protection riding around Central London all day, then riding the company Honda VT500 home to Upminster. I’ve seen many motorcyclists wearing T-shirts and without gloves recently; in the West End and also on motorways. It makes me shudder. Things were no more comfortable in the winter when you needed thermals and furry mitts. No, I wouldn’t go back to courier work; whether on a cycle, motorbike, or in a van.

 

If I had to choose hot or cold weather, I’d go for hot. I hate those cold, dark, winter evenings in the cab.

Maybe I shouldn’t complain too much about my job. Hyde Park Corner is back to normal, and I’ll have my air-conditioning back soon. Mind you, I’ve not had the need for any cool air since those few hot days in April. In the weeks that followed we had little but cold, rain, and hail. There were even warnings of snow on high ground at the end of the month. I forgot about my air conditioning and even put the heater on a few times. Anyway, there’s nothing more British than complaining about the weather.

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Public Safety?

(Original edit of article for Taxi magazine).

How’s this for a kick in the head? From Monday 16th to Wednesday 18th  April they opened up Bank Junction to all traffic. This was a temporary measure while dignitaries met for the Commonwealth Heads of Government Forum. I don’t know how often Commonwealth heads meet up in London, but we’re here all the time. This insults those of us who rely on free-flowing traffic in order to do our jobs. Those of us who are in London every day, not once in a blue moon.

The temporary re-opening is an admission that Bank Junction’s closure is all about protecting bus timings. The traffic doesn’t flow any better, of course; it’s just diverted to neighbouring streets. The City clearly didn’t want Commonwealth heads stuck in traffic as they make their way to and from the meetings. Maybe there were dignitaries staying at the Ned?

I don’t know how the dignitaries were getting around: did they take taxis? Or were they treated to chauffeured limousines? (most likely). Would the limos need special permission to drive through Bank Junction? (I’ve seen no Olympic-style lane markings).

The City closed Bank Junction because they said it was dangerous. They cited public safety. Are they now ignoring safety? In opening the junction up they are either saying it is not dangerous; or that it is still dangerous, but they are happy to put VIPs at risk with all those nasty taxis, mini-cabs and vans driving around. It’s like if they relaxed speed limits. If it has been deemed unsafe to drive at over 20mph, and the speed limit is scrapped for three days, it suggests driving over twenty wasn’t dangerous in the first place.

It all gives the false impression that London is open for business. Had the junction remained closed, the VIPs would think it odd there were no taxis or private cars in the City of London, only buses and bikes. London is essentially a working city, yet it is treated like a theme park. The different themes are awarded their own dedicated road closures on a whim. Little regard is paid to those who live or work here. We’ve recently seen Unilever promising to re-locate to Rotterdam because their staff can’t get around London for meetings. Whole areas of Central London are inaccessible for much of the day through ill-informed closures, or traffic schemes that artificially create congestion. Look at the complicated re-modelling of the Blackfriars are in which Unilever sits. It’s a dangerous mess of roads for motorists, cyclists and pedestrians alike.

The alternatives to Bank Junction include a slalom of chicanes and temporary lights on Gresham Street. Other difficult to negotiate roads like Lothbury and Bartholomew Lane help form a treacherous bypass of bus-only Bank Junction. The scene is nothing like that depicted on a London postcard that Commonwealth visitors might have picked on their last day: a few black cabs; one 1964 Routemaster bus; and near-empty streets. At least seeing these streets in person gives the opportunity to VIPs to experience modern London envisioned by TfL and its anti-motorist allies.

What’s going on in the City anyway? Road closures on provincial high streets that last a few weeks last months or years in London. Canon Street eastbound seems to have been closed for several months with no indication as to its re-opening. The closure has recently been joined by Gracechurch Street. Is Queen Victoria Street eastbound open when Bank is closed? I think it is, but I’m not sure. Now the westbound seems to be closed. Can we use Queen Street to escape some of the madness? It seems to be open sometimes, and not others. There’s no clear signage. There’s no consistency.

Access to Bank Junction is essential, and it should never have been closed. It adds insult to injury when roads closed for being dangerous are opened up temporarily to create a false impression to visitors. Those making the decisions aren’t going to listen to cab drivers, but when major corporations move out because of roads are closed and systems made too complex, they should realise that something very bad is happening on our streets.

 

 

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