Category Archives: Published Articles

Trust Your Head

(Original edit of article written for Taxi magazine).

 

Reports suggest that cab passengers will soon be able to get alerts when the Google app they are using senses that you have strayed off course. Minor diversions shouldn’t trigger an alarm, but if you go off course more than 500 metres you might have to explain yourself. I don’t think I’m being controversial in saying that it’s largely the private hire competition who are going to be the more nervous, though we’re all likely to get the occasional passenger who thinks they know more than we do about the geography of London. I don’t know about you, but I trust my own judgement over a computer anytime.

I first became aware that customers were following my route on a phone app about five years ago. After a short hop from The Mall into Soho, my Indian man beamed and said “very good.” It was good to get the vote of confidence, though I had nothing to worry about. On a different run the bells might have been ringing though. I’m sure almost all cab drivers going from Central London to Heathrow use the M4. Look at a map: we should be using Bath Road for some of those runs to Terminal 5. Someone following the route on an app might question this. I’ll go any way a passenger wants me to go. If anyone ever questions me over a run to Heathrow I’d me more than happy to sit on Bath Road and go around those roundabouts and around buses.

I’m unsure if the new alerts on Google will factor in the time element. Or the pain-in-the-arse element. Have a look at Victoria to Cricklewood. It’s a straight line, so would satisfy the bots at Google. Have you ever tried driving from Marble Arch to Cricklewood? I go home via the M1 so if I ever finish near Victoria I make for Staples Corner. I wouldn’t go up Edgware Road though! It involves negotiating two of London’s most slow and challenging gyratories: Hyde Park Corner and Marble Arch. Then there’s the crawl up Edgware Road. If the shisha fumes don’t overcome you, the stop-start traffic will. It goes on for miles, dragging through Kilburn and Cricklewood. West End Lane is no better.

Driving myself home I usually bypass Marble Arch and go through Mayfair. Once I’m on Regent Street I just go straight up into Regent’s Park and come off at Avenue Road. It’s a much longer route than going straight up Edgware Road, but it’s faster. Carrying a passenger it may or may not save money as well as time. Finchley Road can be bad with all the buses and coaches, so I sometimes use Fitzjohns Avenue.

A satnav only shows you one way, unless you fiddle about with the settings. Both the shortest or fastest route settings are pretty useless in London. I also warn against using a satnav if you’re on holiday in Wales. I once set the satnav for a route that would have been simplicity itself had I followed a map in the traditional way. My satnav’s shortest route sent me down narrow country lanes for miles. It was a very stressful experience.

A satnav doesn’t take into consideration road closures – I’m unsure if the new Google app does. Cannon Street has hardly been open since they closed Bank Junction off a few years ago. The Bank closure left Cannon Street as the only sensible option through the City, but it’s never open. At the time of writing half of Mayfair and Marylebone is closed. I think the closures are temporary, but who knows? Even if there’s a yellow sign up, they don’t tell you much.

Our Knowledge training teaches us to use the shortest route. It’s right and proper that our default is set to the shortest route, but in practice we need to employ our own internal computer – our brain – to find the optimum route in any given situation. Traffic conditions change throughout the day. With experience we learn what certain roads are going to behave like at certain times of the day. It’s a huge matter of pride that we know the shortest route. We’re proud of our lines, but sometimes they’re out the window when we need to keep moving to save time. The skill is to have alternatives stored in our brains to use when traffic is heavy. This is where misunderstanding can occur. Thankfully few people question us, as our customers usually have confidence in our judgment.

We could get a few more questions as more people follow the route, preparing themselves for an alarm bell to go off on their new Google app; but we’ve every right to feel confidence in our abilities to both know the shortest route, and to get out of trouble if we need to take evasive action due to heavy traffic or road closures. The situation is worse for our mini friends who have largely learnt on the job, often slavishly following a satnav. Our work is cut out keeping up with the constant changes to our road systems and traffic behaviour. We know that a satnav won’t get us out of trouble, but our brains just might.

