Category Archives: Published Articles

Round the U-Bend

(Original edit of article for Taxi magazine).

Some people still think there are too many cabs on the streets – or more accurately, too many cab drivers.  In fact, driver numbers are reducing, and there are fewer people starting the Knowledge. Drivers are retiring, and fewer would-be cab drivers are prepared to sign up for three years of blood, sweat and tears; not knowing what kind of future the trade holds for them.  Their big question is:  will Uber destroy the London cab trade?

Uber’s aim is clear:  to build up a power base of investors and government lobbyists, then use loopholes in taxi and private hire legislation in order to dismantle taxi and private hire operations around the world (well done to Reading and North Tyneside for having the courage to ban Uber).

There’s been a lot of talk about English tests for private hire drivers, but it’s a minor factor.  It might slow licensing down, but other factors are likely to prove more decisive.  The employment status factor is interesting:  should Uber lose their appeal and be forced to treat its drivers as employees, they will have to provide the rights and benefits that apply to regular employees.  Uber can currently undercut taxis and competing PH firms, but if they are forced to grant employment rights it’s a different story.  Uber’s business model will be destroyed and it won’t be able to sustain cheap fares.

Then there’s the publicity angle.  Many high-ranking employees have left in the wake of negative publicity:  over twenty staff members left following allegations of sexual harassment and discrimination of female staff.  The high number of sex attacks Uber’s drivers have been accused of has also caused concern:  the Met recently reported a 50% rise in allegations against Uber drivers.  One of the most alarming incidents concerned the rape of a woman in India by an Uber driver.  The driver who attacked the woman was jailed for this, and other crimes; but not before an Uber executive obtained the medical records of the victim in order to discredit her.  The executive responsible was sacked after journalists discovered details of the incident.

As the bad publicity continued, Dodgy Dave Cameron’s friend, Rachel Whetsone found it too hot and left.  More recently, CEO Travis Kalanick, was forced to resign when investors turned against him.

The biggest turning point will be when investors start to pull out of this increasingly toxic brand.  Reports suggest that those trying to sell their investment are finding it hard to find buyers.

There’s such a vast conveyor belt of drivers required to maintain Uber’s model of over-supply, that if licences are capped, the company will be weakened.  It will no longer be able to guarantee a car within three minutes – a pretty impressive selling point to be fair.  Its drivers might be less inclined to put up with current working practices should they become more sought after.

The good news is that private hire licensing is already slowing down.  It’s reached saturation point where too many drivers are chasing too few jobs and no-one is making any money.  Unless numbers continue to fall, a cap on licences looks inevitable.  No-one thinks having 117,000 mini-cabs on the streets of London is a good thing, and if that figure rises, something will have to be done.

London Mayor, Sadiq Khan, isn’t happy about the traffic mayhem and pollution that unrestricted PH licensing has caused.  Mr Khan and the government have been arguing whether the Mayor actually sought a change in the law to restrict PH numbers.  Mr Khan said he’s “written a number of times” to Transport Under Secretary, Andrew Jones.  Mr Jones replied in the House claiming he’d “made no formal representations on capping the number of private hire licences in London to the Secretary of State or Department of Transport Ministers.”  Who should we believe?  This sounds like Cameron’s government denying they’d put pressure on Boris when he wanted to curb Uber.  We’ve seen the emails, Dave.

Uber, as they stand now, can put competing PH firms out of business in the race to the bottom.  We’re in a stronger position as we can ply for hire in the traditional way.  Our numbers might be gradually reducing, but there’s still a trickle of new blood through the Knowledge system.  Those of us left standing will still be able to respond to street hails and service the many hotel and station ranks.  That work won’t necessarily go to Uber.

If PH licensing is capped, the number of drivers will reduce dramatically.  Most people don’t stay in the PH trade for long.  There will be a queue of drivers attempting to apply, but those already licensed will still renew their licence every year.  Those who stop driving a mini-cab will keep their licence should they ever want to return in the future.  A PH license also serves as a Congestion Charge season ticket:  who’s going to give that up? (something else that needs looking at).

