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).

The Cycle of Change

(Original edit of article for Taxi magazine).

As cab drivers we used to plod along happily unaffected by change. If someone wanted a cab they’d wave their hand or approach a rank. We took cash. There was no fiddling with buttons and worrying whether the customer’s credit card was going to work. There was no stress waiting for card clearance with a bus sat behind us. We all had a bit more road space and road systems were less complicated. Things were altogether less fraught out there. When I started out there were no cameras poised to photograph your wheel as it touched the hallowed yellow paint of a box junction. You could buy a new cab that didn’t need to be plugged in.

Many of these changes have happened in the last handful of years, and there are more changes coming to our streets. Changes not just to our working conditions, but to the wider environment we work in. Updated forms of transport are being offered to customers which could disrupt the status quo and provide headaches to the authorities who control the roads. Fasten your seatbelts, it’s going to be a bumpy ride…

In a recent article I mentioned motorised rickshaws. How they’ve allowed a rickshaw on the road with a motor I’ll never know. There are more cycles coming: hire cycles that don’t have to be returned to a docking station, but can be dumped anywhere. OBikes are four times cheaper than the Santander “Boris Bikes” and can be left wherever you like. If these cheaper bikes are allowed to continue it’ll lead the way for more unregulated cycle hire outfits to flood the market. It’ll make a dent in the profits of the current supplier, and create piles of cycles on our pavements for people to trip over. It’s a situation rather like the pedicabs. The authorities failed to clamp down on them and we now have pedicabs with motors riding down cycle lanes! TfL can’t really say anything as they allowed it to happen in the first place.

If TfL did put a stop to motorised rickshaws or discount dump-where-you-like hire bikes, could we say they were luddites resistant to progress and competition? Isn’t that what many people said about cab drivers when credit card acceptance became mandatory?

TfL are making big losses because fewer people want to ride their tube trains and buses. They still have the private hire money-spinner though. They’re trying to claw money out of private hire by drastically raising operator’s licensing fees. Large mini-cab operators have to find £30,000 for a five-year licence, where previously the fee was £2,826. The mini operators are fighting the case in court. They argue that TfL failed to conduct a considered and thorough consultation before raising fees, and didn’t carry out an independent regulatory impact assessment. I suggest that TfL and other authorities never consider the impact or carry out a proper consultation on anything. Look at what they’ve done to London’s roads with all their crazy re-modelling schemes and closures.

Whatever you feel about private hire you must admit that this is a huge rise (up to 5000% in some cases).            Many smaller private hire companies have gone to the wall, or have been eaten up by the larger ones.

None is larger than Uber of course. Maybe thirty-large for running an estimated 40,000 mini-cabs isn’t so excessive. Here’s a question:  if Uber are no longer officially licensed, are they exempt from the thirty grand operator’s fee?

TfL say higher fees are needed to fund extra compliance officers “who do a crucial job in driving up standards and ensuring passengers remain safe.”

TfL themselves could have done more to ensure passengers were safe by making sure DBS criminal record checks were made properly from the start. We recently read about the imprisonment of an Uber driver who was stopped for driving erratically in New North Road. Kareem Worthington’s car was searched and the police found white powder believed to be drugs, and a secreted knife. What struck me about this case was that he had been convicted of possession of a bladed article in 2011 and 2012, and had also been imprisoned for affray in 2014. Did none of these offences come up on his DBS record? Or did TfL decide he was a fit and proper person anyway? Either the current criminal record checking system is open to corruption, or the DBS report isn’t worth the paper it’s written on.

We now have motorised chariots carrying families around the West End and getting in everyone’s way. Their drivers don’t need a licence, tax, insurance, vehicle inspection, fare chart; nor any DBS clearance. The old PCO would have run them out of town on a rail.

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Spring Has Sprung

(The snow is a distant memory… Here’s my edit of my article published in Taxi magazine this week.  I’ve now put my ice scraper and windscreen frost sheet away for the year…)

The snow is now a distant memory. I’m confident that by the time you read this we can see sunshine and the green shoots of spring. It wasn’t like that at the beginning of the month.

I usually have Monday and Tuesday off. On Monday February 26th I was watching the BBC News. The talk was of the “Beast from the East”, the killer weather on its way from Siberia. There were dire warnings of serious travel disruption, and sub-zero temperatures that were going to cause folk to drop dead from heart attacks. Some parts of the UK were already suffering from The Beast, and it looked like we were all going to get it sometime over the next few days.