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On Your Bike

(Original version of article published in Taxi magazine)

I’m intrigued with the case of the cyclist who injured a woman in a collision near London Bridge back in 2015. The cyclist had the right of way with a green traffic light, and shouted and sounded an air horn as the woman walked into his path looking at her phone. Both of them were rendered unconscious. The cyclist had cuts and the pedestrian suffered a minor head injury. As in the modern way, she took the cyclist to court. The judge conceded that the woman was partly at fault, but amazingly awarded her £4,161,79 damages. The cyclist didn’t initially seek legal advice and neglected to make a counter claim as he doesn’t believe in the claim culture. He now faces bankruptcy as he’ll have to pay her legal expenses. The whole thing is estimated to cost between £20,000 and £100,000. Cyclists, and other interested parties, have been donating money to pay the legal expenses. Writing on July 10th, £59,343 had been collected, for a £21,300 target.

The woman was only partly at fault! £100,000 for two days in court! What’s happening on our roads and in our legal system? The cyclist has since urged others to take out insurance. I’ve long thought that cyclists should be obliged to have insurance, largely to cover the costs if they damage a vehicle; though this case has just fed into the claim culture, something the innocent cyclist wanted to avoid.

Personally I’d welcome an introduction of a jaywalking charge, though I recognise that’s not going to happen. As traffic systems become more complex, with different lanes and different traffic signals for motor vehicles, cyclists and pedestrians, everyone needs to obey traffic signals and respect the right of way. I’m thinking in particular of areas like Blackfriars where there are some sharp turns and where accidents are only avoided by most people being sensible.

We often complain about cyclists, but pedestrians sit at the bottom of the food chain and are a menace to everybody.  We’re all pedestrians sometimes, and most of us behave properly. Every day though, we see brain-dead zombies plugged into headphones, or staring at their phone, while crossing the road in front of us. The ones who aren’t listening to music can usually hear us coming, but electric vehicles are being fitted with artificial noise to help the zombies out. Of course they can’t hear cycles, even in the case above when the rider shouts out a warning and sounds an air horn.

We’re quick to see the differences between cab drivers and couriers, but there are similarities too. Emily Chappell’s book, What Goes Around, describes the realities of the job, and describes similar experiences she’s had with stupid pedestrians. I’d say it’s a tougher job than ours. No, I couldn’t do it, but I was once a motorcycle courier for a couple of years, and this book brought it all back. That was over thirty years ago I don’t remember it that clearly. I do remember it was hot in the summer, cold in the winter, and thoroughly miserable in the rain.

It’s probably even worse as a cycle courier, exposed to the elements, and to the dangers of fast moving heavy machinery. It sounds all right in the summer, but it’s going to get unbearably hot and sweaty, and all you’ve got for protection is sun cream.

After some months I hated being a courier. I found it easier driving a cab. I did one job at a time, and wasn’t dependent on a temperamental controller handing out work and complaining when I wanted a lunch break. Many motorcycle couriers eventually did the Knowledge, as did I. The idea of being a taxi driver wouldn’t have come up had I not been a courier. One of Emily’s cycle courier friends also joined our ranks. She mentions discussing the best route from Manor House Station to Gibson Square with him.

Couriers and cab drivers are actually quite closely related. We’re all independent free-thinkers. I don’t consider myself part of regular society. I’ve had regular jobs, but I’m no longer tied to an office or part of the rat race. There’s a lot of movement in our job. We’re always going somewhere. We might not want to go somewhere, but we have a purpose. We’re getting paid for sightseeing and living on our wits.

The cyclists make a living with few resources: they ride around on tubes of metal and rubber, with a bag slung over their shoulders. They sprint into an office reception in their strange clothing, then disappear with an envelope to deliver. It’s so basic and pure. However some of us feel like outlaws, with our nicknames and healthy disregard for authority, the cycle fraternity really fit the bill. Both our jobs give those in more conventional careers something to talk about. Few people were interested in my previous life as a careers adviser, but people are interested in the lives of couriers and cab drivers: they want to know how we handle the traffic, what hours we work, and what celebrities we’ve met – when they start asking what we think of Uber we know it’s time to move on.

