(Article written for Taxi magazine).
The cab trade has a proud history. We all worked hard on the Knowledge, and most of us had the intention of continuing the hard work once we earned our badge. None of us went into it thinking we’d end up claiming benefits. Unbelievably, that day has come.
In times of crisis some people turn on each other. If you read the gloom & doom cab forums you’ll see the fake news and rumours. You’ll see opposing factions arguing with each other. Some virtually call drivers scabs for attempting to work. Others consider those sat at home as lacking commitment. It all comes from frustration of the situation. Many of us feel like working, but the fact it, there’s virtually no work. It wouldn’t be worth me driving in from Bedfordshire to cover one twenty quid job. It costs me that in diesel to get to London and back.
The current situation doesn’t only affect the drivers. There’s a support network crumbling away to dust: the mechanics who keep us on the road; the radio circuits and app providers who supply an increasing proportion of the work – and of course, our valued customers. Around 22,000 taxis – and over 90,000 minicabs – rely on fuel. How many fuel stations will be left in business this summer? The cab manufacturers would have taken a hit: few drivers are going to invest sixty-grand in a new cab until trade levels improve. We have no idea when our customers will return, but they surely will. The trade has gone through crisis before and we’ve always recovered.
The virus has taught us that we’re all inter-connected. We sometimes take for granted the carers, shop staff, postal and bank workers, the distributers and drivers, refuse collectors – and many others. We have more appreciation of services and products; how things are provided who provides them. We have a new appreciation for those who we rely on to make our daily lives better. We can see that the highest value jobs often pay the least money. I believe cab drivers will be more appreciated too!
My wife and I do our own thing as to work. I’d normally be coming back from London, and she’d be getting her own taxi to the elderly care home she works at, in Wing, Buckinghamshire. She was on scheduled holiday when the lockdown came, and was dreading returning on April 1st. We then found there were no taxis working in Leighton Buzzard! With a poor bus service it was down to me to get her to work. That’s fine, but I then had the dilemma of whether I should look for work myself. I’d considered applying for temporary warehouse work, but I now needed to be home at a certain time.
I’m trying to use my time wisely. I’m getting things done, whist re-charging my batteries and enjoying the sun. I always worked weekends and bank holidays. Last year I vowed to have a couple of days off this Easter and enjoy it. Careful what you wish for, eh?
Change is disruptive, but it forces you to think and reflect on your life and where you’re going. Unexpected change can present new opportunities. Why not read? Write? Study? Consider different ways of working when you return to work. It’s easy to get set in your ways and carry on old practices when they are no longer effective. Only a few years ago, most work was for cash, and was found by cruising the streets. Things change. You probably won’t survive on street work alone. Find a circuit or app that suits you, but don’t become a slave to it. When you depend too much on someone else to provide work you lose your independence. Being independent is what we went into the cab trade for, right?
Don’t worry about Uber, they have their own problems. If you want to pursue a new career, do it. Don’t just sit on your arse typing out gloom and doom web posts. There’s no need to tell everyone else how bad things are. We can see that. But it’s temporary. Things will be radically different in six months. Once back in the saddle we can move on again, hopefully to a brighter future.
We all need to think seriously about where we are going, and keep our options open. When I started feeling the chill wind of middle age I took stock of my situation and considered how I was going to spend my September years. I couldn’t imagine myself driving in from Bedfordshire when I was 70. I’d prefer something office-based and closer to home. Thinking ahead, I started a Diploma in Applied Health & Safety over a year ago. I de-licensed my cab on March 23rd. My nine-year old cab had become an expensive burden and I was throwing money at it to keep it going. I wouldn’t have survived the lockdown without the de-licensing money. While I’m looking for work as a health and safety adviser, I’ll need to decide whether to return in a rented cab after the lockdown. I have a history of dipping in and out of the trade, and while I have a badge I remain part of the London taxi trade.
It’s crucial that we all pull together and stop the in-fighting. It’s important that all drivers join a trade organisation – preferably the LTDA, the organisation with the most credibility. We must take part in the consultations that affect the working environment. While things remain uncertain, we need to be moving in the right direction.