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).

Election Fever…

…live & direct from the Liberal Democrat Coffee Shop.

As a floating voter I wavered for a minute in the polling booth at 8.25 this morning.  I knew who I wasn’t going to vote for:  Conservative or UK-IP.

UK-IP did their job with Brexit.  They have some good ideas, but also one or two mad ones.  They’re irritating and divisive.  I don’t trust them.

I couldn’t put my name to some of the things the Conservatives are doing, though I quite like Theresa May.  She’s a good leader, and the best option for Brexit.  I went off her recently a bit though, when she failed to sign that letter criticising Trump for backing out of the Paris Agreement on climate change.  She also failed to back the London Mayor when Trump criticised him straight after the terrorist attack in Borough.  She’s definitely not the Iron Lady.

The Liberals are going to raise income tax by 1p.  This troubled me, but I expect the other parties will do the same.  The Liberals are generally anti-Brexit.  I’m just sick of hearing about Brexit, and have Brexit Fatigue.  I don’t even care if there is a 2nd referendum and we shake hands and make up (I might even vote Remain).  Do the Euros really hate us?  Not sure. I think all our European friends needed to do before the referendum was put their hands on our shoulder and say “You’re all right, Great Britain, you’re my best mate, ever…” .  Let’s move on…

Corbyn has some laudable ideas, but he needed a money tree to implement his policies. Dianne Abbot couldn’t tell us where the money was coming from and lost the plot when asked (get well soon, Dianne). I’d enjoy an hour or two with Corbyn and Dianne Abbot down the pub, but would I trust them to run the country?  No. Maybe a future Labour government.

I also remembered Corbyn as my MP many years’ ago in Highbury.  I remember his support for the IRA, and how he supported Arab terrorist groups, and allowed mad mullahs to sit in the street outside Finsbury Park Mosque and preach hate (I believe the instigator is now in prison in the USA, courtesy of Mrs May).

In the end I went for the LIberals.  I know they won’t get in, but I’ve done my bit.

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In the Hot Seat

(My edit of article published in Taxi magazine this week)

In the Hot Seat

Did anyone watch the C4 documentary The Knowledge:  The World’s Toughest Taxi Test?  If you didn’t, you missed a treat.  Filmed at the PCO, it showed interviews with Knowledge candidates and examiners, and excruciating footage of candidates being interrogated in actual appearances.  You could feel their pain.

Going Blank

We’ve all been sat in a chair unable to locate a Point of Interest in our mind; either in the examination room, or in the driver’s seat.  When asked for a street or hotel that you can’t think of immediately, thoughts come from all directions to cloud your thought processes, and your focus disappears.  As any Knowledge Boy knows, places you pass every day can be forgotten when put on the spot.  As a Knowledge examiner I remember one tea break discussing the places we’d been asked for in our cabs but went blank on.  My contribution was Upper Berkerley Street, but other examiners provided examples just as embarrassing.

Making Mistakes

Early in my career, a bloke asked for New Kent Road, then fell asleep soon after getting in.  At Elephant and Castle I asked him where he wanted to be dropped off.  I was horrified when he said he wanted dropping off at New King’s Road, several miles in the opposite direction.  I completed the journey with no extra charge.  He was fine about it.  And so he might have been.  That was at least twenty-five years’ ago, and I’m still convinced he asked for New Kent Road.

Airport hotels can be difficult to remember if you rarely go out to the Flyers.  Well before the advent of the Cabbie’s Mate, an Arab gentleman asked me for a hotel at Heathrow Airport.  I should have asked my passenger for the precise address, but I thought I’d ask another cab driver when I drew alongside one on the drive out to Heathrow.  I was told that the hotel was the facing you as you pull onto the main roundabout on the airport spur.  As I drove along the M4 and on to the slip to the roundabout I saw it was a different hotel completely.  I drove past the entrance and was now back on the M4 heading west to God knows where.  I eventually found out that the hotel was on the edge of Slough, a town that I’ve still never been to in all my years of cab driving.