I don’t think TfL have the courage to refuse Uber another licence: there’s too much pressure from powerful people.  But I think things will become less favourable for the PH trade anyway; particularly for Uber, when their investors desert the sinking ship.  With Uber gone, or at least greatly weakened, many of its drivers might return to the less rapacious PH companies.  Things might settle down in the taxi and private hire world and go back to where they were a few years’ ago.  Wasn’t it great when all we had to worry about were Addison Lee?

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Code of Practice for Cab Customers

(original edit of piece written for Taxi magazine, and published this week).

Code of Practice

Putting aside traffic-related issues, most of our problems come from our interaction with passengers.  It’s not always their fault: there’s poor communication and misunderstanding on both sides, and either party can be reluctant to make clear their wishes and expectations.  I think it’s time we compiled a Code of Practice for cab customers:

 

  • Just looking at the oncoming driver is not enough: you need to thrust your arm out with confident intent.  London is no place for limp-wristed hails (an underarm Asian-style hail is acceptable so long as it’s clear)
  • If you’re not hailing a cab, please don’t wave your arms around on a London street: we’ve all stopped for people waving to their friend across the road
  • Stop a cab somewhere sensible. Don’t expect a cab to stop at a busy junction or at traffic lights (yes, I know many cab drivers indulge you and stop at such daft places, but they spoil it for everyone.  Please don’t encourage it)

The same applies to setting down:  it takes a couple of minutes to process a credit card, so have your cash ready if you really must get out on double red lines on Euston Road.  We also don’t like you sitting in the back counting out the contents of your piggy bank with a queue of buses behind us on Oxford Street

  • Don’t stand at the back of the cab at Pancras expecting the driver to put your bags in the boot. Taxi boots are tiny, and are only big enough to accommodate the equipment we’re obliged to carry in order to make us accessible:  such as a wheelchair ramp and harnesses. There’s room for little else, even the driver’s golf clubs
  • Please try not to stop a cab on one-way streets if you are going in the opposite direction: particularly on northbound streets like Tottenham Court Road if you’re going south.  You’re quite within your rights, but it spoils it for the driver who thinks he’s on his way home if he stops for you
  • State your destination clearly and accurately. I know you’ve read about a cab driver’s enlarged hippocampus, but it doesn’t help him read your mind as to what part of Edgware Road you want.  It’s a very long road…
  • Don’t send your husband out into the street to stop a cab while you’re still at the till at The Rainforest Café gift shop. Or before you’ve got your kids in the pushchair and your shopping bags ready
  • Yes, you can bring your dog, cat, rabbit, or any other pet, with you: it’s the humans I’m suspicious of
  • Don’t put your feet on the seats, eat or drink without asking first, or throw pistachio shells on the carpet
  • No, you can’t smoke. Even if you open the window.  It’s against the law.  Vaping is also against the law, according to a sticker TfL made me put in my cab
  • Don’t indulge in any other anti-social behaviour not mentioned above. There’s one notable exception:  Man Spread isn’t encouraged on the tube, but it’s fine in a cab.  Go ahead, enjoy yourself Sir
  • Don’t ask for Paddington; then add that you want an obscure B&B on Sussex Gardens when we’re going down the ramp off Bishops Bridge Road
  • It’s bad luck say “the roads are clear today” when you are only half way there
  • Saying you want to be dropped off “half way down” is meaningless when the driver can’t see how long the road is. Just shout when we’re there
  • The driver is not responsible for the traffic. Please direct your comments on madcap road schemes to TfL
  • We have no control over taxi fares either
  • “I’m in a hurry” doesn’t cut any ice. Everyone’s in a hurry, and all trips are urgent.  In fact, Every Journey Matters – for want of a better phrase.  I respectfully suggest you look at your own time management.  Don’t try to turn your problem into my   If you’re running late for a hospital appointment, I have sympathy.  If you’re having to wait twenty minutes for the next train home, tough
  • Best not attempt to engage the driver in a discussion on Uber: like the afore-mentioned madcap traffic schemes, this is another touchy subject best avoided
  • I’ll take Euros, but ask first. My exchange rate is 1:1
  • I’ll stop at a cashpoint if you insist, but it’ll be easier for us both if you use a credit card. The meter’s still running while you queue at the cashpoint, so a card would be cheaper

Well, there you have it; these are my top tips for smooth customer relations.  I think we now understand each other.  So, sit well back in your seat for comfort and safety, sir, and away we go…  …feet off seats please…

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Anti-Social Worker

(Here’s my own edit of my article for Taxi magazine this week).

