Author Archives: Pubcat London Taxi Log

About Pubcat London Taxi Log

I am a London Cab Driver, article writer, and a qualified Careers Adviser. I am also a former Knowledge of London Examiner (old customers need not call me Sir any more, we're all equals here, dude). I am interested in the philosophy behind work: Why we choose particular work, what we give of ourselves, and what we get out of it. I believe we need to keep in our minds these things in order to remain motivated. Enjoyment in work is largely in our minds, and I believe we have an existential control over our attitudes and individual philosophies. We make our choices and we need to make the best of our decisions. I'll use this site to give my own idiosyncratic spin on the cab trade, and other social issues. There will be original edits of published magazine articles, plus shorter comments. So, why Pubcat? Simply because I like pubs and I like cats; and I support the social inclusion of all animals in pubs (Yes, that's my house tiger, Rocky, sat on a London map when I was studying the Knowledge the second time round).

New Year Cheer

(My first Taxi article of the year)

Let’s start off the New Year the way we mean to go on, with a discussion on Uber – come on, you love it! Even those of us who wanted to relax and think about other things during the Christmas season couldn’t help thinking about the latest Uber-related developments, and wonder what 2018 has in store for us all. Over the last two years, taxi trade talk has been dominated by the goings on at Uber. Things became interesting when TfL realised they’d made a mistake in licensing Uber and tried to tighten up with topographical testing, English tests, a closer look at criminal record recording, and a tightening up of insurance requirements (does on/off mini-cab insurance really exist?). Uber kicked back as expected, and elements of these proposals remain contested. Another important issue is still being fought over: whether Uber’s drivers are employees or self-employed. It’s likely Uber will lose their final appeal later this year, which means they will have to treat its drivers as self-employed with all the benefits and comforts that comes with that. Uber’s business model will be out the window and they will pose less of a threat.

Interest turned to shock in September when TfL refused Uber a new licence. TfL did the right thing after Uber made it easy for them. Uber’s supporters say they should be given another chance. Sorry, but they already had their second chance: they were given a temporary licence for four months in which to get their house in order. Uber were arrogant and behaved even worse during this period. Even as they were crawling to TfL to get their licence back, it transpired that Uber had paid a $100,000 ransom to criminals to stop them hacking fifty-seven million Uber apps worldwide, and to keep quiet about it.

Uber have been refused a new operating licence, but did they get a hard refusal or a soft refusal? What I don’t understand is why they are allowed to operate after being refused a licence? Would a taxi driver be allowed to operate after being named unfit and improper? If a taxi driver has a serious complaint against him he’d be suspended from working immediately. When taxi and private hire criminal records were moved from the CRB to the DBS many drivers experienced long delays when renewing their licences. They were told by TfL that they could not work until their records came back so they could be re-licensed. Thousands of Uber drivers suspected of being issued with dodgy DBS certificates are working as normal. So all those taxi drivers we read about in the pages of Taxi who were concerned about their livelihoods needn’t have worried; they could simply carry on cabbing. I was asked by another driver whether Uber were still recruiting. I’ve no idea, but it’s an interesting question. Could new drivers be recruited to an unlicensed operator? And if so, as an employee or as a self-employed “partner”?  

Many towns and cities have been invaded by out of town drivers licensed in other places. Councils are powerless to stop cross-border hiring, or to deal with complaints if the drivers are not licensed in the town they are working in. With Uber causing a nuisance everywhere they go, councils looked to London for guidance. TfL’s belated decision to ban Uber has emboldened private hire authorities around the country to refuse licences. In the run-up to Christmas we heard about bans on Uber in Sheffield and York, and Uber only being granted a temporary licence in Brighton. Sheffield and Brighton have suffered considerably by out-of-town Uber invasions undermining existing local services and licensing authorities. Sheffield suspended Uber’s licence on December 18th following the operator’s failure to provide information about its management structure. The City of York ended Uber’s licence on Christmas Eve. Councillors voted seven to three in favour of the ban; on the grounds of the data breaches that affected fifty-seven million App. users worldwide, and the number of complaints against Uber in York. At the time of the ban there weren’t many Uber drivers licensed in York, but over 50% of complaints were against Uber drivers licenced out of town. Drivers that York’s licencing authority can’t do anything about. Out of 155 taxi and private hire complaints received from December 2016, only four concerned drivers or vehicles licenced in York. Banning Uber was greeted by cheers in the chamber. Hear, hear!