BBC reporters stood on motorway bridges and told of mayhem up north, down south, Wales and the west. Train companies had cancelled trains in areas where not a single snowflake had dropped. This both appalled and amused me. I certainly would have been annoyed had I needed to catch a train today. Anyway, how were they coping in Siberia where this weather was meant to originate from? Do the trains stop running in Iceland and Canada every winter?

The media love talking about extreme weather. I later joined in with the jovial humour by posting slightly smug messages on my blog. The sunshine was streaming through my windows as I spoke about how lovely and spring-like the weather was in Leighton Buzzard (I’d already got my sunglasses out, ready to put in the cab, and I was thinking about bringing my ice scraper inside for the next nine months).

I asked my twelve or so blog followers why this country grinds to a halt at the first drop of a snowflake. I spoke about the woman I saw leaving the gym that morning. She had a hat on and she was only walking to the car park a few yards away. Yes, it was cold, but I wore my shorts at Morrison’s as I always do when I’ve come straight from the gym. I later caught a bus into the town centre. They were talking about grim weather coming in the Golden Bell. The bus drivers were talking excitedly about the day off they were going to enjoy the following day when the Beast hit Bedfordshire. Dream on, I thought.

Tuesday was the same: cold but sunny.

I woke up as normal on Wednesday and prepared for work. I looked out of the window and there was a blanket of white. Oh dear. There were four inches of snow on the cab roof, and it was still snowing lightly. Even the cat refused to go out for a look.

I was now faced with the dilemma of trying to make it to London and hope things were all right there, or write the day off. It’s a terrible dilemma when you’re self-employed as if you don’t work you don’t get paid. I thought of those delivery people on zero-hours contracts who were facing the same choice. We’re all on tight margins.

Even if I could get the cab out of the car park at the back of my house I would still be faced with treacherous snow-covered roads on my estate. I found out later the main roads were passable, but a lot could happen in the forty miles between here and London. And what if I got a job to Hampstead Village or somewhere and got stuck there? The TV was already showing vehicles stuck on motorways for several hours. I took the only decision I felt I could and called a writing day.

Thursday was also snowed off. Unbelievably it was now March, and the start of spring.

If anything, things were even worse on Friday. I’d enjoyed a couple of days off, but by now I was fed up and really wanted it to end.

I was confident I’d be able to work Saturday. I started the cab, but I wasn’t confident in getting off the driveway and around the little roads without getting stuck. I felt my time would be better spent on an early lunch at Wetherspoons so walked into town. Just about everyone else had the same idea. The pub was packed at 11.45. It was like the Spirit of the Blitz and we were all huddled down a tube station waiting for the all clear. By the way, if you’re writing a book, as I am, you have every justification for sitting in pubs. I was editing my work. I was working. While there was no guilt on that score, my food and drink bill was mounting.

Most of the snow had cleared by Sunday and I got a decent day’s work in. In London you wouldn’t have known anything untoward had happened weather-wise at all. Spring was coming, I was sure of it. And feeling hopeful, I declared the kipper season over.

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Russian Poisoning

I never did trust those meerkats that appear at the start of Coronation Street. I’m sure Sergei is brewing up a nice samovar of plumonium 210 at Roy’s Rolls in readiness for the next ex-KGB spy come to retire in Wetherfield. Makes you think…

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Down the Tubes

(Original edit of article for Taxi magazine)

I picked up a copy of the Evening Standard a few weeks’ ago and found a most interesting story. The piece revealed that people were deserting the London Underground, and TfL were losing money fast. Apparently, the tube is overcrowded, full of rowdy people, and prone to delays and cancellations. Shoot, I never knew that…

TfL are expected to lose £400 million. Income from fares will fall £239 million below expectations this year, with commercial income from advertising, retail and property £160 million down. This is all “according to confidential documents seen by the Standard.” I’m not sure how the Standard got their hands on confidential documents; I’d suggest they’re not confidential at all. Anyway, let’s go with it.

The tube is the only TfL passenger service that makes a profit – for now anyway. The article goes on to say how the tube is badly hit, with passenger numbers down nearly 4%. What follows forms part of the answer: cycling in Central London is at an all-time high, up 5.8% per year. I bet TfL wished they never started this Cycle Superhighway nonsense.

