Monthly Archives: November 2018

Keeping Our Freedom

(Original edit of article written for TAXI magazine).

We London cab drivers like to think of ourselves as free-thinking buccaneers fighting against The Man. We are subject to the same traffic laws as anyone else, but we fear no-one; save for Transport of London if we step out of line, the people manning the enforcement cameras, and the parking wallahs when we nip into a café for a coffee. We need to keep an eye on things though.

The 2016 ruling forcing us to accept credit cards has done us some good, as the public now know we all accept cards; but we undeniably lost some autonomy, and our independence could be challenged further by new ways of working. I’ve heard mutterings lately that some of us have had problems with circuits and app-based hailing providers.

It’s easy to be smug comparing ourselves with the conditions private hire competition work under: having to pay commission to be given work; the pressure to work long hours to get the good jobs; and being penalised for rejecting work. It’s not so bad for us because private hire can’t respond to street hails. They can respond to immediate hire through an intermediary electrical hail, but they can’t stop for hands going up or walk-ups to a rank. I wouldn’t enjoy being publicly graded on my performance, or told to pull my socks up or face expulsion, but I understand that taxi drivers on some app-based platforms are starting to feel similar pressure.

Traditional taxi hailing by the wave of a hand is becoming less common because an increasing amount of our work is supplied by intermediaries. The more we rely on intermediaries, the less autonomy we have. I’m on Computer Cab’s circuit. I might do a handful of ComCab jobs each day, and most days I’ll use their system to process credit cards. Sat on a rank I’m available to walk-ups, but also to account jobs through the ComCab system. I therefore have double the chance of work. I’m often offered a Going Home job when I’m thinking of turning in for the day. If I’m sitting it out for a Going Home job I am still able to bid for any other job that takes my fancy. And if there’s little doing, I can put my light on and respond to a street hail.

Many of us are now aligned to some form of electronic hailing system. We settle on the system that suits our working methods. It’s when we become dependent on an outside body to find us work when the balance of power shifts. ComCab aren’t heavy-handed, and I could survive on the street without the circuit if I had to. The trick is to use the circuit to which you subscribe to your advantage without becoming dependent. Think of it as an extra string to your bow. Some providers come down on drivers hard if they reject too many jobs. Sometimes drivers are expelled from an app for criticising the regime. We like to show loyalty to our chosen provider and to help them out with hard to place jobs, but sometimes we exercise our right to reject work. If I’m tired and facing a forty-mile drive home I’m not going to risk accepting a job with destination unknown, or the dreaded “As Directed.” I’d rather sit there in radio-only mode and let the circuit know that I’m only interested in jobs going in my direction home.

Stopping for someone in the street and then rejecting the job harms our reputation. I won’t stop for someone when I’m thinking of home, then reject them if they’re not going my way. If I’m working, I’m working. If my yellow light’s on, I’m at your service.

Rejecting jobs is a thorny issue; whether on the street or on a circuit. Many of us can remember the days when cab customers stood in the rain waiting for a passing yellow light; but the days are gone when we’d drop off at Waterloo and take our pick from a line of people flagging cabs down on the bridge as we made our way back to the West End.

If a circuit can’t cover all its contracted work, this has a detrimental effect on its reputation for reliability – remember, Uber often supply a car within three minutes. But a circuit coming down heavy on a driver doesn’t sit well with the free-thinking, autonomous, driver. It’s an incredibly fine balance that’s needed between supply and demand. If the calibration is out by the slightest degree, someone isn’t happy: the circuit are under pressure to provide cover to its clients; valued account customers might wait longer than usual for their regular ride home; and the casual user is still waiting in the rain on a busy weekend evening. It’s a fine balance indeed, and give and take is needed. Ultimately, we are all dependent on each other to make things work.

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Book Release!

This should link to the YPD Bookshop

I’m pleased to announce that my book has now gone live! I haven’t any promotional materials to put on the t’internet yet, apart from whatever comes up on the links above & below.

