Monthly Archives: January 2020

Policing the Police

(Original edit of article for TAXI magazine this week).

 

One of the big scandals of 2019 was the fake English language tests for private hire drivers. English proficiency was rightly being tested by Transport for London at designated centres. Test certificates could also be obtained through equivalent qualifications gained at private colleges. Journalists investigating this weak spot found they could simply pay a sum of money and be awarded a certificate without sitting a test. A BBC journalist paid £500 to buy a qualification. When the resulting television expose was aired TfL had questions to answer. They thanked the journos for all their good work and promised to look into the matter. Would there be a Christmas knock on the door for minicab drivers who had bought certificates from a Mickey Mouse college?

TfL appeared to act decisively, but the matter should have been looked into from the outset. Transport for London is the gatekeeper of taxi & private hire legislation. They have the responsibility to those working within the trade, and to passengers, to ensure everything is above board. It shouldn’t be left to the media to investigate suspicious practices. TfL said they were “deeply concerned” and “will support the relevant authorities with any wider investigations into these organisations.”  I thought TfL were the relevant authority: they are the authority who issue taxi and private hire licences, and they involve themselves in everything imaginable that happens on London’s streets; including closing roads at will, and telling us how to conduct our business. If TfL are the police, who are policing the police? I’m not sure where the mayor is either. This is happening on his watch, in his city. Where is the geezer?

TfL refused Uber a new licence towards the end of the year. I don’t know whether the ban will hold this time, but TfL are evidently aware of suspicious goings-on in the murky world of private hire. Since private hire licensing rocketed with the coming of Uber there have been insurance scandals, serious customer data breaches, and a huge crime rate amongst drivers that Uber have tried to cover up. There are many people driving minicabs who aren’t who they say they are. Those in the know in private hire circles can put you in touch with a tame doctor who can provide a guaranteed trouble-free medical without having access to your medical records. When I renewed my taxi licence I had to make an appointment with an optician, but I understand that even this isn’t necessary in the weird and frightening world of private hire. Private colleges should have been scrutinised along with all the other possible loopholes in minicab licensing.

Has the insurance matter been resolved? Are Uber drivers telling their insurance companies that they are working in areas they are not licensed for? Wolverhampton and Brighton come up a lot in discussions on cross border hiring: would a Wolverhampton-licensed driver working in Brighton be adequately insured? Don’t ask TfL, they’ll let someone else work that out. Cross-border hiring will surely continue to be a talking point this year, but our licensing authority will wring their hands and hope it all blows over.

Taxi complaints are handled directly by TfL. Complaints are taken seriously, though not as seriously as they were under the Public Carriage Office when the Police were running the show. Private hire complaints are handled in-house by individual operators. We only get to hear of incidents if they are serious enough to interest the media. Uber never took complaints seriously and that’s part of the reason why they were denied a new London licence, and why they’re sure to go through another very long and expensive court appeal.

TfL drag their feet looking at complaints, but move like greased lightning to bank the licence money from around 113,000 minicab drivers (outnumbering by at least five times the number of taxi licences). When I worked as a Knowledge Examiner a couple of my colleagues would photograph suspicious activity by out of town minicab drivers and report it. The camera footage would be sent upstairs, but we’d rarely hear back. They were undoubtedly too busy selling licences to act on evidence of illegal activity that was handed to them on a plate. The fact is that handling complaints doesn’t bring in any money. Issuing licences does. I’ll be hoping for a lot more from our licensing authority this year.

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A Return to Victorian Values

(My original edit of my New Year article written for Taxi magazine).

 

At this time of year, trade is slow and we have more time on our hands. Time to catch up with some reading perhaps. Towards the end of 2019 I read a copy of PHTM magazine. There’s always something interesting to read in PHTM. It gives some thoughtful insights on issues affecting both the private hire and taxi trades. It’s not just a matter of seeing what the opposition are up to, and it’s not all about minicabs.

In November’s issue we learnt that a goose had smashed through the windscreen of a taxi in Nottingham. A photo shows the goose sitting on the back seat of a TX surrounded by broken glass. The bird appeared unharmed following veterinary attention. Vets had to give another critter the once over after a Welsh taxi driver found an escaped corn snake warming itself under the bonnet of his cab in Cardiff.