2018 is going to be an interesting year. Work levels in December were better than in the last few years, and It’s realistic to expect that this year’s kipper season won’t be quite as flat as the past couple of years. Uber are on the run for sure. I’d like to think we won’t be talking about them this time next year, but I expect we will.

What else can we take stock of? The credit card issue is over a year old, but there are still concerns. I think the issue of fees has faded, but many of us have processed cards only to have the transaction fail after the customer has walked off.

Who got caught out when they closed Cannon Street for several days at the start of December? What annoyed me was the red sign warning of Bank Junction’s closure situated right by the traffic cones where you’d normally enter Cannon Street from Queen Victoria Street. You’d think they’d have the sense to at least open Bank Junction up on this occasion to ease the pressure. The issue of Bank is going to run and run this year. Then there’s the threat to close Oxford Street to motor vehicles to contest. And contest it we must. We need to respond to all consultations and make our voices heard. There are plenty of people on our side who will listen. We need to keep our house in order this year and keep their support.

 

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New Year Cheer

(My first Taxi article of the year).

Let’s start off the New Year the way we mean to go on, with a discussion on Uber – come on, you love it! Even those of us who wanted to relax and think about other things during the Christmas season couldn’t help thinking about the latest Uber-related developments, and wonder what 2018 has in store for us all.

Over the last two years, taxi trade talk has been dominated by the goings on at Uber. Things became interesting when TfL realised they’d made a mistake in licensing Uber and tried to tighten up with topographical testing, English tests, a closer look at criminal record recording, and a tightening up of insurance requirements (does on/off mini-cab insurance really exist?). Uber kicked back as expected, and elements of these proposals remain contested. Another important issue is still being fought over: whether Uber’s drivers are employees or self-employed. It’s likely Uber will lose their final appeal later this year, which means they will have to treat its drivers as self-employed with all the benefits and comforts that comes with that. Uber’s business model will be out the window and they will pose less of a threat.

 

Interest turned to shock in September when TfL refused Uber a new licence. TfL did the right thing after Uber made it easy for them. Uber’s supporters say they should be given another chance. Sorry, but they already had their second chance: they were given a temporary licence for four months in which to get their house in order. Uber were arrogant and behaved even worse during this period. Even as they were crawling to TfL to get their licence back, it transpired that Uber had paid a $100,000 ransom to criminals to stop them hacking fifty-seven million Uber apps worldwide, and to keep quiet about it.

 

Uber have been refused a new operating licence, but did they get a hard refusal or a soft refusal? What I don’t understand is why they are allowed to operate after being refused a licence? Would a taxi driver be allowed to operate after being named unfit and improper? If a taxi driver has a serious complaint against him he’d be suspended from working immediately. When taxi and private hire criminal records were moved from the CRB to the DBS many drivers experienced long delays when renewing their licences. They were told by TfL that they could not work until their records came back so they could be re-licensed. Thousands of Uber drivers suspected of being issued with dodgy DBS certificates are working as normal. So all those taxi drivers we read about in the pages of Taxi who were concerned about their livelihoods needn’t have worried; they could simply carry on cabbing. I was asked by another driver whether Uber were still recruiting. I’ve no idea, but it’s an interesting question. Could new drivers be recruited to an unlicensed operator? And if so, as an employee or as a self-employed “partner”?  