I made a similar mistake another time and found myself heading into Buckinghamshire.  It’s a novel experience for a London cab driver to drive past sheep grazing on green pastures:  it usually means you’re on your way to Gatwick Airport, or have trapped a lucrative Roader.  It’s a sickening feeling when you have an irate passenger in the back that’s going to arrive home late, and you’re burning time and diesel.

I find airports confusing:  all those fast-moving lanes going in all directions, over-complicated direction signs, and all those car parks.  I was therefore a bit on edge after trapping a nice ride to Heathrow.  My passengers wanted Terminal 2, then Terminal 5.  I dropped at T2, then followed the signs for T5.  I followed the signs on the airport service roads, around roundabouts, and avoided the dead end car park lanes.  I was just congratulating myself on following the complicated route when I saw one last sign.  It said “Taxis Only”.  I’m driving a taxi, I thought, so I took that lane into the terminal.  I then found myself on the back of the cab rank.  Thankfully, I managed to get out of trouble by driving over the kerbing.  Embarrassing though.

The Westfield shopping centre at Shepherd’s Bush still causes me anxiety.  It’s a convoluted route to the official taxi drop off, and it resembles an airport with its confusing lanes and car parks.  On my first visit there I panicked and dropped a Caribbean family off inside the customer car park.  I pretended this was where cabs normally set down.  My passengers were none the wiser, and would have saved a couple of quid.  I, on the other hand, paid a pound to get out of the car park.  I did the same thing again a few years’ later when they changed the road system.

Don’t even talk to me about Westfield Stratford.  They moved my football club next to it.  I’ve been a few times as a pedestrian and I get lost after every game.

Last year, an American couple got into my cab on the Haymarket rank and asked for “Rueben’s”.  I repeated back the destination to confirm.  I ran a nice quick route up to Baker Street and stopped outside Reuben’s, London’s most celebrated kosher restaurant.  “Where’s the hotel?” asked the man.  I realised my mistake immediately.  We got caught up in traffic on the way to Rubens Hotel opposite Buckingham Palace, and of course the extra fare was down to me.  The couple were fine about it; in fact he implied it was his wife’s fault.  The fact was, we couldn’t hear each other over the noise of the traffic when we set off from one of London’s busiest roads.

The moral of the story is:  always confirm the destination before setting off – even if you have to shout.  And don’t trust fellow cab drivers to know more than you do.  It’s often said at the PCO that your Knowledge is never as good as the day you gain your badge.  When in doubt it’s probably best to ask a Knowledge Boy for directions.

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Real Life Scenarios

(Original edit of article written for Taxi magazine)

From December 4th, the driving test is being updated to respond to the demands of 21st century driving, and real life scenarios will take the place of some familiar features.  Following a satnav will form part of the test, and reversing around corners will become history.  Does this mean obeying an electrical device is more important than parking and reversing?

Certainly not.  Anyway, removing reversing from the test was something of a media scare story in the lead up to a quiet Easter break.  The radio stations I listened to neglected to say that although reversing around corners, and three-point turns, won’t be tested; bigger and better additions are on the menu.  Reversing in and out of a bay, and parallel parking, are new features that could be asked for.  As most people have to reverse into a parking bay at some time or another the changes seem a good idea.

I’m less sure about the satnav element of the test though.  Many people use a satnav, but it’s not essential.  You can drive perfectly safely without a satnav – in fact I’d say it’s safer without the distraction.  One in five driving tests will feature a satnav, supplied and set up by the examiner.  The daft thing about it is that you’ll “be able to ask the examiner for confirmation of where you’re going if you’re not sure.  It won’t matter if you go the wrong way unless you make a fault while doing it.”  In this case, I don’t see much point.

The Drive

Driving tests bring back both good and bad memories from my past.  I passed my regular driving test at the second attempt nine months after I started the Knowledge.  As for the taxi driving test, these days you take the “Drive” when you are still on the Knowledge.  Back in the eighties this was the final hurdle before gaining your badge.  I’d finished the Knowledge, but still had the Drive hanging over me.  I didn’t know it at the time, but I was to have an even longer gap before I was let loose on the public.