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Electric Warrior

(Original edit of article written for Taxi magazine)

 

Donald Trump called the London Mayor, Sadiq Khan, a “stone cold loser” when he visited these shores in May. Although Trump was referring to violent crime rather than charging points for electric cabs, Sadiq really could prove to be a loser when the Mayoral elections come up next year.

While being quizzed by Conservative Assembly Member, Shaun Bailey, on the number of electrical charging points for taxis, Mr Khan said there were enough charging points “as things stand.” A rather cavalier comment, if I may say so. As of May 8th there were over 200 rapid charging points. This includes 72 dedicated to taxis. London boroughs have also installed over 1,000 lamp column charging points for overnight charging. There might just be enough charging points right now, but there are over 2,000 electric cabs in London and that number is growing fast. Around 40 new electric cabs are being bought every week. It’s the Mayor who told us to go electric and stopped us buying new diesels. It’s his responsibility to provide the infrastructure. If the self-styled electric warrior doesn’t see a problem looming, he’ll be caught out later on.

There are websites showing the location of charging points, but nobody should have to consult the internet to plan their re-fuelling. If people are currently driving around looking for points, it’s going to get worse if provision doesn’t keep up with demand. Then there’s the time spent waiting to charge up. An electric cab saves money on fuel, but not on time; and as we all know, time is money. I wouldn’t want to sit around for half an hour just to save a couple of quid. The situation isn’t so bad for the civilian car driver who doesn’t clock up the kind of miles that a taxi does. Many of us need to drive many miles before we can even start work. I burn up 70 miles just driving into Central London and back, then add another 60 or 70 miles in stop-start urban traffic. The current TXE has a petrol engine back-up, but it would still need a daily charge. Forthcoming electric taxis probably won’t have a petrol back-up. I could easily run out of power on the M1 going home, or if I trap a roader late on in the day.

A few years ago we were told we’d have a choice of five new taxi models to choose from. We still only have one. We were meant to have a new Nissan, which was said to have a better range. This model is meant to be coming out this summer, but they’ve been saying that for years.

The cost of the vehicle is a big factor too. We don’t know how much any new cab is going to cost. The TXE is out of the price range of many drivers, and I’m surprised they’ve sold so many. Who are buying these sixty-grand cabs? Clearly people who are working longer hours than I am. Will the TXE continue to sell well? It’s surely dependent on the Mayor’s attitude to charging. We need confidence that he’s committed to the electronic switchover, but we’re not getting it.

It’s inevitable that the current (current – get it?) price of charging will prove to be an introductory offer. The government will want to get the money back it’s losing on petrol and diesel tax. There could come a time when electrical re-fuelling becomes as expensive as diesel, but taking much longer to do. Anyway, that’s a matter for the government and whoever sails in her, to sort out in the coming years.  In the meantime, the Mayoral candidates need to be grilled on their plans for electrical charging. The people of London can then decide.

Cab families make up a fair chunk of the electorate. I’m unable to vote as I live well out of London, but I can’t afford to be smug as I’m as affected by many of the goings on within the M25 as those who live there (though I’m glad my Council Tax didn’t go towards Boris’s garden bridge project which had to be abandoned by the new Mayor in order to save further waste – to think Boris is likely to be our new Prime Minister in a couple of weeks!).

I hear Mr Khan is planning a no-car day in London on Sunday September 22nd in order to improve air quality. London’s air quality isn’t caused by extra traffic; it’s caused by daft road re-modelling. I assume he’s not including taxis and minicabs in the ban? If he does, we’ll know that he’s a loser who has really lost it.

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Live at the Comedy Store

(Original edit of article written for Taxi magazine this week).

Once again, it’s my weekend off and I’m watching TV footage of demos closing off London. Last time it was Extinction Rebellion; this time it’s the State Visit of Donald Trump. This one had a much funnier side to it though, and I really enjoyed the handbags between Trump and the London Mayor, Sadiq Khan. The American President had already caused a stir by expressing support for Brexit, and various British politicians had expressed disapproval of the President. Sadiq Khan, had called Trump a “global threat”. Jeremy Corbyn called him a “negative force” and even attended a demonstration against him. Several dignitaries declined to meet Mr Trump while he was in England, or attend the Queen’s dinner in his honour.

