Monthly Archives: October 2019

New Knowledge of London Book

Not my book, but one by Tom Hutley. A fascinating read for anyone interested in the training that London taxi drivers have to take to get licensed. As a former Knowledge Examiner I endorse this as a true and accurate record of what the weird & frightening world of the Knowledge entails!

The book is available from Amazon.

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“To become a London black cab driver aspiring students have to undergo a unique and arduous exam process formally known as; The Knowledge, an average study time of 3-5 years.

Join Tom Hutley on his journey from a misguided university graduate to 3 years of mentally capturing and reciting all of London’s; roads, streets, and points of interest, achieving the required standard it takes to become a London cabbie.

“You are not just a taxi driver, you are a professional navigator; you hold the keys to London in your mind and are an expert geographer of the six-mile radius of Charing Cross station. Best of all, this Knowledge belongs to you; No-one can ever take that away from you, and let me tell you, it is incredibly liberating to know the ins and outs of one of the world’s major cities!”

This book will not only demonstrate the best practices to get you through The Knowledge, but give an insight into why so many men and women put themselves through the long and arduous study”.

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Boris’s EU Letter

How can he send that letter before 11pm tonight – the Post Office is closed! That’s what I’d say anyway. Boris, mate, just tell ’em you put a stamp on the envelope and put it in the post box earlier. When it doesn’t arrive, just blame the shoddy postal service in Europe.

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Keeping Your Head Above Water

(Original edit of article written for Taxi magazine).

New York City yellow cab drivers have been having it tough for a while. Like many taxi groups around the world, their trade has been hit by unfair competition from organisations like Uber. The situation in New York is particularly bad because in the past, drivers paid huge amounts of money to buy access into a trade where numbers are restricted.  Each taxi needs a licence medallion. The medallion system restricts numbers, and by 2014 they cost up to one million dollars to buy. Drivers can lease a medallion for $100 per shift, but in the past drivers took out loans to buy medallions when times were better and are now finding it hard to make the loan repayments. The arrival of Uber, Lyft, &c. have greatly reduced trade and taxi drivers aren’t making enough money to cover their loans. Some drivers have committed suicide over the worry.

Debt isn’t something you hear discussed in the cab caffs, but many of us have been affected by it at points in our lives. I’m managing to keep my head above water, but there have been some grim times.

London drivers don’t have to buy medallions; but a cab loan, or the weekly rental, takes a big chunk out of our pay. I was soon in trouble when I joined TfL as a Knowledge examiner in 2011. I was on a decent wage, but I was only a few months into a finance deal on a new cab and I had to find £768 every month. That was the basic cab loan; my fuel bill driving in from Northampton every day was colossal. I had to work one or two days on the cab at weekends after five days at TfL just to pay the loan. And although TfL paid my train season ticket from Northampton – yes, very generous – I had to wait four weeks for my first pay packet. I was also shocked how much I was deducted for tax, National Insurance and pension.

I dug myself into a hole. It isn’t always easy to admit you have a problem, but I eventually sought help from a debt charity. They consolidated my various debts and loans into one agreed monthly payment. Even with a large debt, it can be spread out and managed. They helped explain things with the banks.  My main bank put my account on “Control”. All that really meant was that I couldn’t get an overdraft. Just as well really, as that helped me to get into difficulty in the first place.

I eventually recovered, but I faced another financial meltdown when the cab’s engine and gearbox needed replacing in October 2018. Before I could get straight, the cab failed its licensing inspection in March 2019. I had to spend a king’s ransom on bodywork. It would have ruined me had I not been able to cash in a small pension I took out when I started out in the late 1980s. I only take a week each year on a proper going-away holiday, but problems with the cab forced me to have several weeks off. I’m sure some drivers have been ruined by similar events. Having enforced holidays costs us dearly.

Having a bad credit rating makes it difficult to get further credit, but once you get straight and start making payments on time you credit rating improves quickly. After a few years I managed to obtain a credit card, and my credit Iimit has been raised a few times. I try to pay the full amount every month to avoid exorbitant interest payments.  I used to dread official-looking envelopes arriving from companies I didn’t recognise. I still do, but mostly because I think it might contain a photo of my cab on a yellow box junction and a demand for payment – as it did only last week when a photo arrived showing my cab touching a yellow box junction on Cricklewood Broadway.  I don’t open letters straight away if I think they might contain something nasty. I wait until I’ve finished work for the week. I recently received a letter from Huddersfield. I don’t know anyone in Huddersfield, or knowingly have any business dealing with anyone in Huddersfield. When I eventually found the courage to open the letter I saw it was from my bank offering me a credit card. Times have certainly changed for me, though I’m not complacent. I also know where to find help if I need help. Unforeseen things happen, particularly when you’re self-employed and are dependent on an expensive vehicle for your livelihood. It’s important not to overreach yourself with cab loans, and to be realistic about your earning capability. You need to base your financial projections on your worst day rather than your best day, and sometimes that figure needs to be reviewed.