The taxi driving test centre was in Southgate Road at the corner of Balls Pond Road (predictably now a block of flats).  As I drove out of the gate with the examiner in the back, someone stopped me and asked for directions.  This threw me, and I ended up making mistakes and failing the test.

I failed the next one too.  Reversing around cones evidently wasn’t my strong point.  I was also told off for driving above thirty miles per hour on what the examiner called the “Turkish Sector” on Green Lanes.  I’d apparently run a red light to boot.  I swear it was amber guv.

Advanced Driving Test for London

If things continue, most cars in London will be mini-cabs before long.  I wonder if this is the idea behind the satnav test?  The GOV.UK website says the changes to the driving test “are designed to make sure new drivers have the skills they’ll need to help them through a lifetime of safe driving.” Perhaps there should be a special advanced test for London driving?  I can think of some real life scenarios that could be incorporated into future taxi tests, and in any future private hire driving test.  Here are some scenarios that could be used (no satnav allowed):

  • You’ve never driven in London before. Make a left turn on to Blackfriars Road without accidently driving into the oncoming cycle lane
  • You’re heading west along the Cycle Super Highway intending to turn left on to Westminster Bridge. You then realise it’s a banned turn.  Can you work out how to make it over the bridge?  Please explain to your examiner why on earth the left turn on to Westminster Bridge should be outlawed.  Extra points will be awarded if you can say how much more time and mileage you’ve wasted, and how much pollution the extra mileage has caused
  • You are in Museum Street aiming for the City. The traffic is turning right into Bloomsbury Way, but the signs are indicating Ahead Only.  Do you go straight ahead as directed or follow everyone else?
  • Both outside lanes on New Bond Street are blocked by vans and mini-cabs. Try to stick to the middle lane the whole length of the road without letting other vehicles push in
  • Attempt to drive between Ye Olde Swiss Cottage and Platt’s Lane on Finchley Road (either direction). You will be required to remain in the Bus Lane at all times.  A taxi will be provided for the test
  • Emergency Braking section: from a steady thirty miles per hour, brake when the light turns amber and stop before the advance cycle srea
  • From Cranbourn Street, go straight ahead as if to drop a passenger off at the Hampshire Hotel in Leicester Square. This section tests how you deal with surly rickshaw drivers, and how you negotiate crowds of pedestrians looking at their phones
  • From Cartwright Gardens you are bound for St Pancras International. There’s a giant crane blocking the whole of Mabledon Place.  What do you do?

In this section satnavs can be used:

  • Set your satnav from Manor House Station to Gibson Square. Your mission is to make the journey in the estimated time.  Take care with the speed bumps and twenty miles per hour speed limit
  • While listening to difficult jazz, use any combination of map, satnav, or direction signs, and find your way to Trafalgar Square, Parliament Square, Hyde Park Corner and Marble Arch on a Sunday afternoon. Oh, there’s a march and rally starting right now on Park Lane.  It was too late to tell you, sorry.

Writing as a self-styled consultant I reckon I have the essentials of London driving covered.  I’m now working on a driving test for driverless cars.

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National Licensing Bureau

(Original edit of article published in Taxi magazine)

I didn’t write about cross border hiring too long ago, but things are getting worse.  The menace is spreading.  With the borders down, Transport for London has unwittingly become a national licensing centre for private hire, supplying mini-cabs to the whole of the country.  Hundreds of lucky drivers gain their TfL licences each week, and it’s a licence to print money in the town of their choice.

Since de-regulation, word has got around the taxi and private hire world that drivers are free to work wherever they like.  It’s now a total free-for-all.  The Berlin Wall has been breached, and it’s liberation day.  All you have to do is identify the licensing authority with the slackest regime and apply there.  Aspiring taxi drivers might live in an area with a stringent licensing process, and possibly a Knowledge test.  No problem, just get licensed in another borough.  Thereafter simply work where you feel like.

Earlier in the year I spoke about how Knowsley Council suspended licensing for a few weeks at the end of 2016 as it couldn’t cope with the flood of applications.  Knowsley Council had stopped testing taxi drivers’ Knowledge, and it was clear that many drivers were applying for Knowsley licences with the intention of working in Liverpool or Manchester where the regime was tighter.