Mr Trump’s plane hadn’t even touched the tarmac when he started tweeting. He compared the London Mayor with his New York counterpart, calling Sadiq Khan “the twin of de Blasio, except shorter”. I was highly amused when Trump called Mr Khan a “stone cold loser”.  Trump’s comments were possibly cruel, but he’d been badly let down by his hosts. Whatever you think of Donald Trump as a person, he holds the office of the President of the United States; our closest political friend. And we could do with as many friends as possible at the moment.

In the taxi game you need a sense of humour. It’s what gets us through. I found myself comparing politicians with comedians. Boris provided a few laughs as London Mayor, but there was little substance underlying his comedy (London taxpayers will remember the £513 million he wasted on a phantom garden bridge). Mayor Khan never got going, and it’s certainly not funny what he allowed to happen to London’s road systems. The new workings at Old Street gyratory make the travel news every day, and many of us have been sat behind a bus on a single lane on Tottenham Court Road since re-modelling. Artificially engineered traffic jams: he’s a real funny guy.

So who would you pay money to see at the Comedy Store? Mr Trump has the air of a seventies comedian, Mr Khan doesn’t. Trump would appeal to the old school Bernard Manning-type crowd, while Mayor Khan would be more like Ben Elton in the eighties, going on about Mrs Thatch, only less funny. I bet Trump gets on great with Prince Phillip. If Trump and Khan teamed up as a Little and Large type-act, Khan would definitely play the straight man. He’d be too right-on to blame Old Street on the mother-in-law. Add Boris into the mix though, and you’d have a good comedy evening to please everybody.

Trump, and his best mate, Boris, are like drunken uncles coming round at Christmas. We know they’re not PC, and we know they’ll say something outrageous. If we’re being honest, that’s why we like them, or at least find them entertaining. Boris would be an entertaining PM, but he’d soon outstay his welcome.

Mr Trump showed impressive comedy timing at a press conference during his visit. Mrs May laughed along, but I don’t think she quite gets it. Mr Khan’s people described Trump’s insults as “childish”. That’s the thing: childish humour is a very male thing. Male humour is based on insults. It means nothing. It’s a sign of affection. Look at the way we talk to each other in the cab caffs. You’re not accepted until you’re given a nickname and are insulted every time you make an entrance. Men enjoy the same humour we did in the school playground. My wife humours me with a strained grin when I chase around the kitchen pretending I’m Leatherface from The Texas Chainsaw Massacre every time I carve a roast with the electric knife. Every man worth his salt when presented with a torch will put it on under his chin and pretend to be a ghost, complete with “Woo!” sound effects (come on, it’s not just me, is it?…).  It’s only men who play air guitar, or quote lines from our favourite films (I did it earlier in this article). Have any of us never done an impression of Robert Di Niro in Taxi Driver?

More political comedy was to come when candidates for Prime Minister jostled for position. They set out their views on Brexit, taxation – and their drugs of choice. It was all a bit silly and improbable. One hopeful said he had a cannabis lassi while backpacking through India, while another took opium at a wedding in Iran. As you do. Boris once claimed to have tried coke, but sneezed at the moment of impact and missed out on the powder. The regular dope-smokers were pretty much ignored, but Michael Gove was singled out for special treatment. I’m not sure why, and it’s hard to gauge whether public opinion of him has become worse or better. Mr Gove has something of the Mr Bean about him, and I think he’s made himself more interesting by admitting to taking cocaine twenty years ago by mistake. At the Comedy Store, Michael Gove could surely now tell a few spliff jokes to get the students on his side.

So, could we be getting a stoner PM? The Europeans might well be laughing at us, but we can take it. We can laugh at ourselves. The USA is our friend because of a shared language. We share culture and comedy too. So let’s hear it for Trump, Boris, Gove, and all the other greats in the great British comedy tradition.

