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).

Boris and his Bridges

(Original edit of article written for Taxi magazine).

So, Boris Johnson has suggested a bridge spanning the English Channel? It’s a shame no-one has supported his idea – it sounds great! The idea might seem fanciful, but it’s entirely possible that Boris’s idea could be realised with the right backing. Had the French suggested it, the suggestion would have been taken seriously, but because it’s that mischievous mop-top, people just laugh about it. Maybe people remember his garden bridge idea, the one that cost the taxpayer £46 million without a brick being laid? Fair enough, but at least he has a go.

The bridge idea seems strange in the light of Britain’s forthcoming exit from the European Union, but if we managed to bridge the English Channel, it would open France wide open to both tourism and commuters. Structurally it’s do-able.

A bridge would be much more versatile than the present tunnels for trucks and trains. A bridge could open up the continent to many forms of transport, including pedestrians. There could be some kind of tram connecting the two towns at both ends. Pedestrians wouldn’t normally be expected to walk the whole length, but there could be a rank of Boris Bikes at the foot of the bridge. I wonder if taxi drivers from Kent ever get any runs to France? The bridge could lend itself to fixed-price shuttle services from both the English and the French side (cross-border hiring legislation will need to be looked at).

Any new bridge project would have to be planned properly though. Would it be built to British or French specifications? Would they switch to driving on the other side of the road half way over? The bridge would have to be very long, but also very wide. I expect the French would want to build a few wine bars and patisseries on it. Very nice too. And they’d need a bit of greenery on which to walk their little doggiess. This could be a garden bridge by the back door, only bigger and better.

A bridge administered by the British is more troubling – just look at the London bridges that we are familiar with. Although it would be in Kent, the British section would no doubt be run in accordance with TfL’s anti-motorist agenda. How long before contractors are sent to mark out cycle lanes? A paved strip will then appear down the middle of the carriageway, to provide jaywalkers an unlimited crossing space, and to provide an extra lane for cyclists and motorcyclists, just like Regent Street or The Stand. Segregated vehicle, cycle and pedestrian lanes – by all means; but please don’t let it resemble the chaos of the London bridges. It’s not just the old mayor that we need to worry about; the present one needs watching too.

The foot of the bridge would soon become an untidy mess of rickshaws and Uber cars. Ice cream vans will appear on the bridge; plus pavement artists, blokes painted silver, &c., &c…  I feel sorry for the good burghers of Dover or Calais if that bloke with the bagpipes re-locates from Westminster Bridge.

It must be about twenty-six miles from Dover to Calais – about the same length of a marathon. This won’t go un-noticed by interested parties. In no time, the bridge will start being closed for running and cycling events; perhaps food festivals, bus rallies, Pedestrian-only shopping Sundays, and American football promotions. Imagine the Christmas light switch-on?

Some people think travel through the European Union will become more difficult, but I don’t think things will change too much. We had to show passports at the French border in the 70s, and we still do. Security would have to be high though, and that’s not cheap. A new border would be created with passport and immigration checks. If there are any terrorist incidents in Europe, it won’t be long before metal barriers are put in to narrow everything down further.

None of this will affect us in London, but British pride is at stake. We have the opportunity to show our EU friends across the water that we’re still open for business and that we are still proud Europeans. We don’t need celebs to open the bridge; just someone with some enthusiasm: I’d have the chap with the flags at that tourist shop on Piccadilly Circus to do it.

It’s an exciting vision from Boris, and I commend it to the house.

Leave a comment

Filed under Published Articles

Changes on the Cards

(Original edit of article for Taxi magazine)

I was pleased to hear we no longer have to pay fees when paying for certain items by credit card, but relief turned to dismay when I heard retailers bleating on about a loss of revenue and how they’d put their prices up or impose new fees in order to get their  transaction money back.

Travel companies and ticket agencies save money by not having to maintain a physical space in which to sell us their wares. With most ticket retailing done on-line, people are necessarily going to be paying by some sort of card, so are open to charges. The alternative is for these companies to only accept debit cards, for which no fee is charged. If you’ve recently paid your tax bill on-line you may have noticed that you can no longer pay with a personal credit card. We have no choice whether we pay tax, or to whom we pay it, but we have a choice who we buy tickets from.  I can’t imagine companies stopping people paying by credit card, so they’ll look at other ways to claw back their lost revenue.

Raising our fares to cover credit card fees is not something we can do. It’s not something I’d want to do either in these times of austerity. I also wouldn’t want to go back to the days of charging our customers fees for paying by card.

It’s not right that we were forced into accepting cards, but it’s surely brought us more work. Taking cards has been compulsory for well over a year now. The issue has faded, but there are still nagging concerns. For one, there’s the feeling that we have lost a little of our autonomy. For three hundred years we dealt only in cash and it worked fine.  Finance companies make money out of us for supplying the equipment and processing payments, and it feels uncomfortable entering into financial agreements with outside agencies in order to take a taxi fare – at a cost to ourselves. I don’t get involved with a finance company directly because my equipment is integrated into my ComCab system, but I’ve heard drivers with different arrangements have been threatened with having their machines taken away through under-use: not making enough money for the machine supplier. Taxi garages have also been told to ensure their card machines are used more!

I don’t promote the use of cards. A payment can take two minutes to complete, and there’s always the fear that something will go wrong. Sometimes it does. Customers don’t always find using the keypad easy; possibly because there is a confusion of different systems being used in cabs. I’ve had two people walk off before realising the payments haven’t gone through. I don’t know whether this has been done or purpose. I don’t see the same detail on my ComCab screen as the customer sees on the keypad, fixed out of sight behind my head. If a driver has a major with his system can he get assistance beyond nine to five?