More recently it was found that 177 private hire drivers residing in Sheffield were licensed in a city hundreds of miles away.  Guess where?  Yes, London.  Over the last six months there has been a 330% rise in TfL private hire licences for drivers with a Sheffield address.

In addition to the London licensed drivers, there are 400 PH drivers with Sheffield addresses licensed by Rossendale, near Blackburn.  Drivers are coming into Sheffield from many other places, including Wales.  Here’s what Sheffield Heeley MP Louise Haigh said: “Sheffield Council prides itself on its strict licensing and rigorous training conditions which help keep taxi and PH users in our city safe.  But the change in the law is riding roughshod over these protections meaning drivers from across the country can get a licence from areas with different standards and requirements and still operate in Sheffield”.

Sheffield Council have done everything right.  They’ve have tried to run a tight ship, only to have it overrun by pirates from foreign lands.  Their reward is to be flooded by drivers who’ve gained licences where the regulations are lax and there are no restrictions in numbers, notably London.  The situation is grim for genuine Sheffield drivers, and for the cab-riding public who might reasonably expect to be driven around by a local expert accountable to the local licensing authority.  Not so.  Safety and standards are out of the window:  Sheffield Council have limited enforcement powers because their drivers are licensed elsewhere!

You might not think this affects us, but Sheffield drivers licensed in London can work in London too of course.  When Sheffield is full, they can come back to London.

It amazes me how someone can drive around a strange town with confidence.  I’ve lived in the small town of Leighton Buzzard for over two years, but I’ve little idea of what goes on past the train station.  If I had to drive a cab here I would have no idea.  You don’t soak up the geography of a town just by living there, not for cab driving purposes anyway.  The area needs to be studied and experienced.  You need to learn every main road, every suburb, and every main route in and out of town to have any idea.  We all know that.

I find sat navs next to useless in big cities.  I’ve driven in Sheffield a few times and have found it challenging to say the least.  The sat nav was sending me down streets that were permanently blocked off and around and around one-way systems and ring roads until I got dizzy.  A few years’ ago I took a taxi from a Sheffield city centre rank to a restaurant in Kelham Island, barely a mile away.   Another driver had to explain it to my man before he attempted the journey.  Maybe he was really a mini-cab driver from London?

TfL either can’t, or won’t restrict, PH licences.  Sorry, but it seems absurd to me that they can totally transform London’s road system, yet complain that they need an Act of Parliament to restrict mini-cab numbers.  I can’t imagine many MPs voting for the traffic mayhem around Westminster.

London is seen as a soft touch and has become the go-to authority for a quickie licence.  In desperation TfL have put up hurdles to try and stem the tide: things that the public should expect as standard; such as proper insurance, topographical testing, and a good standard of English.  Whether or not licensing will slow down with the English language tests, who knows?  When they’re all speaking like Nigel Havers we could all be in trouble.

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The Personal Touch

(More thought s about driver-less cabs and the de-personalisation of society.  This is my original edit of an article written for Taxi magazine).

Non-cab driving friends often taunt me that self-driving taxis are on their way.  I still laugh off their claims.  Recently, a driver-less car being tested by Uber ran a red light in San Francisco.  They tried to say there was a human driving, but there wasn’t.  Keep wasting your money, it’s not going to happen.

Even if taxis and mini-cabs were replaced by self-driving machines, would the public have enough confidence to travel in a cab with no driver?  And has the personal touch been underestimated?

In the unlikely event such a thing ever happens, it’ll surely happen in the USA first.  Eugene Salomon is the author of the wonderful Confessions of a New York Taxi Driver.  He recently conducted an informal survey of his passengers, and found a good 90% saying they’d never get into a driverless taxi.  If automated vehicles continue to run red lights, that’s a given.  But it’s not just about safety.  Eugene says the best taxi rides are the ones where both driver and customer share an interesting interaction.  Not just an efficient, but dull, ride in silence.

