Monthly Archives: August 2019

No Sleep till Hornchurch

(Original edit of article written for Taxi magazine this week)


I laughed when I heard that a union had claimed that applying the Congestion Charge to minicab drivers is racist. In a two-day hearing, the Independent Workers of Great Britain trade union claimed that 94% of London minicab drivers are from an ethnic minority background, while 88% of taxi drivers –who are exempt from the £11.50 daily charge – are white. The charge is therefore racist. Unsurprisingly, they lost the case. Honestly, these lawyers make bundles taking on any half-arse case on behalf of those with deep pockets and talking crap.

Those percentages are an approximation. I don’t think they’d stand up in law. What does “white” or “ethnic minority background” mean anyway?  Almost everyone can claim an element of mixed race. I don’t know how they’re going to define that one in legal terms.

The figures are based on those irritating ethnic monitoring forms so beloved by social workers and public sector departments. That figure of 88% white just indicates a proportion of people who responded to a vague, un-scientific, questionnaire. Not everyone would have responded accurately; either because they’re undecided, or as a “spoilt paper” protest at being asked such personal questions. Have you noticed how they ask about your sexual preferences now? I can’t imagine my parent’s generation being asked whether they were black, white or shorthaired tabby, and whether they preferred boys or girls! I don’t fill those forms in any more, they annoy me. I sometimes feel like presenting myself as a transgender Sikh; partly as a protest against intrusive questions, and partly to make myself appear something more exotic than straight white British.

What’s all this information used for anyway? To target deals that I might be interested in, like when you look up one item on a website and get marketing emails every day and forever afterwards? The government and public sector most likely want to keep tabs on us. These groups champion diversity, yet want to categorise us more than ever. Maybe they sell the details on to Russian gangsters when they’ve finished cataloguing us?

Taxi drivers wanting to work in inner-London have to pass a long series of traumatic exams for that privilege. They also have the option to just study for suburban sectors. Minicab drivers can work anywhere in London, on a licence that a chimpanzee could get. If they don’t want to pay the Congestion Charge they can stay in the suburbs with the yellow badge taxis. Of course, we’ve seen plenty of London-licenced minicabs operating in towns well out of London since private hire expanded to saturation point. They outnumber taxis by over 4 to 1. They’ve become victims of their own success. It’s a luxury for them to be able to work in Soho. They’ve had it too good for too long, and congestion has reached the point where something had to be done. They can use any car they want too, so why not use a wheelchair accessible one and save on the charge? We have no choice in the matter.  The IWGB claim that minicab drivers are losing up to £200 per month as a result of the Congestion Charge. I’ve been losing £200 a week since TfL flooded the streets with Uber.

People aren’t generally recruited to be self-employed taxi or minicab drivers We’re not tapped up to join MI6. The majority of taxi drivers in London might happen to be white, but that just reflects the people who have bothered to apply. Your colour isn’t part of the application process. The union claim would hold some water if non-white applicants were treated any different. They’re not. I worked as a Knowledge examiner and I know. So what if 88% of London taxi drivers are white? That’s almost the average for the British population as a whole. If the ethnic make-up of the two trades is an issue, whitefolks could say they’re under-represented in the private hire trade and demand some special rights. Perhaps they’d let us drive a cab without the turning circle?

The IWGB claim that 71% of the 94% “BAME” drivers (Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic – are you keeping up?) live in the most deprived areas of London. That’s probably true, but I don’t see many taxis parked on driveways on Bishop’s Avenue. I can’t afford to live in London; in a deprived area or not. As an ex-Knowledge examiner I know where taxi drivers live: they all live in Hornchurch. Every man-Jack one of them. Not all of Hornchurch is leafy and affluent; there are some grim places on that 165 bus route. I lived there as a teenager, but I couldn’t afford to live there now. I’m just about surviving thirty-five miles out. I don’t see any TfL minicabs in Bedfordshire, but they must be doing all right if they’re living in London. Luxury!

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I Don’t Understand It: Cricket

England won the World Cup, then they’re playing again a few days later! Don’t they have a rest? I believe they’re currently playing Australia. They play the same team and it goes on for days. All day; not ninety minutes like football. I wonder about the spectators who spend a whole week watching the same match – don’t they have jobs to go to?