That’s only part of the story, of course. Other factors are at work; including an annual 7% rise in crime on the TfL train network; plus passenger aggression, acerbated partly by overcrowding, delays and cancellations.

I often pick passengers up at the weekend who have been let down by line closures. I’m not gloating. The tube is an essential lifeline for many, and I don’t like to see people inconvenienced. But I don’t remember such disruption when I lived in London in the 1990s and used the tube regularly. Why are things are so bad now? You’d think that technological advances would have improved things and helped to mend problems quicker.

The next day’s super soaraway Standard carried another thought-provoking piece.  This one told us that electric on-demand pedicabs were being rolled out. This time, I’m definitely not gloating as it affects cab drivers too. George Osborne’s mouthpiece couldn’t resist informing its readership that a vehicle can be booked through an Uber-style app.

Mayor Khan has said nothing about the menace of pedicabs since taking over from Boris, and look what’s happened? London’s about to be flooded by motorised pedicabs.  They can travel at 15.5 mph, and they’re allowed on the Cycle Superhighway cycle lanes. Pedicabs have previously been little more than an irritation. They get in everyone’s way – especially buses – but they’ve never posed a serious threat to the revenue of licenced taxis or mini-cabs. Not until now.  These vehicles are going to undercut taxis, as well as the Mayor’s beloved transport provision. Let’s just hope that we gain a bit of work from TfLs unreliable tube system and increasingly slow buses.

I wonder how much revenue TfL have lost to Uber? People found they could travel almost as cheaply as they could on the tube, and they didn’t have to sit on buses as they lumbered along Regent Street nose to tail. TfL licensed an unfit operator thinking it would only harm taxis and mini-cabs, but neglected the fact that Uber’s use of slave labour and dubious tax arrangements, would allow Uber to undercut TfLs own transport. TfL are a transport provider who have undermined their own products!

Anyway, here’s my own confidential report: my earnings have gone down about 20% in the last five years. The reasons include wage stagnation that affects our customers; plus the illegal licensing of Uber. Permanent road closures and miss-managed temporary closures have compounded the problem, and have made cab rides more expensive. The City has become virtually a no-go area since the closure of Bank Junction, and all the other temporary closures in the area. Oxford Street looks to be going the same way. And Bloomsbury, when Tottenham Court Road is closed.

We have little control over our working environment. Much of it is in the hands of TfL, and they have harmed us all. They’ve stopped the traffic flowing as part of their anti-motorist agenda; yet have bowed to pressure from powerful lobbyists on behalf of Uber and flooded the streets with cars. I’m sure there are fewer private motorists driving in London, but every available the space is filled with mini-cabs. No, we don’t need 160,000 mini-cabs, but a private hire licence has other uses. Any motorist wanting a discounted Congestion Charge season ticket can buy one direct from TfL for a couple of hundred quid.

The funniest bit in the Standard article was the claim that Mr Khan and TfL have partly attributed the downturn in TfLs revenue down to the “uncertainty of Brexit.” How ridiculous. Yes, the country’s going to the dogs. Soon, only cockroaches and Uber drivers will be able to survive in London. We’d better all follow Boris over his bridge to France.

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Me and my Big Mouth

The spring-like weather finally gave way to overnight snow.On an enforced day off. Having a Writing Day. Will struggle down to the pub at lunchtime.

Snow for Blog

 

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Snow: Fake News?

Leighton Buzzard, 4.30 pm. Still a sunny, spring-like, day. No sign of “The Beast from the East”, the killer cold weather that ‘s meant to be sweeping in from Siberia.

I went downtown for a pint earlier. They’re all talking about it on the bus and in the pub. Ok, there was a brief flurry of snowflakes, about ten of them. The bus drivers were talking about what to do on their enforced day off tomorrow. Dream on.

I blame the media for the panic. BBC News predicted folk dropping dead from heart attacks. Train companies had already cancelled trains – before a snowflake had even settled!

Coming out of the gym, a woman wore a hat – just to walk to her car! I wore my shorts at Morrison’s as I always do after the gym. It was a grand day, if a bit nippy, like.

What is it with this country: the tiniest threat of snow and the roads and rails grind to a halt. Are people dropping dead in Iceland and Canada?

I’ll see what’s happening when I watch the news at six. I expect it’s snowing in Scotland. If it snows seriously here I’ll offer my apologies tomorrow.

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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.

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