Tag Archives: Cab Driving at Christmas

Driving through a Winter Wonderland

(Original edit of my Christmas article for Taxi magazine).

Not long to go now. The Oxford Street Christmas lights have been on since November the 7th and Hyde Park has been turned into a winter wonderland. As the build-up starts, we cab drivers are starting to work the strangest, most unpredictable, month of the year.

Although January is my least favourite working month, December runs a close second. I enjoy Christmas itself, but working the run-up to the big day is always a pain. There are two main hazards: 1) Drunken passengers. 2) The traffic. Out of the two, it’s the traffic that I fear the most. I’ve worked quite a few Decembers in my time, but thankfully haven’t suffered too much from passengers who have had a few sherberts and have become difficult. I sometimes get caught out by the odd group of fired-up geezers on their way to annoy Arab families at the Winter Wonderland, but I’m usually OK. My anti-social passenger filter is set at paranoid mode all year round and not many get through the net, even in December. Then again, I don’t work at night. On the rare occasion I pick up account customers coming from an office party, they are as straight and buttoned-up as they are on any other day. No doubt they worry that we can get word to their boss if they create.

December starts well enough as there’s usually a fair bit of work around. Moving into the middle of the month things become fraught. This is the point where all the traffic-related problems you’ve read about in Taxi over the past eleven months all come together. Out of towners drive in to do their Christmas shopping and look at the lights, delivery vans park up everywhere oblivious to bus lane cameras, and there are stationary lines of buses caused by all of the above – and the perennial roadworks of course. We are invariably caught in heavy traffic with once a year riders in the back, counting coins in their hand as the meter ticks over each twenty pence increment. As the traffic grinds to a halt all we can do is apologise for London’s road schemes that have cost our customers more than they expected, and have caused us stress and embarrassment.

If you stick with it until Christmas Eve you’ll find things suddenly go dead in the last few days. The traffic lessens, but the work has gone. Every year we hope the work will reappear early in the new year. Sometimes it does.

We need to be security-minded at Christmas and not make ourselves targets for criminals. Some drivers leave phones, satnavs, and other valuables in their cabs while visiting a toilet, only to return to find the whole lot gone. We are targeted because we are thought of as carrying lots of cash. Permission to laugh: after paying for my daily diesel I often go home with less cash than I had in my float at the start of the day. Fortunately, the idea of taxis being money boxes on wheels is lessening now credit card acceptance is mandatory and we’re taking less cash. Taking your valuables with you on a break ensures you leave little of value apart from a few rolls of over-priced printer receipt paper (have the Monopolies Commission been made aware of the receipt roll scam?).

Maybe we should get into the spirit more and revive the tradition of putting up Christmas decorations in our cabs? A lot more drivers used to do so in the past, though I admit there are sound reasons for not putting tinsel up. It was a happy occasion when I gained my cab licence in 1988. I’d finished the Knowledge a couple of months previously, and I’d finally passed my taxi driving test on December 8th (at the 3rd attempt). I was asked to collect my badge a few hours later up at Penton Street. I had a spring in my step at Chapel Street Market when I bought some tinsel in anticipation of a very merry Christmas. The thing is, once Christmas is over it’s impossible to get rid of all the stray bits of tinsel. It’ll still be there next Christmas for sure. Had I never changed cabs I’d still be picking up bits of stray tinsel from 1988.

After Christmas it’s time to take stock and look forward to the year ahead. On a personal note, I ask myself if I can stop myself from making stupid mistakes this year? I’ve been improving, but in 2017 I still ended up on a speed awareness course in the summer, and I also copped a box junction violation after following a bus from Midland Road onto Euston Road.

When all the excitement of Christmas is over there’s the Kipper Season to endure. Soon, our working days will bring a bit more daylight, a bit more warmth, and hopefully a bit more income. The autumn of 2017 was encouraging, and a lot has happened this year that might help us improve things next year. Not least there is the ongoing saga of Uber. They’re not finished yet, but they are not going to be able to continue in the same way in the future. We received a lot of public support this year and for that we should be grateful. I’m sure there will be big changes and big challenges next year. We need to roll up our sleeves and make December the best we possibly can, then hit the new year running.  Have a great Christmas!