Anti-Social Worker

It’s not the first time that adverts on the back of buses have given me ideas for articles.  This week, my eye was drawn to an advert for Les Clefs d’Or, the association that recognises exceptional service in hotel concierges.  It was a jolly-looking bit of publicity, depicting a bloke in a suit looking at a map, pen in hand. He looked like a Knowledge Boy.  In fact, the legend was “Nobody knows London like Les Clefs d’Or”.  It’s an audacious claim, though I don’t think it warrants a letter from the LTDA solicitor. All I could think was, what would it be like to be a hotel concierge?

There was a reality TV show earlier this year showing hotel staff at work at the Mandarin Oriental .  I remember thinking at the time how difficult I would find this job.  I was amazed at the patience of hotel staff as they pandered to the whims of wealthy hotel guests accustomed to five-start service.  The enduring image for me was of an Arab woman who had her luggage delivered to the hotel in a removal van, complete with explicit instructions on how her suite should be converted into a children’s play pen.  Some people live in another world.

For those deemed worthy of the prestigious golden keys award, The Les Clefs d’Or website outlines what is expected from the top concierge:

“Concierge Clefs d’Or will accommodate every guest request so long as it is morally, legally, and humanly possible.  Their services run the gamut from the mundane to the extraordinary, yet each request is fulfilled with vigor to the guest’s full satisfaction.

Concierge Clefs d’Or handle all duties with zeal:  mail and messages, recommendations and reservations, travel and meeting planning, personal shopping and personal communication.  They are also supreme social advisors, business expediters, and personal confidantes. 

On those rare occasions when guests’ requests cannot be fulfilled single-handedly, Les Clefs d’Or Concierges have the necessary back-up:  a never-ending network of acquaintances, friends, and colleagues from around the world to see to it that guests’ demands are met.”

Blimey, I always thought I fulfilled all my cab customers’ requests with vigour, but this is something else.  Imagine being chased up every ten minutes for freshly-ironed newspaper, or a new round of roast swan sandwiches.  I wonder how flexible the “morally and legally” thing is?  How far would a concierge go in utilising his “never-ending network” should a Russian gangster request guns and drugs?  Would he point Sir in the right direction while politely explaining that Harrods don’t sell plutonium tea bags? 

I’m still amazed I’m serving the public, as being a socialite doesn’t come naturally to me.  I prefer animals to people, and I’d certainly rather muck out the elephants’ enclosure at a zoo, than pander to demanding people in a luxury hotel.  When I was a Knowledge Examiner, one of my valued customers was a doorman at the Ritz.  When dropping off there I’d sometimes see him go about his business.  I was impressed with the easy way he had with people:  just the right balance of brevity and formality.  I’d be too self-conscious.  It wouldn’t feel natural.  Hotel staff must deal with some very difficult people.   I would find it hard to retain a smile on my face dealing with people I couldn’t stand.

Those who give the most problems are often those who are used to getting everything handed to them on a plate.  In a cab they hold the driver responsible for the weather, the traffic; and for anyone they have been in contact with that morning, who has failed to live up to their exacting expectations.  Rich, demanding, people never seem to be happy.  They just seem to want more and more.  Too many people chase money, fame, attention; but never settle for what they have.  Over the years I have learned not to expect things that I’m unlikely to ever attain. 

In our game we can get by without being sociable.  The garrulous cabbie of popular imagination is largely confined to television drama.  Talkative drivers exist, but in my experience they’re a minority.  Most customers prefer a chat-free ride, and are often plugged into an electrical device before they even enter the hallowed portal of a London cab. 

It’s difficult to hear people properly in a cab anyway, even with the intercom on full.  All but the strongest voices are drowned out by the soundtrack of London.  Maybe it’s a symptom of getting older but I’m always amazed how younger people can carry out a phone conversation on a busy street.  All I can hear is buses and cement mixers.

