(Original version of article written for TAXI magazine)
Those of you who read my last article will know that I had another enforced holiday in April when my cab failed its annual licensing inspection. Did I miss much? I don’t think so. While I was trying to enjoy myself as a man of leisure I watched the horror of the Extinction Rebellion fiasco unfold on BBC news. The last time this group disrupted the streets I drove home in despair unable to work. This time I wasn’t a war correspondent, I was a spectator watching it on TV.
It seems the police had learnt nothing from last time. They carried people off the streets one at a time, but it was a futile exercise as other demonstrators quickly came to replace them. They reacted too slowly and too indecisively, and pretty much let them get on with it. There were video clips circulating showing the police dancing to music with the protestors. The protestors even sat on a yacht at Oxford Circus. A yacht! How can you unload a yacht at one of Central London’s busiest junctions without anybody noticing?
As protestors glued themselves to Waterloo Bridge I was shouting at the TV: “Why don’t they just hose them off the streets?!” I don’t mean Boris’s water cannon; I just mean some kind of beefed-up garden hose. I suppose they were worried about infringing human rights, or something. There might even be an EU law against it.
I agree that more needs to be done about the environment, and that it needs to be done now; but such disruption just annoys people: even people like who are watching it on TV in the comfort of their own homes. What about the rights of people innocently going about their business in London? And where did the buses go??
The whole thing is estimated to have cost the country seven million pounds. They also left a hell of a mess for people so concerned about the environment. The specific demands of Extinction Rebellion aren’t clear. I probably support their aims – if not their methods. They want to talk to the government about global issues, but what can we do on the ground? I’m painfully aware that I’m part of the problem driving my diesel cab around London. I’d be specific and ask why electric vehicles are so expensive, and why there still aren’t enough charging points. The trustafarians gluing themselves to bridges, and the luvvies speaking to the media from the Oxford Circus yacht don’t need to worry too much about the price of electric vehicles, but most regular drivers simply can’t afford to dump their diesels.
I turned off the TV and read the papers instead. Something I read both annoyed and amused me. I read about a water company that used Uber drivers to report on leaks. Severn Trent is one of several firms to have missed water leak reduction targets. In a series of two-week trials named “Virtual Fieldworker Programme”, the company hired taxis and Uber drivers to visit around 50 sites and film evidence of water leaks. The drivers then send images back to the company for them to despatch engineers out as appropriate. It’s obviously cheaper than sending surveyors out. Not everyone was amused. The GMB union’s National Officer, Stuart Fegan, spoke of the safety implications, commentating that trained engineers should be deciding if water is contaminated, not taxi drivers: “And how is someone going to feel after they report a leak, expecting a Severn Trent worker to attend with a uniform and the necessary training and a taxi driver turns up. They’d think it was a hoax call.”
When I think of it, I can’t remember the last time I saw a utility worker in a uniform inspecting anything. No-one’s been to read my gas and electricity meters for about ten years. I’ve been with various companies and they’ve all hassled me every three months to read my own meters and email the figures through. I suppose it saves paying an Uber driver to do it.
I wonder what else taxi and minicab drivers could get involved in? Perhaps feeding the cat when I’m on holiday? Changing the litter, £4 extra? We’ve all been used as a removal van. Shopping? Most of us who do account work have gone shopping for our esteemed clients. I’ve picked up dry cleaning and lost coats from offices, and boxes of gourmet cat food for a lady in Little Venice. Some years ago I picked up a lady from a posh block of flats on a Taxicard. Before we set off she persuaded me to walk down to St John’s Wood Station and buy her a newspaper. I was so amused by the request that I carried it out without question. Only when I dropped her off for her lunch date at Roast did I feel a slight twinge of resentment.
I don’t come into contact with ladies of the night as I no longer work late, but older drivers can tell tales of their cabs being used as knocking shops; by both professionals and skilled amateurs. Apparently being asked to drive slowly around Regent’s Park Outer Circle was once a common request by those desiring some privacy.
Anyway, back to the sea: the government has approved a new runway at Heathrow, so brace yourself for a return of the yacht.