(original draft of article written for Taxi magazine).
January’s average 2.2% rise in train fares was trumpeted as the lowest price hike in five years. Wow. It looks London cab fares are going up by 0.3 % in the spring. Combined with last year’s 0.7% rise, this gives us 1% over two years. There’s been no fanfare from us though, and surprisingly few drivers have asked for more. Most of us accept that things are difficult for many people and we can’t afford to lose customers through pricing ourselves out of the market.
Many people rely on the train companies to get them to work. Customers can shout as much as they like about fare increases, but it makes no difference in Rip Off Britain. They’re a captive market. The stark choice is, pay up or give up your job. The utility companies are the same; it takes the government to keep them in check when price hikes get outrageous. Everyone needs gas and electricity, and we’re all held to ransom. They all say they need to raise prices so they can invest in modernisation. It’s a shame we can’t charge more when we want to invest in new rolling stock.
Some people rely on us to get them to where they want to go too – I’m particularly thinking of Taxicard users; but a cab ride is more often a luxury than a necessity. It’s a nuisance if you are hauling freight around on public transport, have kids in tow, or if you’re unfamiliar with the geography of London; but it’s still a luxury. It’s discretionary spending. As an interesting thought, if we provide a luxury service, you could argue that we could justify a bigger rise than the train companies- though as I said, I don’t think the support is there for anything but a nominal rise in cab fares.
Commuting is a nasty business. I had a taste of it when I was a Knowledge Examiner a few years’ ago. I could see why people were tempted into a taxi ride. It can be thoroughly unpleasant on the trains and tubes, and walking can be more difficult than driving. Pedestrians are harder to negotiate around than other cars. Personally I think there should be local and express pavements, and some one-way workings like the pedestrian walkway at Birmingham New Street Station.
I had to get myself from the northern suburbs of Northampton to Palestra for 8am. I’d park near the train station for the 5.46 train to Euston. The journey out was bearable as I’d easily secure a seat. The remaining tube journey was fine as London hadn’t fully woken up yet. The return journey was more fraught. There I’d be, waiting on the concourse at Euston until my train’s platform was announced. The second it flashed up on the boards there would be a rush from all directions and I’d feel like part of a football crowd surging down the ramp towards the platform. As the train pulled in, there would be a mad, stressful, crush as we all fought our way to secure a prized seat (only the big cats survive in the commuter jungle: pussies have to stand all the way to Milton Keynes). Sometimes you’d only get a four-carriage train. Sometimes they’d open up First Class to everyone as things were so overcrowded (not very nice for folk who’d paid extra money for First Class just so they could avoid all this madness). So, my most recent experience of commuting was a too-short train, and if I was lucky, a seat barely large enough to accommodate an arse larger than that of a supermodel. All this, and inflation-busting fare rises every year.
When I first started work at sixteen I took the Upminster to Marble Arch commute in my stride. Knocking fifty, the delights of travelling into London on overcrowded public transport soon wore thin. Initially, you think you’re hard: a warrior going into battle every morning, scornfully imagining those public sector drones in Northampton who wouldn’t even be out of bed yet. I wouldn’t even be home when they’re having their tea! Getting up at 4.30 every morning I was permanently tired. It’s amazing the way you can convince yourself that this way of life is normal. Inevitably, I couldn’t go on like that, and it was the main reason why I reluctantly left the job I loved.
Back on the cab full time and I was driving in at a civilised hour (9am). Many people express surprise when I tell them I drive seventy miles into London five days a week. I reply that you get used to it. I don’t think I would have got used to doing the journey on public transport. Home to Brent Cross takes me seventy-five minutes. Some people spend an hour of more just getting across London. Leaving London at night I usually join the M1 at Brent Cross. People wouldn’t think it odd living in Watford or Luton and commuting to London, but once on the motorway what’s an extra forty minutes? Of course it costs me considerably more than the price of my £4,400 annual season ticket, but it’s swings and roundabouts. What I lose in time and money I gain on house prices. When the cab fare rise is officially announced I shall take some time on the M1 to think what I’m going to spend my 0.3% on. It should only take a minute out of my busy day.