No, keep your rich and powerful, and attention-seeking punters.  My favourite passenger is a package, and I’ve been known to drive long distances to pick one up on the ComCab circuit.  It’s a nice feeling knowing your customer isn’t going to criticise your route; or expect you to be their supreme social advisor, business expediter, and personal confidante.

Each to their own though.

 

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Sat Nav Johnny

(Original edit of article written for Taxi magazine).

It’s often said that your Knowledge is at its best on the day you get your badge.  I recently had to send my Cabbie’s Mate device away for a battery replacement and updates.  I survived without it for a few days, but it was an anxious time.  Maybe I need to update my Knowledge too?

If you’re not familiar with a Cabbie’s Mate, it works like a sat nav, but you can switch it to A – Z mode and draw a line between two Points of Interest.  The sat nav element has limited use in London, but the A – Z maps and the list of Points can get you out of many a sticky situation.  Anyway, I chose my moment and surrendered my device prior to a few days scheduled holiday.  This way I’d be without it for the weekend rather than on weekdays.  Weekend work is usually less challenging and I figured I could find my way to Harrods and Selfridges without electrical aid.  A few weekend jobs did test me though, and reminded me I’d been getting lazy.

A young American couple got in at Pancras on the Saturday morning.  They wanted a hotel in Shoreditch and consulted their phone for details.  Tension mounted as my mind went through the possibilities.  Shoreditch has always been a weak spot.  From my Knowledge days I’d always been confused by it’s complicated one-way streets and I never learnt them properly.  From 1999 I had eleven years out of the trade, and when I returned they’d changed some of the one-way workings and blocked off some roads.  I avoid the area whenever possible.

Confirmation came:  “It’s the Citizen M in Holywell Lane.”  Strange.  I’d driven down Holywell Lane the previous day but I didn’t notice any hotels.  We set off.  As I turned into Holywell Lane I stopped outside a big multi-coloured building.  It didn’t much look like a hotel but it was the Citizen M.

Emboldened by the successful conclusion to this particular job I responded to a couple who had just left the hotel and wanted a cab.  Columbia Road Flower Market was the destination: a short hop, but one fraught with the potential for disaster if you are out of your West End comfort zone and are dragged even further into the heart of darkness of East London.  And there was no time to consult a map.  The first problem was the No Left Turn onto Shoreditch High Street.  A right, then another right onto Curtain Road might have been the sensible option, but I panicked and went straight ahead into Bethnal Green Road.  Now what do I do?  If I go through Calvert Circus can I get a right into Shoreditch High Street and another into Hackney Road?  I wasn’t sure.  I wasn’t prepared to get caught up in Brick Lane either.  I carried on to Squirries Street, and then made the left into Gosset Street.   It might not have been the shortest route, but it was quick.  It only cost my couple £7 and they were happy.

*Fear not, Knowledge Boys reading this:  you won’t be asked this run in your next Appearance.  I’m no longer an Examiner, and most Examiners would consider this little run beneath them.

On the Sunday I trapped a nice job from the V & A to the IMAX Cinema.  It was a nice clear run, but as the cinema building loomed up as we approached from York Road, I realised I didn’t know where the entrance was.  I felt all I could do was pull in just before the roundabout and advise my man to follow the subway signs.  I suspect this was the best way to access the IMAX anyway, but it did make me reflect on how I’d let my Knowledge slip.  We pass buildings every day, yet we don’t look at them properly.  We constantly need to top our Knowledge up and remain observant at all times.  Sat nav devices are useful, but they can make you lazy if you rely on them too much.  Prior to technology we used to navigate by landmarks and this is a sound strategy that we need to keep up.  On longer runs you have time to think and plan your route.  On a short run there’s no time, you just have to go and hope that your training kicks in.  Your years of training usually gets you through.

I got my device back before the following Saturday when I took an account job from the City to South-East-Off-The-Map.  I liked to think I could find Lewisham without the aid of a map, and indeed could.  I even found my way back to the City all right.  But if anyone finds the door to the IMAX, please let me know.