 

Many towns and cities have been invaded by out of town drivers licensed in other places. Councils are powerless to stop cross-border hiring, or to deal with complaints if the drivers are not licensed in the town they are working in. With Uber causing a nuisance everywhere they go, councils looked to London for guidance. TfL’s belated decision to ban Uber has emboldened private hire authorities around the country to refuse licences. In the run-up to Christmas we heard about bans on Uber in Sheffield and York, and Uber only being granted a temporary licence in Brighton. Sheffield and Brighton have suffered considerably by out-of-town Uber invasions undermining existing local services and licensing authorities. Sheffield suspended Uber’s licence on December 18th following the operator’s failure to provide information about its management structure. The City of York ended Uber’s licence on Christmas Eve. Councillors voted seven to three in favour of the ban; on the grounds of the data breaches that affected fifty-seven million App. users worldwide, and the number of complaints against Uber in York. At the time of the ban there weren’t many Uber drivers licensed in York, but over 50% of complaints were against Uber drivers licenced out of town. Drivers that York’s licencing authority can’t do anything about. Out of 155 taxi and private hire complaints received from December 2016, only four concerned drivers or vehicles licenced in York. Banning Uber was greeted by cheers in the chamber. Hear, hear!

 

2018 is going to be an interesting year. Work levels in December were better than in the last few years, and It’s realistic to expect that this year’s kipper season won’t be quite as flat as the past couple of years. Uber are on the run for sure. I’d like to think we won’t be talking about them this time next year, but I expect we will.

 

What else can we take stock of? The credit card issue is over a year old, but there are still concerns. I think the issue of fees has faded, but many of us have processed cards only to have the transaction fail after the customer has walked off.

 

Who got caught out when they closed Cannon Street for several days at the start of December? What annoyed me was the red sign warning of Bank Junction’s closure situated right by the traffic cones where you’d normally enter Cannon Street from Queen Victoria Street. You’d think they’d have the sense to at least open Bank Junction up on this occasion to ease the pressure. The issue of Bank is going to run and run this year. Then there’s the threat to close Oxford Street to motor vehicles to contest. And contest it we must. We need to respond to all consultations and make our voices heard. There are plenty of people on our side who will listen. We need to keep our house in order this year and keep their support.

 

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Driving through a Winter Wonderland

(Original edit of my Christmas article for Taxi magazine).

Not long to go now. The Oxford Street Christmas lights have been on since November the 7th and Hyde Park has been turned into a winter wonderland. As the build-up starts, we cab drivers are starting to work the strangest, most unpredictable, month of the year.

Although January is my least favourite working month, December runs a close second. I enjoy Christmas itself, but working the run-up to the big day is always a pain. There are two main hazards: 1) Drunken passengers. 2) The traffic. Out of the two, it’s the traffic that I fear the most. I’ve worked quite a few Decembers in my time, but thankfully haven’t suffered too much from passengers who have had a few sherberts and have become difficult. I sometimes get caught out by the odd group of fired-up geezers on their way to annoy Arab families at the Winter Wonderland, but I’m usually OK. My anti-social passenger filter is set at paranoid mode all year round and not many get through the net, even in December. Then again, I don’t work at night. On the rare occasion I pick up account customers coming from an office party, they are as straight and buttoned-up as they are on any other day. No doubt they worry that we can get word to their boss if they create.

December starts well enough as there’s usually a fair bit of work around. Moving into the middle of the month things become fraught. This is the point where all the traffic-related problems you’ve read about in Taxi over the past eleven months all come together. Out of towners drive in to do their Christmas shopping and look at the lights, delivery vans park up everywhere oblivious to bus lane cameras, and there are stationary lines of buses caused by all of the above – and the perennial roadworks of course. We are invariably caught in heavy traffic with once a year riders in the back, counting coins in their hand as the meter ticks over each twenty pence increment. As the traffic grinds to a halt all we can do is apologise for London’s road schemes that have cost our customers more than they expected, and have caused us stress and embarrassment.

If you stick with it until Christmas Eve you’ll find things suddenly go dead in the last few days. The traffic lessens, but the work has gone. Every year we hope the work will reappear early in the new year. Sometimes it does.