It’s available from the YPD bookshop at York Publishing Services (on-line, post, or regular telephone receiver).

Please don’t buy on Amazon, as I have to pay commission to The Man.

Let me know if you want any more details.

 

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http://www.ypdbooks.com/biography/1895-from-manor-house-station-to-gibson-square-and-back-again-secrets-from-the-london-taxi-trade-YPD02074.html

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A Little Knowledge Goes a Long Way

(Original edit – and title – of article written for Taxi magazine.

 

It’s understood that through our training, London taxi drivers have an impressive grasp of the city in which we ply our trade. While our knowledge of the geography of London is sound, we are sometimes deficient in other forms of knowledge: namely car mechanics. In my experience I’ve found that cab drivers have little more mechanical knowledge than the civilian car driver. We concentrated all our energies on passing the Knowledge of London and had little contact with the vehicle we would eventually need to rely on for our living. I’ve been caught out many times when the cab has played up: sometimes things have happened beyond my control, while on other occasions having a better knowledge of mechanics would have made my life easier. My most recent breakdown resulted in a very expensive repair and an enforced holiday, just over a week after my real holiday.

I was driving into London on only my sixth work day following a relaxing week in the sun. I was about a mile from my home in Leighton Buzzard when the cab lost power. I crawled into a layby with smoke billowing out the back. I called the cavalry.

The RAC man spent a fair bit of time poking and prodding under the bonnet and consulting his laptop. After much deliberation, he said he thought I had at least one injector out. Rather than spend a depressing day at the garage, I let him tow the cab to Luton Cabs, while I walked back along the verge of the busy A505 into town. I caught a bus to the pub, which is my default action following such trauma.

I feel inadequate being at the mercy of others. Over the years I’ve paid a lot of money for parts that I don’t fully understand: wishbones, bushes, anti-roll bars. I tell myself that expense is inevitable because these parts wear out quickly due to the rigours of London’s roads; particularly all those speed bumps. I don’t really know what an injector is: I can guess what it does, but I don’t know what it looks like – or what it costs to replace. Then there are those mysterious radiators and water pumps. And the various sections of radiator hose that all too frequently need changing: hoses that seem surprised at being asked to handle hot water every now and again. Radiators have given me a lot of grief. The fluid in the expansion tank stays at the same level for months, then it suddenly plummets and there’s steam and hot fluid everywhere. Last but not least are the batteries and alternators that serve you well for a couple of years, then suddenly let you down and leave you stationary in the middle of London.

On this occasion it appeared to be an injector problem. But it wasn’t. It was far worse than that. My worst fears were realised: I needed a new engine. My 2011 TX4 has done over 290,000 miles; mostly motorway miles due to my living in Northampton, then Bedfordshire. It’s a lot of miles, and I knew that the engine could go at any time. I was thinking about selling the cab before its inspection in March and buying a new one. That plan’s gone to the wall, as have my emergency savings.

It’s not just the cost of the new engine, it’s the time off. I can get on with my writing, but it was costing me money going into town every two days to go food shopping. I can’t go into town without having a pint or two to make the trip worthwhile. Just as diesel fuels our cabs, beer fuels the writer. Reviewing my work in the pub provides satisfaction, but the costs add up when you’re doing it so often.

Even though I’m back working I’ll eventually need to change some of the parts mentioned above before I can change the cab. Now the engine’s gone, the next fear is that my ageing cab might need a new gearbox in the near future. I’ve been driving really carefully since I got the cab back. I had lots of work done while the cab was in the garage, including an MOT. I’ve been told I’ll need a new trailing arm next service. Trailing arm? I’m sure they make these names up.

Anyway, I’ll review the issue next year. I’m nervous about buying a new cab though. There are still no affordable e-cabs on offer and the charging infrastructure still needs building up. Someone told me there are two new charging points in the town centre, but it’s still not enough. Maybe things will have improved in eighteen months’ time when I’ll think again about trading up.

 

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