Monthly Archives: November 2019

Rebels Without a Clue

(Original edit of article for Taxi magazine)

 

Extinction Rebellion’s activities are over at last – for now anyway. Their Autumn campaign ran for two weeks, but by the second week they’d lost the support of the public. Boris called them “un-co-operative crusties”. Few people corrected his choice of words.

I don’t normally work Monday or Tuesday, so I went out with trepidation on Wednesday in the first week. My strategy was to keep out of trouble; which meant keeping out of the West End and Westminster. I pretty much managed it on the first day by restricting myself to account work on ComCab. I’d never covered so many Taxicard jobs in one day. The success of my strategy was limited: I avoided the worst excesses of disruption; but through picking and choosing my jobs my earnings suffered on a week where there was clearly the potential to make money.

On Thursday I took a job from Goldman Sachs to Westminster City Hall. I needed to take a detour, but my passenger knew the score. On my first job on Friday I had a similar experience with a Taxicard customer going from West Hampstead to Waterloo. My lady had to change her train ticket en route as I had to drive quite a long way off the usual route and she missed her ticketed train. She wasn’t happy, but cheered up when I pointed that it would only cost her £5 whatever happened.

On Saturday I was pulled into the West End. With relief, I noticed that Trafalgar Square had re-opened. It was drizzling and I passed the grim scene of protestors camped in tents in the square. Tourists photographed the forlorn sight. It reminded me of watching the DVD of Woodstock when the rains came. It was if they were waiting for Hendrix to come on and set fire to his Strat.

Things still weren’t back to normal with parts of Westminster still closed, and there was more aggro on Sunday when a running race added to the misery.

on my next working day the following Wednesday the worst was over, but there were still areas to avoid. As I swung around Trafalgar Square I watched the Polizia holding back a mob of crusties on Whitehall. I’d had a week of listening to all the debates on LBC, but I still found their aims and objectives unclear. I wanted to know what they actually wanted us to do. The millennial on LBC who started every sentence with “So” didn’t tell me anything; and the bloke who shouted at listeners to stop driving cars and stop eating meat was unrealistic and annoying. They were all saying that disruption is necessary to get their message across, but I’m sure they would get publicity if they spent their time doing something positive like planting trees.

They’re clearly a half-baked and disparate group. I wonder how many of them have any clear idea of what they are aiming to achieve, and how many are just anarchist-types attempting to bring down the government. I think many just want to belong to a group. In a society where actual human contact is becoming rarer, people have a need to belong. Whether it’s being part of a football crowd, wearing silly blue EU hats in Parliament Square, or sitting in the roads; you feel you have a place in society.

I believe around 1800 protestors were arrested in the end. That’s 1800 people who don’t much care if they get a criminal record. They are either out of work, or they don’t care if they continue to work. Are they claiming benefits?

I started to wonder how many of them actually lived in London. Why not stay in your own town and stop people getting to work? Stop the taxis, re-route all the buses, and force delivery drivers on zero-hours contracts into unscheduled days off.  Let’s see how their townspeople react when they can’t make hospital appointments.

The protestors had much of it their own way – until they hit the East End. Here they weren’t entertaining tourists, or annoying motorists from a safe distance; they were up close and personal with real people who were late for work and weren’t shy in showing what they thought of their tactics. Watching protestors being pulled off of the roofs of trains was a joy to see as I turned on the BBC News. But something was missing from the TV footage: where were the TfL station staff in yellow vests, or the police? Why was it left to commuters to handle the situation and restore order? Perhaps TfLs remedy to train overcrowding is to allow passengers to sit on the roof like in India?

A bystander commented that when he heard the station announcement apologising for delays he thought it was something to do with terrorism. It was. Terrorism isn’t necessarily about violence; it’s about the threat of violence and stopping normal activity.  Extinction Rebellion aren’t killing people but they are disrupting people’s lives and stopping society from functioning normally.

By the second week of the Uprising, people were thoroughly hacked off with Extinction Rebellion. By the time they reached Canning Town their message had been lost. It was no longer about what they believed in, or what we could do to help the very real fight against environmental damage; it was all about the pros and cons of disruptive protest generally, and how we deal with eco-terrorists. I’m expecting a better thought-out strategy next time.

