Tag Archives: Changes in the London Taxi Trade

A Return to Victorian Values

(My original edit of my New Year article written for Taxi magazine).

 

At this time of year, trade is slow and we have more time on our hands. Time to catch up with some reading perhaps. Towards the end of 2019 I read a copy of PHTM magazine. There’s always something interesting to read in PHTM. It gives some thoughtful insights on issues affecting both the private hire and taxi trades. It’s not just a matter of seeing what the opposition are up to, and it’s not all about minicabs.

In November’s issue we learnt that a goose had smashed through the windscreen of a taxi in Nottingham. A photo shows the goose sitting on the back seat of a TX surrounded by broken glass. The bird appeared unharmed following veterinary attention. Vets had to give another critter the once over after a Welsh taxi driver found an escaped corn snake warming itself under the bonnet of his cab in Cardiff.

I enjoyed the article by Andy Peters, Secretary of the GMB Brighton & Hove Taxi Section. He discusses the situation in Brighton & Hove where Uber drivers are flooding in from places as far away as Wolverhampton and Sefton. The Brighton PH and taxi trades clearly have the same feelings about cross-border hiring as we do in London, and probably suffer from it more. Andy doesn’t mention London Uber drivers, but I’m sure many of them trying it on in Brighton are licensed by TfL, the licensing authority who always say “Yes”.  Anyway, what amused the GMB Secretary was a photo circulating, said to be of a Southampton private hire driver asleep in the boot of his car. This is seen as evidence that out-of-towners are coming into Brighton and sleeping in their cars between shifts.

Mr Peters goes on to make comparisons between the working conditions of some PH drivers to the days of domestic slavery. He notes the way some Uber drivers are like chambermaids working for a decaying gentry, such as in TV programmes such as Upstairs Downstairs and Downton Abbey. He’s right; sleeping in a minicab boot is similar to living in an attic waiting for to be summoned to work by the master of the house. The Uber app pinging is the modern version of a yank of the chain by their social betters. It’s as if drivers are sitting in their cars – or lying in the boot – awaiting Lord Uber of the Big House to call you up on an errand.

The fact is, if you refuse the errand, the master will simply find someone else to do it, and you won’t eat lunch today, or at least get another job for a long time. You might as well go back to sleep. Thousands of drivers with PH stickers are sitting around waiting for the call. They’re not needed, they’re victims of over-supply. But the app-based suppliers’ sole appeal is on providing a swift response to a virtual hail, and it doesn’t cost the organisation money to have drivers sitting around all day making the place look untidy.  I know some London taxi drivers sleep in their cabs at Heathrow. It’s a lifestyle choice to sleep in the cab and catch the first arrivals. It’s not a lifestyle I’d choose, but things aren’t so desperate for us. There’s more element of choice when a taxi driver can choose to legally pick up from the street.

Those of us who listen to LBC may remember presenter James O’Brien comparing the Uber organisation to Victorian mill owners. Very true; though at least the mill owners paid their taxes. We don’t seem to have progressed much in the world of work really. Social cohesion, fairness and security has been forgotten about as we’ve been so occupied by the issues around Brexit, and yet more elections. Domestic slavery undoubtedly still goes on, even if the modern form now affects those independent-minded souls hiring themselves out as self-employed soul traders. If you’re dependent on someone else to provide your living you are vulnerable to exploitation.

Uber’s status in London is uncertain, but they still operate in many cities of the world. Maybe Uber, and their ilk, will die out like sending kids up chimneys did?

I was wondering if I’d fit inside the boot of a TX4. No of course, I wouldn’t. Anyway, it’s pretty dark in there. I don’t really know what goes on under the bonnet, and I’d rather not know if there’s any activity in the boot.  There could be all kinds of critters living there. Keep them doors locked!

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The Cycle of Change

(Original edit of article for Taxi magazine).

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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