(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.