 

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Up The Workers

(Original edit of article written for Taxi magazine).

 

I read with interest that Uber drivers have taken strike action to demand they are recognised as employees and are paid the minimum wage. I thought this employees v self-employed thing was sorted ages ago. Apparently not; the appeals go on and there are still court cases pending. The last time I saw an Uber advert aimed at recruiting drivers they were promising huge amounts of money to drivers. Do you think they were telling porkies?

Anyway, I’m not here to have a pop at Uber drivers; they have it hard enough with their employer/agency supporting the ULEZ charge. Ain’t that a kick in the head? Good luck with the holiday and sick pay.

I wonder if we could claim we are employed workers of TfL and get holiday and sick pay? We’re told what to drive and where we can do it. TfL control just about everything to do with our business. We are just as dependent on TfL as Uber drivers are on their organisation.

In terms of vehicle, we’re even more restricted. We can only buy one model from new, and I’m unconvinced we’re going to see more. All London taxis have had to be wheelchair accessible as far back as I can remember. They also have to comply with the twenty-five feet turning circle. It’s a great feature, but it undoubtedly puts the price up. TfL have got it the wrong way round anyway: minicabs outnumber us about 4 to 1, so it’s minicabs that should have the turning circle requirement.

We’re told where to place the stickers and notices provided by TfL. We’re compelled to publicise certain credit card companies; but we could be in trouble if we publicise our own business ventures. All advertising has to conform to increasingly strict guidelines. TfL decide what’s permissible in the style of a Taliban censor: no women in underwear, and nothing dangerous like guns, bombs, salt or sugar. Are our cabs even our own? We learnt in a recent edition of Taxi that a taxi is “a designated public space.”

We used to think of the road network as a designated public space, but it now appears to be privately-owned by TfL. They decide who can use it, when to close it; and they can muck about with the roads as much as they like. The useable roads are reducing at an alarming rate each week, and whole areas are out of bounds (ie. Bank Junction). Their cameras are watching our every move. Any mistake and we get a photo of our cab in the post with a demand for money.

We’re told where we can work: fair enough. I don’t have much grasp of what goes on east of Bishopsgate so I’m not going to be plying for hire in Essex. There don’t seem to be the same restrictions for minicabs operating out of their licensing areas though. TfL-licenced cars are famously operating all over the country with impunity. If we tried picking up folk in Wolverhampton our feet wouldn’t touch.

We’re told what to charge by a tamper-proof meter.  Fine; but private hire companies can charge what they like. Uber are keeping their fares as low as possible until they’ve taken over the world, but they can’t resist ratchetting up the fare when there’s a spike in demand (in the unlikely event they do take over the world, their surge-pricing fares will become the norm. 370% I heard recently).

We have to use ranks appointed by TfL, and we can’t turn jobs down when our For Hire light is on. We’re compelled to take a passenger twelve miles out (we should be so lucky; I can’t remember the last time I had a job longer than twelve miles). Minicab drivers are under pressure to take every job offered, but the pressure come from their organisation rather than TfL – whether they’re self-employed or not.

Our training is clearly stipulated. You can combine study at home with riding around London with a clipboard, but there’s no distance learning option: you have to physically present yourself at an exam centre for a very traumatic series of Appearances. There’s virtually no transparency or flexibility. Complaining is pointless, resistance is futile.

What else? Ah yes, we haven’t yet been told what we can and can’t wear, but give it time. In fairness, the opposition tend to dress smarter than we do, though I don’t see why anyone needs to wear a suit to drive someone to Euston. Aspiring taxi drivers pretty much have to wear a suit and tie for Knowledge exams. I shouldn’t think trainee barristers have to wear suits for law exams.