We need to be security-minded at Christmas and not make ourselves targets for criminals. Some drivers leave phones, satnavs, and other valuables in their cabs while visiting a toilet, only to return to find the whole lot gone. We are targeted because we are thought of as carrying lots of cash. Permission to laugh: after paying for my daily diesel I often go home with less cash than I had in my float at the start of the day. Fortunately, the idea of taxis being money boxes on wheels is lessening now credit card acceptance is mandatory and we’re taking less cash. Taking your valuables with you on a break ensures you leave little of value apart from a few rolls of over-priced printer receipt paper (have the Monopolies Commission been made aware of the receipt roll scam?).

Maybe we should get into the spirit more and revive the tradition of putting up Christmas decorations in our cabs? A lot more drivers used to do so in the past, though I admit there are sound reasons for not putting tinsel up. It was a happy occasion when I gained my cab licence in 1988. I’d finished the Knowledge a couple of months previously, and I’d finally passed my taxi driving test on December 8th (at the 3rd attempt). I was asked to collect my badge a few hours later up at Penton Street. I had a spring in my step at Chapel Street Market when I bought some tinsel in anticipation of a very merry Christmas. The thing is, once Christmas is over it’s impossible to get rid of all the stray bits of tinsel. It’ll still be there next Christmas for sure. Had I never changed cabs I’d still be picking up bits of stray tinsel from 1988.

After Christmas it’s time to take stock and look forward to the year ahead. On a personal note, I ask myself if I can stop myself from making stupid mistakes this year? I’ve been improving, but in 2017 I still ended up on a speed awareness course in the summer, and I also copped a box junction violation after following a bus from Midland Road onto Euston Road.

When all the excitement of Christmas is over there’s the Kipper Season to endure. Soon, our working days will bring a bit more daylight, a bit more warmth, and hopefully a bit more income. The autumn of 2017 was encouraging, and a lot has happened this year that might help us improve things next year. Not least there is the ongoing saga of Uber. They’re not finished yet, but they are not going to be able to continue in the same way in the future. We received a lot of public support this year and for that we should be grateful. I’m sure there will be big changes and big challenges next year. We need to roll up our sleeves and make December the best we possibly can, then hit the new year running.  Have a great Christmas!

 

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Banged Up Abroad

Dear readers, should I ever be banged up in an Iranian jail, could somebody ask Boris Johnson and Michael Gove to help facilitate a prompt release? And please ask Mr Trump to comment on my plight on Twitter. My family will pay any officials off in Catalonian pesetas.

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What have the mini-cabs ever done for us?

(Original edit of article written for Taxi magazine).

With all the fuss over Uber, few commentators have stopped to ask how private hire started in the first place.

On the surface of it, all a taxi driver does is drive a customer from point A to point B for money.  A deceptively simple business plan, and one that has been exploited for many years by those unwilling to go through the effort of gaining a proper licence.

From the very beginning, London has led the way in safety, and has stipulated strict licensing rules.  As a result, your London cab driver will have had strict background checks, years of testing on his topographical knowledge, and will have passed an enhanced driving test.  The cabs are all 100% accessible and are built like tanks.  Fares are calculated by a meter that cannot be tampered with.  Taxi and private hire laws were developed over time in to keep the public safe.  They were generally adequate until the American invasion of Uber.

It’s the way of the world that where exists a successful service; someone will come along and undercut you.  Our trade was challenged in 1961 when Welbeck Motors emerged to muscle in on taxi work.  Welbeck flooded the streets with a fleet of red Renault Dauphines, and exploited technology by using two-way radios.  The company secured financial backing, and lobbied for the support of Members of Parliament to run a “mini-taxi” service.  They didn’t receive explicit approval, but they had sections of the press on their side.

There are clearly parallels with modern day Uber, where lower overheads and lax restrictions allowed mini-cab operators to undercut taxis and work to lower standards of safety and driver training.  Welbeck Motors and Uber both had money behind them which they used to influence politicians and the media.  I’d imagine that Welbeck were seen as trendy and as progressive as Uber when they arrived on our shores.