I enjoyed the article by Andy Peters, Secretary of the GMB Brighton & Hove Taxi Section. He discusses the situation in Brighton & Hove where Uber drivers are flooding in from places as far away as Wolverhampton and Sefton. The Brighton PH and taxi trades clearly have the same feelings about cross-border hiring as we do in London, and probably suffer from it more. Andy doesn’t mention London Uber drivers, but I’m sure many of them trying it on in Brighton are licensed by TfL, the licensing authority who always say “Yes”.  Anyway, what amused the GMB Secretary was a photo circulating, said to be of a Southampton private hire driver asleep in the boot of his car. This is seen as evidence that out-of-towners are coming into Brighton and sleeping in their cars between shifts.

Mr Peters goes on to make comparisons between the working conditions of some PH drivers to the days of domestic slavery. He notes the way some Uber drivers are like chambermaids working for a decaying gentry, such as in TV programmes such as Upstairs Downstairs and Downton Abbey. He’s right; sleeping in a minicab boot is similar to living in an attic waiting for to be summoned to work by the master of the house. The Uber app pinging is the modern version of a yank of the chain by their social betters. It’s as if drivers are sitting in their cars – or lying in the boot – awaiting Lord Uber of the Big House to call you up on an errand.

The fact is, if you refuse the errand, the master will simply find someone else to do it, and you won’t eat lunch today, or at least get another job for a long time. You might as well go back to sleep. Thousands of drivers with PH stickers are sitting around waiting for the call. They’re not needed, they’re victims of over-supply. But the app-based suppliers’ sole appeal is on providing a swift response to a virtual hail, and it doesn’t cost the organisation money to have drivers sitting around all day making the place look untidy.  I know some London taxi drivers sleep in their cabs at Heathrow. It’s a lifestyle choice to sleep in the cab and catch the first arrivals. It’s not a lifestyle I’d choose, but things aren’t so desperate for us. There’s more element of choice when a taxi driver can choose to legally pick up from the street.

Those of us who listen to LBC may remember presenter James O’Brien comparing the Uber organisation to Victorian mill owners. Very true; though at least the mill owners paid their taxes. We don’t seem to have progressed much in the world of work really. Social cohesion, fairness and security has been forgotten about as we’ve been so occupied by the issues around Brexit, and yet more elections. Domestic slavery undoubtedly still goes on, even if the modern form now affects those independent-minded souls hiring themselves out as self-employed soul traders. If you’re dependent on someone else to provide your living you are vulnerable to exploitation.

Uber’s status in London is uncertain, but they still operate in many cities of the world. Maybe Uber, and their ilk, will die out like sending kids up chimneys did?

I was wondering if I’d fit inside the boot of a TX4. No of course, I wouldn’t. Anyway, it’s pretty dark in there. I don’t really know what goes on under the bonnet, and I’d rather not know if there’s any activity in the boot.  There could be all kinds of critters living there. Keep them doors locked!

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The Queen’s Megxit Summit

As I write, senior Royals are discussing Harry & Meghan’s proposals to leave country’s best-loved dysfunctional family and move to Canada. The first privatisation of the Royal Family. With the nation split pretty much 50/50 they need to get this right. Today’s family meeting is headed by The Queen, no doubt trying to come over like Tony Soprano, while wearing a Jimi Hendrix hat. Let’s hope she makes them an offer they can’t refuse: no title, no money.

As we pay their benefits why not let the nation decide the matter in a referendum? What could possibly go wrong? The government could spend a king’s ransom (oops) on sending every household a flyer promising to uphold whatever we decide, and we could look forward to years of hand-wringing, by which time no-one will care either way.

Maybe it’s just a bit of fun, a diversion to entertain us in the bleak mid-winter.

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We Pay Your Benefits

So Harry and Meghan want to leave the Royal Family to become full-time celebrities. Go on then, bugger off to Canada. We’ll stop your royal benefits and you can take your CVs down to the the Job Centre like normal people. I heard that Harry’s last job paid 36K, so good luck with that. I quite liked Harry before he grew that preposterous ginger beard, but he wants all the benefits of being a royal but none of the responsibility. You don’t get the Queen acting like that. Can normal people just decide to live in North America anyway? I might fancy making a new life in Canada, but I doubt they’d have me. I suspect it’s Meghan pulling the strings: I don’t think she ever wanted to be a member of the Royal Family, she just wanted to marry a Prince. Daft cow.

 

 

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