Human interaction is continuously being factored out of daily life through technology.  Look at how few tills there are in your supermarket, and how we are encouraged to use the self-scanning facility.  Apart from the frustration at being continuously told you’ve put your shopping in the wrong place, or have got the wrong bag, I find the whole experience depressing.  It’s an impersonal experience.

And all I can think of is the redundant staff who’ve made room for the machines.  Who benefits from replacing humans with robots?  In classic Marxism, those who own the means of production have the power.  That means the supermarkets and it means Uber.  Uber are never going to win an Investors in People award, and their move towards driver-less mini-cabs shows their intention to lay off all their drivers ASAP.  It’s highly unlikely that the remaining supermarket workers’ wages have been raised through savings made on laying off those replaced by machines.  You can be sure that the profits made go straight to the shareholders.

Let’s look at other modes of transport.  There are no conductors on buses any more, and no cash changes hands.  We hardly notice the person with the gallant responsibility of driving the huge red monster.  You’re virtually encouraged to see the driver as a robot merely opening and shutting the doors.  Please don’t speak to the driver or distract his attention.  Scan your Oyster Card and move quickly inside before you become a victim of knife crime.

Air travel is an interesting one:  most of the flight is programmed by technology:  the pilot’s role is largely in taking off and landing.  As a nervous flyer I don’t like to think about that when I’m up in the air; I like to imagine two highly-skilled pilots deep in concentration.  Driver-less aeroplanes?  Would you trust an Uber-operated jumbo to perform an emergency landing on the Hudson River?  You can almost imagine the surge pricing supplement should they manage to pull it off.

I don’t want to give Ryanair ideas, but what if there were no cabin crew?  Imagine no re-assuring waving of the arms as they go through the safety procedures.  What if you had to get your own refreshments from a vending machine at the back?  It wouldn’t be the same.  You might not expect long chats with the flight attendants, but their presence gives you confidence (encountering turbulence I always look over to the flight attendants:  if their faces aren’t contorted in fear, I stay calm).  It’s more than that though:  it’s nice to see a human face, and have someone to talk to if necessary.

I don’t generally encourage my cab passengers to talk.  Partly because I’m no socialite, and partly because it’s so difficult to hold a conversation with someone shouting at your head through an inadequate intercom system.  I always acknowledge my customers though, and as a cab rider myself I feel aggrieved if the driver doesn’t acknowledge me.  I don’t need a chat, just a smile and a hello.

I think we need to play up the human contact.  I certainly don’t want to come over as a grumpy old man – and you have to admit, there are one or two in London.  So, this week I’m launching a personal initiative to be extra friendly, and to even make the effort to talk.

With Uber’s London licence up for renewal, I was thinking how TfL couldn’t possibly refuse to renew it, as they’d be making many thousands of drivers unemployed (or is that self-unemployed?).  But should their cars become driver-less, those same drivers will be on the scrap heap.  By this reckoning, so would we.  It won’t happen though.  It’s science fiction.  It’s a fairground ride at Madame Tussauds.

Anyway, how would your robo-cab cope if you changed your destination, or you wanted a detour to pick someone else up?  What if the cab turned up with a plastic bag over the credit card reader?  And what if you want to go somewhere that your driver-less cab didn’t want to go to?

Eugene asks how you’d argue with a robot that said “I don’t go to Brookyln”.  Our equivalent is, of course, “I don’t go south.”  Who would win the argument?  It’s worth thinking about…

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I’m Backing Britain

(original edit of my article for Taxi magazine)

By the time you read this, Our Glorious Leader, Theresa May, will have triggered Article 50.  When Mrs May presses the button, we have two years to leave the European Union.  I didn’t feel strongly either way when I voted out, and only time will tell if I made the right decision.  All I know is, all the uncertainty, and all the talking down of the country, has caused anxiety.  We just need to get on with it and go forward with a bit of confidence.