Other things about it I don’t understand: some days the ball is white, another time it’s red. Sometimes they wear vivid colours, sometimes both teams are in white. And what’s this I hear about poor light stopping play? Why not turn the floodlights on??

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Trust Your Head

(Original edit of article written for Taxi magazine).


Reports suggest that cab passengers will soon be able to get alerts when the Google app they are using senses that you have strayed off course. Minor diversions shouldn’t trigger an alarm, but if you go off course more than 500 metres you might have to explain yourself. I don’t think I’m being controversial in saying that it’s largely the private hire competition who are going to be the more nervous, though we’re all likely to get the occasional passenger who thinks they know more than we do about the geography of London. I don’t know about you, but I trust my own judgement over a computer anytime.

I first became aware that customers were following my route on a phone app about five years ago. After a short hop from The Mall into Soho, my Indian man beamed and said “very good.” It was good to get the vote of confidence, though I had nothing to worry about. On a different run the bells might have been ringing though. I’m sure almost all cab drivers going from Central London to Heathrow use the M4. Look at a map: we should be using Bath Road for some of those runs to Terminal 5. Someone following the route on an app might question this. I’ll go any way a passenger wants me to go. If anyone ever questions me over a run to Heathrow I’d me more than happy to sit on Bath Road and go around those roundabouts and around buses.

I’m unsure if the new alerts on Google will factor in the time element. Or the pain-in-the-arse element. Have a look at Victoria to Cricklewood. It’s a straight line, so would satisfy the bots at Google. Have you ever tried driving from Marble Arch to Cricklewood? I go home via the M1 so if I ever finish near Victoria I make for Staples Corner. I wouldn’t go up Edgware Road though! It involves negotiating two of London’s most slow and challenging gyratories: Hyde Park Corner and Marble Arch. Then there’s the crawl up Edgware Road. If the shisha fumes don’t overcome you, the stop-start traffic will. It goes on for miles, dragging through Kilburn and Cricklewood. West End Lane is no better.

Driving myself home I usually bypass Marble Arch and go through Mayfair. Once I’m on Regent Street I just go straight up into Regent’s Park and come off at Avenue Road. It’s a much longer route than going straight up Edgware Road, but it’s faster. Carrying a passenger it may or may not save money as well as time. Finchley Road can be bad with all the buses and coaches, so I sometimes use Fitzjohns Avenue.

A satnav only shows you one way, unless you fiddle about with the settings. Both the shortest or fastest route settings are pretty useless in London. I also warn against using a satnav if you’re on holiday in Wales. I once set the satnav for a route that would have been simplicity itself had I followed a map in the traditional way. My satnav’s shortest route sent me down narrow country lanes for miles. It was a very stressful experience.

A satnav doesn’t take into consideration road closures – I’m unsure if the new Google app does. Cannon Street has hardly been open since they closed Bank Junction off a few years ago. The Bank closure left Cannon Street as the only sensible option through the City, but it’s never open. At the time of writing half of Mayfair and Marylebone is closed. I think the closures are temporary, but who knows? Even if there’s a yellow sign up, they don’t tell you much.

Our Knowledge training teaches us to use the shortest route. It’s right and proper that our default is set to the shortest route, but in practice we need to employ our own internal computer – our brain – to find the optimum route in any given situation. Traffic conditions change throughout the day. With experience we learn what certain roads are going to behave like at certain times of the day. It’s a huge matter of pride that we know the shortest route. We’re proud of our lines, but sometimes they’re out the window when we need to keep moving to save time. The skill is to have alternatives stored in our brains to use when traffic is heavy. This is where misunderstanding can occur. Thankfully few people question us, as our customers usually have confidence in our judgment.

We could get a few more questions as more people follow the route, preparing themselves for an alarm bell to go off on their new Google app; but we’ve every right to feel confidence in our abilities to both know the shortest route, and to get out of trouble if we need to take evasive action due to heavy traffic or road closures. The situation is worse for our mini friends who have largely learnt on the job, often slavishly following a satnav. Our work is cut out keeping up with the constant changes to our road systems and traffic behaviour. We know that a satnav won’t get us out of trouble, but our brains just might.

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