You need to be honest with yourself if you are getting into difficulties. Admitting you are in trouble is difficult. It affects your pride; but it’s usually best to speak to your family about any problems and have them on your side too.

If anyone reading this gets into financial difficulties, I can recommend a free service from the organisation that helped me get back on the straight and narrow, Step Change.


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Station to Station

(Original edit of article for Taxi magazine).

Reading about the Uber driver who crashed his car into the concourse at Barking Station got me thinking about how taxi arrangements at train stations have changed over the years. I can just about remember the time when taxis used to rank up inside Paddington Station, right by the platforms. It was easier for us and more convenient for our customers in those days. Later we’d queue up alongside Eastbourne Terrace. We’ve put up with the horrible ramp off Bishop’s Bridge Road for several years. Maybe when Crossrail is finished we’ll go back to Eastbourne Terrace? I can’t imagine being allowed back inside the station; not with the security risk or the war on diesel. And I’m sure the barrier in Praed Street will remain while there’s the fear of minicabs shooting down the ramp scattering everyone like pigeons.

I’ve long thought that we’re not really wanted at stations (or airports). Those controlling things are making it more difficult all the time. King’s Cross and St. Pancras as are a nightmare for setting down. Pancras Road resembles Mumbai on a bad day with all those minicabs, buses and coaches jostling for access. Pedestrians dodge the moving traffic like sacred cows. Thankfully, the traffic is slower than they can walk, so no harm is done.

Leaving these two stations is even worse. You usually have to queue to leave King’s Cross heading south, and there are now only two exit lanes from St Pancras, left or right. As a crazy bit of traffic management you can’t even go straight ahead into Judd Street.

The new re-modelling at Pancras sees a one-lane rank next to a cycle lane. The kerbing makes joining and leaving the rank difficult. You don’t want to break down there, or decide you’ve queued for too long and want out. You can no longer go around cabs whose drivers are loading up large amounts of passengers and freight. The cycle lane is rarely used, but you have to be alert to bikes, scooters and cycle rickshaws. I’ve seen electric bikes zooming down past the cab rank. I was there recently and saw a taxi that had broken down at the head of the rank. There was no space for other cabs to pull around the rank so we had to use the cycle lane. I made it all right in my TX4, but the Vito behind me had difficulty and the driver scuffed his hubcaps on the kerb. I was picking up a wheelchair passenger so had to pull around to access the kerbing for the ramp. I could put the ramp down, and open the offside door to load the cases; but I couldn’t open both doors fully at the same time thanks to badly-placed metal bollards. Thankfully, my burly Australian passengers managed to squeeze the wheelchair in at an angle.

Don’t get me started on Euston. Access is difficult from any direction apart from Euston Road eastbound. I feel sorry for the folk living and working around Endsleigh Gardens, where their peace and quiet is blighted by all the traffic jostling for position on one and a half lanes at Gordon Street. I feel sorry for myself too whenever I’m in the area, and you can never predict how bad it’s going to be.

Liverpool Street Station has been difficult to access for as long as I can remember. Eldon Street and Old Broad Street take you close, but if you try to drive right up to the station entrance you’ll get a ticket – or at least told off for stopping on the zig zags on Eldon Street as happened to me once.  Liverpool Street itself is all right if you find a space, but we’re still not being allowed to provide a door-to-door service. If people have suitcases I usually try going down the ramp off Primrose Street and drop off right by the platforms. This is a longer route from most directions, and I’m always anxious making for this entrance as they sometimes close the entrance off without warning. It’s a real embarrassment as it means quite a long ride to an alternative entrance.  I recently heard of a driver unable to set down a wheelchair passenger there.

Spare a thought for our provincial, cousins. They have it worse in many respects. Many taxi drivers outside London have to pay thousands of pounds for the privilege of using station ranks. Airports are even worse. We’ve seen Luton Airport sell taxi provision to private hire. If a Luton taxi driver wants to pick up at his local airport he has to join Addison Lee. Have you noticed how we all have to pay to drop off at certain airports?  I believe Heathrow are planning something big, and I wouldn’t be surprised if we had to pay to drop off a City Airport in the future.  The folk running these transport hubs need to be reminded that we are serving their customers.

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