My ideas might be a touch under-baked, but there is certainly compelling evidence suggesting that we are merely employees of TfL. I could do with some holiday pay, so I think it’s worth taking this one to court. To register your interest in my crowdfunding claim, just send me your money in a brown paper bag. I regret I’m unable to accept credit cards or give change. Oh, I forgot to mention mandatory credit card acceptance…

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Mutiny on the High Seas

(Original version of article written for TAXI magazine)

Yacht Club

Those of you who read my last article will know that I had another enforced holiday in April when my cab failed its annual licensing inspection. Did I miss much? I don’t think so. While I was trying to enjoy myself as a man of leisure I watched the horror of the Extinction Rebellion fiasco unfold on BBC news. The last time this group disrupted the streets I drove home in despair unable to work. This time I wasn’t a war correspondent, I was a spectator watching it on TV.

It seems the police had learnt nothing from last time. They carried people off the streets one at a time, but it was a futile exercise as other demonstrators quickly came to replace them. They reacted too slowly and too indecisively, and pretty much let them get on with it. There were video clips circulating showing the police dancing to music with the protestors. The protestors even sat on a yacht at Oxford Circus. A yacht! How can you unload a yacht at one of Central London’s busiest junctions without anybody noticing?

As protestors glued themselves to Waterloo Bridge I was shouting at the TV: “Why don’t they just hose them off the streets?!” I don’t mean Boris’s water cannon; I just mean some kind of beefed-up garden hose. I suppose they were worried about infringing human rights, or something. There might even be an EU law against it.

I agree that more needs to be done about the environment, and that it needs to be done now; but such disruption just annoys people: even people like who are watching it on TV in the comfort of their own homes. What about the rights of people innocently going about their business in London? And where did the buses go??

The whole thing is estimated to have cost the country seven million pounds. They also left a hell of a mess for people so concerned about the environment. The specific demands of Extinction Rebellion aren’t clear. I probably support their aims – if not their methods. They want to talk to the government about global issues, but what can we do on the ground? I’m painfully aware that I’m part of the problem driving my diesel cab around London. I’d be specific and ask why electric vehicles are so expensive, and why there still aren’t enough charging points. The trustafarians gluing themselves to bridges, and the luvvies speaking to the media from the Oxford Circus yacht don’t need to worry too much about the price of electric vehicles, but most regular drivers simply can’t afford to dump their diesels.

Waterworks

I turned off the TV and read the papers instead. Something I read both annoyed and amused me. I read about a water company that used Uber drivers to report on leaks. Severn Trent is one of several firms to have missed water leak reduction targets. In a series of two-week trials named “Virtual Fieldworker Programme”, the company hired taxis and Uber drivers to visit around 50 sites and film evidence of water leaks. The drivers then send images back to the company for them to despatch engineers out as appropriate. It’s obviously cheaper than sending surveyors out. Not everyone was amused. The GMB union’s National Officer, Stuart Fegan, spoke of the safety implications, commentating that trained engineers should be deciding if water is contaminated, not taxi drivers: “And how is someone going to feel after they report a leak, expecting a Severn Trent worker to attend with a uniform and the necessary training and a taxi driver turns up. They’d think it was a hoax call.”

When I think of it, I can’t remember the last time I saw a utility worker in a uniform inspecting anything. No-one’s been to read my gas and electricity meters for about ten years. I’ve been with various companies and they’ve all hassled me every three months to read my own meters and email the figures through. I suppose it saves paying an Uber driver to do it.

I wonder what else taxi and minicab drivers could get involved in? Perhaps feeding the cat when I’m on holiday? Changing the litter, £4 extra? We’ve all been used as a removal van. Shopping? Most of us who do account work have gone shopping for our esteemed clients. I’ve picked up dry cleaning and lost coats from offices, and boxes of gourmet cat food for a lady in Little Venice. Some years ago I picked up a lady from a posh block of flats on a Taxicard. Before we set off she persuaded me to walk down to St John’s Wood Station and buy her a newspaper. I was so amused by the request that I carried it out without question. Only when I dropped her off for her lunch date at Roast did I feel a slight twinge of resentment.

I don’t come into contact with ladies of the night as I no longer work late, but older drivers can tell tales of their cabs being used as knocking shops; by both professionals and skilled amateurs. Apparently being asked to drive slowly around Regent’s Park Outer Circle was once a common request by those desiring some privacy.

Anyway, back to the sea: the government has approved a new runway at Heathrow, so brace yourself for a return of the yacht.