I didn’t think leaving the EU would be so complicated.  It didn’t bode well on day one, when David Cameron shirked his responsibility and had it away on his toes.  He didn’t expect the referendum result, nobody did; but plans should have been in place for that eventuality.  While everyone’s dithered, there have been court cases, more voting in parliament and the Lords, and threats from the EU that they’re going to give us a tough divorce (well, they have to do that to deter other countries from leaving).  And now the Scottish Nationalists are trying to distract proceedings and split the United Kingdom at a time when we should all be pulling together.  Finally though, The Queen gave her assent, and it looks like it’s going to happen.  Sadly, modern royals have little to do with the day to day running of the country.  Centuries ago, the king or queen dictated everything, but all they get to do now is put a rubber stamp down where they’re told to by some public school upstart.  I’d like to see the Queen given more powers, not less.  Maybe let her chop a few heads off like in the good old days.  They could start with Nicola Sturgeon.  Anyway, I digress.

I’m not sure why negotiations are expected to last two years.  I don’t understand all the talk about hard-boiled Brexit, Full English Brexit, and semi-skimmed Brexit.  The referendum question was binary: in or out.  When I voted out, I assumed we just pulled out and went our own way.  This scenario was known as Hard Brexit after the referendum, and became something the detractors told us they never meant.  I thought we’d just cancel the direct debit and unsubscribe from the newsletter.  In the coming months we could decide which EU laws to keep and which ones to dump.  Once we’d found our feet, we could maybe send out the Queen’s Navy to warn off Spanish trawlers, and any other Johnny European who wants to try it on.

In the days leading up to the triggering of Article 50, the Chancellor of the Exchequer reversed his budget plan to increase National Insurance contributions for the self-employed.  The original move gave the wrong signal.  At a time when Britain was preparing to go it alone, it would’ve been more positive to provide support to entrepreneurs and small business people.  Big business generally wanted us to stay in the EU.  Of course they did; they need cheap labour to exploit through the EU.  While they pay their staff peanuts on zero-hours contracts, or on sham self-employed arrangements, they can make deals with the taxman.  Their workers can then make deals with the Benefits Agency to top up their meagre earning with tax credits.  International big business is essential of course, but we also need to support grass roots growth.  We rely too much on foreign investment, and not enough in the skills and flair of our own people.

People say importing and exporting will cost us more.  I don’t see why:  if the EU imposes trade tariffs on us, we’ll do the same.  We’re importing too much anyway.  We should be buying domestically as much as possible.  With the big stuff, I find it shameful the police are driving around in foreign cars.  I’m not sure where the steel comes from to supply the huge Crossrail project, but I suspect much of it is foreign too.  This is where we need to start.  I’m not sure how British our cabs really are, but there’s not a lot we can do about that anyway.

On the everyday shopping list, if we insist on summer fruits in the winter, it’s right we pay through the nose to have produce in from sunnier climes.  Why not just go without strawberries until the British ones are available?  Switch to something else for a while.  Most of my beer is British, and I only buy foreign wine because the excellent wines that are produced in England aren’t available in my local shops.  In fairness, they’re a bit pricy too.  Maybe if more people demanded it, more would be produced, and prices would come down.  New Zealand isn’t in the EU, so I can live with that.

It’ll be several years before we know who was right or wrong on the EU debate.  There’s no point moaning about it, or casting blame.  We need to start looking forward.  There are sure to be new opportunities we haven’t yet thought of.  Who knows how we’ll stand with the USA or China in the future.  We should forge closer ties with the Commonwealth.

Let’s start now:  stop talking the country down, and think positive.  Let big business take care of itself, and support local our artisans – yes, like your local taxi drivers:  each one an individual British business person.  Eat and drink as British as possible – and preferably in British measures such as pints. Wetherspoons supported Brexit, and that’s where I’m going now.  Over a foaming tankard of British ale I’m proudly able to say that I drink for England.

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More About Uber…

(original edit of my article for Taxi magazine).

Know Your Enemy

In order to combat Uber, we first need to understand why people use them.  After talking to friends about their transport use recently, I came away with a better understanding of the appeal of our competitors.