Despite these concerns, it’s better than the alternative of having a mixed fleet of cash-only/card-friendly cabs. The public have confidence they can pay by card when they approach us, and no longer need to walk down a rank asking if we accept cards. This avoids frustration and resentment.

Sadly, I’m no longer waved in to the front of a hotel rank and loaded up for Heathrow while cash-only wallahs sat fuming, but mandatory card acceptance has brought us all more work. It’s not all plain sailing, but the price has been worth paying. And we can hold our heads up and take the moral high ground against those rapacious travel agents.

Has technology made card acceptance more difficult? I remember a time many years’ ago when in a shop or restaurant they’d bring a huge metal machine over. I was only a kid in the 1970s, but I remember it being the size of those contraptions they used to measure your feet with at Clark’s. They’d put your card on the machine and physically swipe it. You’d leave with a carbon copy of the transaction. I assume the retailer would send all their copies off to the credit card company and receive payment in due course. I don’t think there was any wireless technology, and the system was never “down”.  They didn’t need a signal, just a bit of carbon paper. It was simple, but it worked. Why does everything have to be so complicated these days? I know that under TfL rules a hand-held machine isn’t officially allowed, but I wonder if we could still get our hands on those machines?

Leave a comment

Filed under Published Articles

Down at the Doctor’s

(Original edit of my article regarding my recent over-56 taxi medical).
Taxi licensing legislation in London is the strictest in the world. Private hire licensing seems to be about the slackest. Licensing is carried out by the same authority, but to wildly differing standards. Transport for London have tightened up a bit on PH, and refusing to re-licence Uber is part of a belated attempt to raise the standards to what the public should accept as standard.
Private hire drivers don’t have to jump through so many hoops, as in fairness they don’t operate in quite the same was as we do; but minimum standards of safety should apply to both trades. All drivers should be able to speak reasonable English: not to “A” Level standard, but they should be able to read road signs, and communicate with passengers, as a bare minimum. Everyone should have a reasonable idea of where they are going, independent of a satnav. All drivers should have comprehensive hire & reward insurance, and it should be switched on at all times. Is there such a thing as on/off insurance? I don’t think so. All drivers should have their criminal records examined to make sure they’re not wanted on three continents. TfL are concerned how criminal record checks are carried out. Is it true that Uber do the checking themselves, or use a friendly partner agency? Who knows, maybe it’s just rumours.
When I started out, criminal checks were carried out directly by our licensing authority – the Metropolitan Police. That seems reasonable. The system got complicated when they started to refer us to an outside agency. The procedure could be both laborious and lengthy under the CRB, then later the DBS. I find it absurd that we were forced into a situation where we had to pay money to a commercial organisation to see our own files.
In an official Taxi & Private Hire Notice, TfL outlined another interesting reason why they refused Uber a new licence. This concerns how medical certificates are obtained. I assume Uber drivers obtain their medical certificates the same way now as they did when Uber were first licensed in London. TfL have been accepting these medical certificates for over five years, so why the sudden surprise? The most startling revelation I’ve heard recently was that Uber drivers have been issued with medical certificates over the internet! I’m taking a particular interest here because I recently had a letter inviting me to contact my doctor for my over-55s medical. There didn’t seem an option to do it on-line.
Whilst I’m in good health at the time of writing I’m likely to be ill by the time I’ve joined the virtual queue to arrange an appointment on the phone, and then endured the physical ordeal of a trip down to the doctor’s. Medical centres are unhealthy places full of sick people coughing and spluttering up germs. Once in the consulting room I then have to convince the man in the white coat that I’m not as blind as a bat. Then there’s the fee. How much do Uber drivers pay a fee for their quickie medical? (more about that later…).
I last had a medical for my taxi licence five years’ ago; before that it was in 1988 after I applied to go on the Knowledge. My eyesight wasn’t as bad then, and I didn’t have cholesterol at Champions League standard. So how do they check your eyesight on-line? That’s not possible, surely? It’s not right if the rumours are true and Uber drivers can get a computer-generated medical certificate from an on-line Dr Feelgood. Then again, little surprises me the way Uber have put one over on our licensing body.
I’m not sure if standards have slipped for those of us who physically visit a qualified doctor for their medical. Maybe things are a bit more relaxed now, like the annual cab inspection. Maybe they now let us through with the human equivalent of dented bodywork or creaky brakes? Remember the old days when they’d and sit underneath us in a white coat to see if we leak fluids, ready to slap a stop note on our bums?
So how much do Uber drivers pay for their medicals? A quick Googler search threw up a Central London company who will complete a private hire – or taxi – medical for fifty quid, and on the day of booking. I know this takes weeks to arrange with my own GP, and I’ve been scared to ask how much it costs (someone at the Camley Street caff was quoted £250!). I shan’t give the company’s name in case it’s dodgy, but maybe we should be shopping around like our PH friends. Anyway, for this one I’m sticking with my local medical practice. If I’m still described as a taxi driver at the top of this article you’ll know I’ve passed the audition.

Leave a comment

Filed under Published Articles

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.

 

Leave a comment

Filed under Published Articles

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.

 

Leave a comment

Filed under Published Articles

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!

 

Leave a comment

Filed under Published Articles

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.

Leave a comment

Filed under Published Articles