 

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Driven to Distraction

(Original edit of article for Taxi magazine)

 

The police have been criticised for being slow to prosecute drivers exceeding London’s 20mph speed limits – probably because they’ve more important work to do, like apprehending  fire engines crewed by Extinction Rebellion, and yachts on Oxford Street. The bad news is that new 20mph roads are coming soon, and the authorities are calibrating more cameras to catch speed freaks. These 20mph limits are just another money-making scheme dreamed up by hard-up councils. Anyway, can you remember when you last exceeded 20mph on any road in Central London?

Speed is reported to be a factor in 5% of road accidents. Distraction is the biggest cause. Mobile phone use gets a lot of coverage, but there are many more distractions. I’d venture that some of the biggest distractions are those 20mph signs. As soon as you see them your eyes are involuntarily taken off the road and drawn down to your speedometer. The signs don’t usually exist in isolation either; they are just added to the cluster of other signs that we feel compelled to read as we try to concentrate on the driving. While scanning both sides of the road for red and white warning signs, and yellow diversion signs, you’ll also be checking the road below as you negotiate miles of speed bumps. If you are in Islington and want to avoid the horrors of the new system at Highbury Corner, Liverpool Road proves to be a very bumpy and frustrating short cut to Holloway. We all know that Islington like their traffic cameras.

The yellow road closure signs are the hardest to read. The closure details are often crudely written in marker pan, or contain so many words that you’re never going to take in all the information in one go.

We all have our favourites coming in and out of work. Driving in and out of London every workday my eyes are always drawn to the large yellow signs around the junction of Finchley Road and Hendon Way. The signs warn of pointless time-bound closures of Briardale Gardens and Pattison Road. There are a lot of words on those signs: I thought about counting them for the purposes of this article, but that’s like giving in to madness. They’re huge signs, but on a 40mph road like Hendon Way I defy anyone to read every word as they fly past avoiding the buses and coaches pulling in to the middle lane as we merge into Finchley Road. Further down towards Swiss Cottage I’ve sometimes wanted to read the parking restrictions, but you can’t make sense of complex parking rules while you’re moving, and Finchley Road isn’t a place to stop and sightsee.

The signs are often inaccurate: I noticed September’s closure of Fetter Lane started several days early. I never got to read the signs at the southern end of Gray’s Inn Road before the closures. I assume the closures came and went; but a new sign went up the following week at the new closure caught me out. I like the way they keep these signs up to warn us off London completely. I suppose it’s the modern equivalent of putting heads on spikes outside the Tower of London. As I write this I’ve noticed a yellow sign in Brook Street just before Hanover Square. Unless I’m the first cab at that junction I’ll probably not get to read that, so I’ll prepare myself for a nasty surprise if I need Hanover Square in the next few weeks.

I don’t know if driving standards have got worse over the years. Possibly. Driving conditions have certainly got harder. Current road closures are the worst I’ve ever known – and this is before Extinction Rebellion’s October uprising. Bridge Street, New Bridge Street, Oxford Street, Piccadilly Underpass, Brompton Road and Hammersmith Bridge don’t even get mentioned on the traffic reports any more. There are too many to report on, so only a selection of new ones make the bulletins. Hopefully, these closures are temporary; but you never know. I’m surprised they’re working to fix Hammersmith Bridge. It’s going to take three years, and I’m surprised Boris didn’t commandeer it as his garden bridge.

Those are the closures for works. It’s the other closures that are more troubling. All too often we are prevented from doing our job effectively and providing a door to door service. Just recently I’ve come across unexpected restrictions in Bute Street and Enford Street. Time-bound restrictions are the most irritating of them all. Lloyd Baldwin listed many closures in Taxi 452. It made grim reading. As Lloyd pointed out, the timings vary too. Many roads are now closed at certain times of the day around schools. There were no road closures when I was at school. We had to walk on the pavement. We could try driving on the pavements like the cyclists, but there’s probably a law against that too.

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