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Yellow Submarine

(Article written for Taxi magazine.  This is my maddest article to date, but they published it!  The title was changed.  I don’t know what other edits were made, I haven’t read the finished piece yet)

Yellow Submarine

Stuck behind one of those big yellow tourist vehicles recently, I had an Eureka moment.  I could barely contain my excitement as I started to work out how the cab trade could be boosted by a few modifications to our cabs.  Forget about Uber, forget driver-less cabs:  I could see new opportunities to raise the game in surface transport technology.

An exciting new initiative will make a mockery of the Cycle Superhighway, and will allow cabs to navigate the near-traffic free thoroughfares of London and beyond.  It’s simple:  fix a propeller to the back of our cabs and use the river.

If we convert our vehicles to something resembling the London Duck many of our problems will be over.  Simply drive up and down slipways on the embankment and away we go.  Compare today’s tortuous road journey from Canary Wharf with tomorrow’s smooth sailing into the City and beyond!

The technology will have to be worked on, but it should be within the ability of engineering to fit a propeller to the cab.  I shan’t attempt to discuss the finer points of seamanship here, but we could provide new work for nautical engineers in Brexit Britain, and choose whether we get our cabs serviced at a traditional garage or a boatyard.  That ship chandler’s shop on Shaftesbury Avenue could advise us on any nautical-related issues.

River cabs won’t be like the gondolas of Venice; I’m talking about powerful cab-boats with engines.  I’m not sure the TX2 will have the power required for work on the tidal Thames, so best carry life vests and subscribe to a river breakdown service.  The TX4 should be OK as I understand the VM Motori engine is already used on motor boats.  Waterproofing should be easy enough; just a little more involved than the painting of the chassis we used to have for the cab’s annual overhaul.  I’ll have the rubber seals on my door sills replaced before tasking to the waves, and we’ll have to remember to close the doors and windows properly – it was bad enough leaving the windows open at the Morrison’s car wash recently.  We need to be on our guard against all manner of critters that live in the tidal Thames.  I’m partial to a bit of plaice, but those flatfish and eels can get everywhere.  We can drive around the whales and dolphins that occasionally get into the Thames.

This initiative will open up the waterways and bring new life to London.  We don’t have to stop at Canary Wharf or the City; we could navigate down river as far as our vehicles will allow.  There are plenty of folk living near the river around Chelsea, Fulham and beyond who would use our service.  Could we make it to Southend Pier?  There are a lot of cab drivers who live down that way who would welcome a less troublesome commute to Central London.

Some drivers fear the Knowledge is going to be watered down, but it can be expanded to include the inland waterways.  Not every driver will want to take to the river, so perhaps offer the Knowledge with or without the rivercraft element.

Once our nautical skills are established we might be able to use Britain’s proud network of canals.  A night school course could teach us how to navigate canals and open and close locks (there are a lot of locks between my town of Leighton Buzzard and Paddington so I’ll be sticking with the M1 for the time being).  Perhaps Little Venice could be developed as a taxi marina, with a bustling interchange between land and water-based transport?  There could be cab cafes and service centres – rather like Three Colts Lane on the water.

TfL might have something to say about all this.  There’s sure to be some kind of law against converting your cab into a boat without authorisation, but I reckon it’s do-able.  The best way to handle TfL is to do it first, then ask for permission.  By the time they’ve caught up with what’s happening it’ll be too late.  The new regime will be established.  Any objections will result in a long appeals process, and by then we’ll have captured the public’s imagination like never before.

London clearly can’t accommodate 120,000-plus mini-cabs taking to the river, so the Thames would have to become like a bus lane.  We’ll have to keep an eye out for pirates, but hopefully we can get the Mayor on our side to further our case and repel any invaders.

Some of my ideas might be less than half-baked, but I really don’t think the idea of river taxis is any less credible than the driver-less cabs that some people think are inevitable.

Taking things further, what about submarine taxis?  Perhaps painted yellow to attract the tourists? OK, I’m taking things too far now.  I concede that submarines probably aren’t allowed to operate in the Thames, but I quite fancy being the captain of “Das Cab” complete with a periscope and a scanner that goes “Ping”.  Aye Aye Cap’n, It’s full steam ahead on the Thames Superhighway!

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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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