My research was undertaken at the Upminster TapRoom on a Saturday evening.  In the streets outside there was a sea of yellow lights.  The phrase: “It’s like Piccadilly Circus”, was apt.  This is a suburban yellow badge area, but where many green badge drivers also live.  Judging by the high number of empty cabs, it appeared to be an area where the cab trade are finding it hard going.

The two friends I spoke to admire the taxi trade, but more often than not, use Uber to get around.  My Upminster friend can clearly find a cab straight away, so there’s no problem with supply.  The only issue is cost when he needs to take a longer than average journey.  He spoke of wanting to get home one night from Liverpool Street.  He took an Uber as it only cost £30.  He asked how much it would’ve cost in my cab.  I said at least £70, but thinking about it later, it would be considerably more than that.  How can they do it that cheaply?  It must take the best part of an hour to get there; and when you factor in returning empty to the City, you’re talking £15 an hour.  When Uber have taken their commission, it doesn’t leave the driver with much.

We all know drivers are lured in with ludicrous claims of high earnings.  Driver dissatisfaction in the private hire sector has been well publicised, but Uber still manage to offer up an impressive brigade of drivers.  Uber pride themselves on supplying car within three minutes, and my friend confirms they turn up quickly.

It all works by over-supply.   It doesn’t matter to Uber if they have thousands of drivers parked up doing nothing.  It only affects the drivers.  The customer wants a car within three minutes, and Uber can arrange it.  Driver turnover is high, with new arrivals coming to take the place of those who have left disillusioned.  There’s always someone there to drive you to Essex for a pittance.

London is saturated by private hire.  I’ve heard colleagues complain there are too many taxis too.  But the number of taxi licences has hardly gone up in several decades.  There aren’t too many cabs, it’s that the drivers are staying out longer to make their money up, or are working extra days (weekend work has plummeted over the last year or two).  Taxi numbers are only kept down because of The Knowledge.   Imagine if it was as easy to get a taxi licence as a private hire licence.  If we over-supplied there would be a public enquiry.  Imagine the rank space we’d need if our numbers were going up by several hundred every week like the minis.  Never mind the unofficial Paddington rank starting at the Metropole; cabs would be queuing from Marble Arch.  The public don’t notice the mini-cabs parked up, or circuiting around.  London private hire cars don’t display a PH plate:  they display a virtually unreadable licence sticker, further disguised by the tinted windows that taxis aren’t allowed to have.

The over- supply of PH licences means Uber can cover all of Central London, the suburbs, the airports, and any other town they fancy – current hotspots for London licensed Uber seem to be Southend and Brighton.  Not every booked Uber car will turn up, and not every driver will know where they’re going.  The driver might be funny about guide dogs, or gays; or he might throw you out if you criticise his choice of route (or his sat nav’s).  Thirty quid all the way to Upminster though  – the customer will take the risk and pocket a sizeable saving!

I reminded my friend that many of our drivers now use hailing apps, and he could book a taxi the same way as an Uber car.  He knows that, but says it’s not that well publicised.

People now know about Uber’s tax avoidance.  They know their drivers are being exploited.  They have heard the term Uberisation, used to describe the gig economy, zero hours contracts, and the sham of self-employed status.  We queue for work on actual ranks, but things are even worse on the virtual rank that the PH and zero-hours contractors are on.

The thing is, the bottom line is all that matters to many people.  I’m no better.  I use companies that dodge UK tax and treat their employees – or self-employed “partners” – abominably.  I know I shouldn’t; but the price, convenience, and delivery times, overrides my conscience.

Ever since private hire started, the two services have appealed to a different clientele.  Some people only use a mini-cab, some only use a taxi.  There’s a floating middle, who use both.  We’ll probably never win the custom of those who just look at the bottom line, but we could win over the middle ground.  In the years when things were better we lost some of the middle ground while chasing the top end.  The only way we can compete now is to appeal to everyone.  We now all take credit cards, and our apps are getting known.  We must provide a quality service at all times.  We need to consider fixed price fares on occasions.  A century or so ago, we appealed to the gentry because a gentleman could get into our cabs without taking his top hat off.  In order to wear the trousers, we have to remember that gentlemen no longer wear top hats.


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