 

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Christmas Cheer

(Original edit of article for Taxi magazine)               

As we move further into December we know we are coming into the most stressful time of year: the unpredictable Christmas period – followed by the even more unpredictable and depressing Kipper Season.

Twenty-five years ago I gained my licence just in time for the Christmas run-up.  I was as green as a Christmas tree and had a lot to learn.  Many Christmasses later, I’ve learnt a lot, but still find December to be the most fraught period of the year.  Work levels are unpredictable, and the traffic and the customers tend to be more demanding. 

I like Christmas, I really do – but it lasts for ever!  And November ain’t Christmas!  The Regent Street lights switch-on was held on November 9th, and Harrods had their Christmas parade obscenely early, on November 2nd – three days before Bonfire Night!   The West End Christmas started ridiculously early twenty-five years ago, but I’m sure it didn’t start in early November until recently.  This year’s big Christmas switch-on was happening while there were still green leaves on the trees!

Putting the absurdity of an extended two-month Christmas to one side, we still have to put up with the resulting road closures and disruption.  As traffic is drawn into Central London, the build-up causes untold misery to the professional driver affected by the hysteria of the season.  The West End is put under strain, which in turn puts our paying customers under strain.  We are then put under strain as we are pressured into thinking up short cuts that don’t exist.  Are savile Row and Vigo Street open today?  You won’t find out until it’s too late and you’ve committed yourself.   As for Harrods; how can a shop be allowed to disrupt the public thoroughfares around Knightsbridge?

Regent Street seems to close for the day every couple of weeks, and New Bond Street has effectively been one-lane for the best part of a year; the two outside lanes resembling a cross between a van park and a scaffolders’ convention.  You rarely see traffic wardens in these streets as they are busy stalking vehicles in side streets where they aren’t obstructing anyone.   

The Christmas period traditionally attracts extra people on to the streets of London.  Some come from other towns or abroad; and some who work here, but who are partying away from their usual area of operation.  Most are hell-bent on having a good time, usually involving a few drinks too many.  These customers are as unpredictable as the period itself.  The Christmas party carouser has spent twelve months waiting for the one time in the year when they can let their hair down and go wild.  Nothing wrong with that, unless they are going wild in the hallowed space of your taxi.

Problems easily arise when things don’t run to their drink-addled schedules; such as getting caught in traffic, or forgetting where they live.  They’ll discuss between themselves their destination, eventually delivering their vague directions to you while a bus waits patiently behind you waiting for the all-clear.  After a few minutes they’ll invariably get you to stop on zig zags while they replenish their funds at a cashpoint. 

The wooly-backed out-of-towner making a weekend of it can be an irritation.  Regular cab users know the score; how the meter runs on a combination of time and distance, and that we know where we are going, even if they don’t.  These once-a-year customers will sit there anxiously counting twenty pence pieces into their hands as the meter ticks over, suspicious that this Cockney wide boy is going the wrong way on purpose.

Everyone – friends and family included – imagine we are raking it in over Christmas.  A couple of runs down the M4 to Berkshire taking  fat cat bankers home from their Christmas parties, then the morning off to take a wheelbarrow full of cash to the bank.  In reality, work levels are no higher than in the preceding autumn months.  The odd £15 job will become £20 due to the traffic, but it’s not worth the extra stress.  The rest of the time we are putting up with noisy groups of office workers who have only a vague idea of where they are going, and don’t know how to behave in a taxi.  

Sometimes I work Christmas Eve, sometimes I don’t.  I don’t feel any guilt over taking Christmas Day and Boxing Day off, though most self-employed folk are anxious over taking time off whatever the reason. 

Some people still ask if we charge double fare on these days.  We have to patiently point out that provincial taxis might do, and that mini-cabs certainly do; but with us it’s only four pounds extra. 

“Oh, it’s hardly worth it, is it?”

“No, not really …”

Merry Christmas!  

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