(Original edit of article written for Taxi magazine this week)
I laughed when I heard that a union had claimed that applying the Congestion Charge to minicab drivers is racist. In a two-day hearing, the Independent Workers of Great Britain trade union claimed that 94% of London minicab drivers are from an ethnic minority background, while 88% of taxi drivers –who are exempt from the £11.50 daily charge – are white. The charge is therefore racist. Unsurprisingly, they lost the case. Honestly, these lawyers make bundles taking on any half-arse case on behalf of those with deep pockets and talking crap.
Those percentages are an approximation. I don’t think they’d stand up in law. What does “white” or “ethnic minority background” mean anyway? Almost everyone can claim an element of mixed race. I don’t know how they’re going to define that one in legal terms.
The figures are based on those irritating ethnic monitoring forms so beloved by social workers and public sector departments. That figure of 88% white just indicates a proportion of people who responded to a vague, un-scientific, questionnaire. Not everyone would have responded accurately; either because they’re undecided, or as a “spoilt paper” protest at being asked such personal questions. Have you noticed how they ask about your sexual preferences now? I can’t imagine my parent’s generation being asked whether they were black, white or shorthaired tabby, and whether they preferred boys or girls! I don’t fill those forms in any more, they annoy me. I sometimes feel like presenting myself as a transgender Sikh; partly as a protest against intrusive questions, and partly to make myself appear something more exotic than straight white British.
What’s all this information used for anyway? To target deals that I might be interested in, like when you look up one item on a website and get marketing emails every day and forever afterwards? The government and public sector most likely want to keep tabs on us. These groups champion diversity, yet want to categorise us more than ever. Maybe they sell the details on to Russian gangsters when they’ve finished cataloguing us?
Taxi drivers wanting to work in inner-London have to pass a long series of traumatic exams for that privilege. They also have the option to just study for suburban sectors. Minicab drivers can work anywhere in London, on a licence that a chimpanzee could get. If they don’t want to pay the Congestion Charge they can stay in the suburbs with the yellow badge taxis. Of course, we’ve seen plenty of London-licenced minicabs operating in towns well out of London since private hire expanded to saturation point. They outnumber taxis by over 4 to 1. They’ve become victims of their own success. It’s a luxury for them to be able to work in Soho. They’ve had it too good for too long, and congestion has reached the point where something had to be done. They can use any car they want too, so why not use a wheelchair accessible one and save on the charge? We have no choice in the matter. The IWGB claim that minicab drivers are losing up to £200 per month as a result of the Congestion Charge. I’ve been losing £200 a week since TfL flooded the streets with Uber.
People aren’t generally recruited to be self-employed taxi or minicab drivers We’re not tapped up to join MI6. The majority of taxi drivers in London might happen to be white, but that just reflects the people who have bothered to apply. Your colour isn’t part of the application process. The union claim would hold some water if non-white applicants were treated any different. They’re not. I worked as a Knowledge examiner and I know. So what if 88% of London taxi drivers are white? That’s almost the average for the British population as a whole. If the ethnic make-up of the two trades is an issue, whitefolks could say they’re under-represented in the private hire trade and demand some special rights. Perhaps they’d let us drive a cab without the turning circle?
The IWGB claim that 71% of the 94% “BAME” drivers (Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic – are you keeping up?) live in the most deprived areas of London. That’s probably true, but I don’t see many taxis parked on driveways on Bishop’s Avenue. I can’t afford to live in London; in a deprived area or not. As an ex-Knowledge examiner I know where taxi drivers live: they all live in Hornchurch. Every man-Jack one of them. Not all of Hornchurch is leafy and affluent; there are some grim places on that 165 bus route. I lived there as a teenager, but I couldn’t afford to live there now. I’m just about surviving thirty-five miles out. I don’t see any TfL minicabs in Bedfordshire, but they must be doing all right if they’re living in London. Luxury!