Although Welbeck Motors went into liquidation in 1965, other interested parties were waiting in the wings to exploit loopholes in stringent Hackney Carriage Laws and create a second tier cab service using two-way radio.

Drivers were recruited to mini-cab firms, typically operating out of doorways. They weren’t officially licensed, but so long as they were pre-booked and their journeys were logged they could operate legally.

Mini-cab drivers and vehicles were eventually licensed by the Public Carriage Office in 2000.  Some firms got their acts together and ran their businesses professionally, while other ones folded.

In London, there have been no restrictions on the number of private hire licenses issued.   In the case of taxis, numbers have risen very slowly over the years, kept down naturally by the Knowledge process.  Suburban taxi licences were suspended for a while due to over-supply, but private hire licences have continued to be issued in huge numbers – despite over-supply!  In order to service the Uber organisation, by 2016, several hundred licences a week were being issued (licensing has slowed in 2017).

If hundreds of taxi licences were being issued each week, there would be angry talk about congestion and pollution.  Many thousands of extra taxis on the streets would be noticed.    You barely notice mini-cabs.  London mini-cabs don’t have plates and roof signs as in the rest of the country.  Signage is pretty low key if it exists at all, and the private hire licence sticker on the back window is virtually unreadable.  It’s often disguised further by the tinted glass that TfL allow private hire vehicles to have, but not taxis.

The private hire industry can always undercut taxis on price because of lower running costs.  London taxis have had to be purpose-built in order to conform to stringent safety standards – and the famous twenty-five foot turning circle (I’m unsure if this applied in the days of horse-drawn cabs).  Crucially, private hire drivers enjoy a free reign in their choice of vehicle – and they don’t need to spend £55,600 on a new vehicle.

Uber showed that through over-supply they could promise a car within a few minutes of booking.  Until Uber’s business model was discussed in the wake of TfL re-licensing refusal, the general public didn’t know how it was done.  People now know how badly their drivers are treated.  They’ve heard about the dubious criminal records checks, and the covering-up of alleged sexual attacks.  People know that foreign operators can choose where to pay their tax, and this is not going to be in the UK.

Uber’s drivers don’t have to reach the earning targets that lured them in as they can claim benefits to top-up their income.  The drivers are also now aware of the con.  They are dependent on the provision of work, but they have been classed as self-employed.  If Uber lose their appeal against the ruling that their drivers are actually employees it could cost the operator tens of thousands of pounds just to pay National Insurance for 50,000 of its British drivers.  This is just one of Uber’s current problems.

Traditional private hire companies tick over, but Uber over-reached themselves.  Like Welbeck at the start of the 1960s, Uber are finding out that short cuts don’t work.  They have failed to retain the goodwill of their drivers, or the confidence of the public.  It’s only a matter of time before its investors wash the toxins off their hands and move on to the Next Big Thing.

 

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Catalonia

Should the Spanish government have allowed Catalonia a referendum like the British government did with Scotland?  It looks like Catalonia is going to break away anyway, and they might have saved their country a lot of trouble.

I wonder what the EU are going to say about it all? I shall follow with interest Catalonia’s exit from the EU.

I suppose this will give Britain the opportunity to broker a trade agreement with a newly independent country, but what about football?  Will Barcelona-born players be banned for playing for Spain? Will the creation of new Catalonia team give Scotland a chance of gaining a few points in the next World Cup Qualifiers?

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War is Over?

(Original edit of article written for Taxi magazine. Some edits were made in the published version).

I sure picked the right week to quit talking about Uber:  but it’s the big issue of the day, and it’s going to continue for some time yet.  So, here are just a few thoughts about TfL’s decision not to renew Uber’s licence.

Firstly, Uber should never have been licensed in the first place.  They call themselves a tech company, yet they were licensed as a private hire operator.  Either they are a tech firm incorrectly licenced, or they are a PH operator, subject to the responsibilities that they have so far evaded.  Either way, their licence is in breach.  It was clear Uber intended to ply for immediate hire through their app, and they even admitted that they don’t take advance bookings!  If they don’t take advance bookings, they are operating illegally, as private hire cars must be pre-booked.  They admit they still don’t have a landline on which they can be contacted:  as far as I understand it, this is a legal requirement for an operator.

