(original edit of article for Taxi magazine).
I’ve spent a fair bit of my working life as a self-employed sole trader, with reasonably success. It doesn’t suit everybody though. You need self-discipline and a sense of responsibility.
You need self-discipline, as every day we face the choice of getting out of bed or not to go to work. No-one but yourself is going to reprimand you for taking unauthorised leave – or throwing a sickie. We need to be able to handle responsibility because when things go wrong it’s down to us to sort out. When your cab is out of commission for any reason it can cost you dearly (as I write this, my cab is in a local body shop following a disastrous inspection failure – more about that next time).
Being your own boss has its advantages and disadvantages. You have to take the rough with the smooth. Being self-employed helps give you motivation. You never know if you’re going to have a good or bad day, but you have some influence over the outcome. As an agent of my own destiny, I can choose my own hours using the twenty-four hour clock and experiment with different hours and days. I can work longer and turn a bad day into a one. Taking things further, I can choose to take on different work completely, or start a new business. Having a portfolio career would allow me to work the cab part-time.
I’d hate to do my job for a regular wage. It would be boring and restrictive to have to work the same hours every day for the same pay. Even the wage was good I’d be going through the motions. I’d need the motivation – excitement even – to know I had the ability to motivate myself to improve things.
Working to regular hours wouldn’t suit any of us who drive cabs. What if your agreed five days included days where it’s virtually impossible to work? I like working weekends but I’m regularly having days off to avoid disruption. I wrote a whole weekend off in March: I got just three hours in on Saturday 23rd until anti-Brexit demonstrators closed off Central London. I didn’t bother at all the following day when a half-marathon shut many of London’s key routes.
I could be having a slow day, and I’m watching the clock until I feel I’ve put in a shift and can justify heading home. Out of nowhere, someone stops me and asks for Terminal 5. A bad day has suddenly turned into a good day. This has often happened when I’m thinking of home but open to one last job.
A guaranteed income is over-rated. Whatever you’re paid you cut your cloth accordingly. If you’re not being paid much you know you’re not going to afford many luxuries, and if you sail too close to the wind, when unforeseen things happen and you’re presented with an unexpected bill, you’re in trouble. If you’re on good pay, you will get used to that level of income, and whatever you earn will be eaten up. It’s the same with having time on your hands: however much free time you have you’ll always find something to fill it with.
There’s also the matter of tax and National Insurance. It costs a lot to keep a cab on the road, but our tax bills are negligible compared with employees on similar pay. When I joined TfL as a Knowledge Examiner I was on a decent wage, but I was shocked when I received my first pay slip and saw how much I was deducted. When things were running well I was financially better off on the cab, even taking into account holiday and sick pay.
I’ve tried other self-employed pursuits, including writing. Writing is even more precarious. Few people make a full time income. I’d need five columns in national magazines every week, plus a best-selling book, to make a living. It’s a nice image, tapping a few words out in your pyjamas until it’s time to go to the pub to edit your work. You clock off after five pints and congratulate on a job well done. Of course, it’s not like that. When I look at the sales for my book the pint glass is always half empty before I start. Hence the cab
As everyone knows, driving a cab is one of the best part time jobs you can have. I’m often asked if I would choose to go into this job if I had my time again. I’d say it depends on where you’re coming from. Rather than spend three years doing the Knowledge, you could go to university (I’ve done both). It’s not always the answer. Everyone’s job has got harder, and few people have job security. After university I thought I was safe as a Careers Adviser. I took voluntary redundancy in 2010 and went back on the Knowledge. The company I worked for has downsized staff every year since then, and better folk than I were unceremoniously put out to grass in middle age. That’s scary. Probably more scary than worrying about Uber.