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Welcome to my Nightmare

(Original edit of article written for Taxi magazine)

Those of us who run our own cabs know the stress of the annual licensing Inspection. If you’re the worrying type like me you’ll feel the tension building from a good month away: do my tyres need changing? Will those paint blisters and rust spots cause any problems with the inspectors? If I blow a bulb on the way to the inspection centre will I be able to change it? There’ll be the trip to the meter supplier to get that checked and certified; then the strategy of planning a service and MOT, followed by the licensing inspection itself. There’s the worry of how to pay for it all, and the nightmare scenario if the cab doesn’t pass. Well, this year the nightmare came to pass.

Years ago I used to leave a gap between the MOT and the licensing inspection. This would give me time to fix any problems should the cab fail the MOT. It made me nervous though as I always expected something bad to happen in the following week or so.

So last time I settled on a short gap of about three days. I decided that this was the optimum period, as it gives you enough time to get work done on the cab if it fails its MOT, but not so much as a gap to worry you that a lot more can go wrong in the run up to the big day.

This year I played a dangerous game – I scheduled the inspection for the day after the MOT. What could possibly go wrong? The cab had a new engine and gearbox fitted in October, so I had confidence in the mechanics. I knew the handbrake needed doing, and there was the creaky steering. Minor issues that I reckoned could be sorted in an hour or two. I drove to my usual garage in Luton for its 9.15 service and MOT.

I was on my third unlimited coffee at Wetherspoons when the garage phoned. The creaky steering was caused by a broken power steering pipe and all the fluid had drained away. It failed the MOT and they had to order a new pipe. I therefore couldn’t make tomorrow’s licensing inspection. After a pint from Spoon’s beer festival selection and a plate of nachos, I made the grimly familiar bus journey from Luton Interchange to Leighton Buzzard and home.

I was charged £66 to change the date of the inspection to Monday. I got the cab back from Luton on Thursday, but I couldn’t work as the plate had now expired. The garage told me that the cab probably wouldn’t pass its inspection anyway because of bodywork. The split in the bumper didn’t trouble the inspectors last year, but the word was that they’ve toughened up recently. When I treated the cab to its annual soapy hand wash I also didn’t like the look of all those patches of rust and paint blisters. It was too late to do anything about it at this late stage though. I’d take it up on Monday and hope for the best.

It’s a scary experience watching them put your cab on the ramp at the inspection centre: it’s as stressful as awaiting a job interview, or a Knowledge Appearance with The Smiling Assassin. I was too nervous to read so I just fiddled with my phone. The tester came back and spent some time typing. I still had hope in my heart.

He came over and handed me a sheet. I needed a new front bumper and I needed some rust removal and re-painting. There were three items on the failure sheet related to bodywork.

I drove up to Luton from Staples Corner. I ordered a new bumper, but the body shop attached to the garage was rammed and wouldn’t even be able to start work for at least two weeks. Apparently the place was full of London taxis that had suffered a similar fate at Staples Corner. Back home I found a local garage that would try to fit my cab in around their scheduled work. I’d bring it in as soon as I got the new bumper.

When my bumper was ready for collection a few days later in Luton I didn’t stop for any sightseeing. I dropped the cab off at my local body shop, not knowing when I’d see it again.

Bolam’s body shop did a great job. I immediately re-booked the cab inspection (it’s free if you do it within a month). The best I could get was Friday April 26th –  a calendar month after the first inspection was booked for.

Between getting the cab back on the 18th and the 26th I drove very carefully around town. I went to Morrison’s, but was too nervous to go much further in case something else went wrong. My finances had flat-lined; things would be really serious if the cab didn’t pass.

At the inspection centre they didn’t put my cab on the ramp. I guess they just wanted to look at the bodywork in relation to the points on the failure sheet. It was a huge relief when the man walked over to me with my new licence (he even screwed the plates on for me).

In the past month I’d spent a small fortune on keeping my cab on the road – more than I would have got through TfLs de-licensing scheme, which gave me pause for thought. Until next year…

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