TfL have been quiet about what constitutes plying for hire, because any court case will highlight how negligent TfL have been.  TfL knew Uber should never have been licenced, and when the bad publicity started, they tried desperately to tighten up on them.  Unfortunately, TfL were then hampered by Dave Cameron and his pals’ cosy relationship with the Uber organisation.

Many people think Uber will make concessions in order to be re-licensed, and that this is just a shot across the bows.  Possibly, but what some people forget is that Uber have already had the warning shots:  they were given four months in which to improve things.  They were expected to use that time wisely and to get their house in order.  Uber’s arrogance was such that they behaved even worse.  When it transpired they were covering up sexual assault allegations, things got serious and there was an increasing public clamour for something to be done.

I can understand why people use Uber, but did they really think that if Uber ever became the dominant force in the taxi and private hire world, their low prices would remain?  Surge pricing isn’t just for Christmas, tube strikes and after terrorist attacks.  Their supporters think Uber have a status somewhere between a mini-cab and a taxi.  There is no in-between.  They are a mini-cab, and they are driven my mini-cab drivers.  As one caller to LBC put it:  they are a mini-cab company with good PR.  They are subject to the same rules that all mini-cab operators must comply with.

Personally I think this is going to drag on for as long as Brexit.  I allowed myself a celebratory light ale when I heard the news, but most of us are realistic to know that this isn’t the end.  It might be the beginning of the end though.  They’re not gone yet, but they are weakened, possibly fatally.  I don’t see how they can carry operating in the same way now

Before TfLs decision turned the spotlight on Uber’s affairs, many people thought it was just taxi drivers whingeing.  The general public aren’t particularly interested in what constitutes plying for hire, whether a mobile phone can be used as a taxi meter, or whether a London-licensed mini-cab can legally work in Brighton.

People now have a bit more awareness of the taxi and private hire trades, and the roles and responsibilities within them.  People know there are issues over Uber drivers’ insurance, questions over their criminal record checking, and that Uber were picking and choosing what criminal allegations to mention to the police.  This came from the police themselves, who are thoroughly fed up with them.  These were the issues that made people sit up and think.  Everyone can now see how government interference and having investors in high places has protected them.  Using a footballing metaphor, Uber lost the dressing room.

People can see that the headlines on taxi magazines were true:  Uber haven’t been checking criminal records properly.  They really were ignoring criminal allegations.  An Uber driver really did try to cut someone’s head off at Leytonstone Station while shouting “Allahu Akbar.”  Another was nicked after waving a samurai sword around outside Buckingham Palace.  Those with a conscience can see how they are exploiting not just tax and VAT loopholes and a lax licensing regime, but also its drivers – who they want to replace with driverless cars ASAP.  LBCs James O’Brien likens Uber to a Victorian mill owner.  I like the analogy, although mill owners were locally-based and paid their taxes in the UK.

Have Uber’s investors actually made any money yet?  They must be getting very nervous.  Very nervous.  And their corporate account holders.  It might even make Tesco think about which partner organisations it promotes.  I think the biggest game-changer will be when their investors cash in their chips and Uber are starved of funds.  How many lawsuits are they currently involved in?  This sort of thing isn’t cheap.

Private hire licensing had already slowed.  There will be even fewer drivers clamouring to join Uber now, and many will be trickling back to the mini-cab companies from whence they came.  Even if Uber were re-licensed today, they would find it hard to provide the same level of service as before.  Uber work on over-supply, and they will find it harder to saturate the market when its drivers desert a sinking ship.  As for our future, we need to raise our game and constantly guard against complacency.  TfL have recently shown they’re wise to dubious new start-ups, such as Taxify, but others will come and try it on.  We need to be ready.  When the war is over and the dust has settled, the public will decide who are the best.

 

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