(Original version of article published in Taxi magazine)
I’m intrigued with the case of the cyclist who injured a woman in a collision near London Bridge back in 2015. The cyclist had the right of way with a green traffic light, and shouted and sounded an air horn as the woman walked into his path looking at her phone. Both of them were rendered unconscious. The cyclist had cuts and the pedestrian suffered a minor head injury. As in the modern way, she took the cyclist to court. The judge conceded that the woman was partly at fault, but amazingly awarded her £4,161,79 damages. The cyclist didn’t initially seek legal advice and neglected to make a counter claim as he doesn’t believe in the claim culture. He now faces bankruptcy as he’ll have to pay her legal expenses. The whole thing is estimated to cost between £20,000 and £100,000. Cyclists, and other interested parties, have been donating money to pay the legal expenses. Writing on July 10th, £59,343 had been collected, for a £21,300 target.
The woman was only partly at fault! £100,000 for two days in court! What’s happening on our roads and in our legal system? The cyclist has since urged others to take out insurance. I’ve long thought that cyclists should be obliged to have insurance, largely to cover the costs if they damage a vehicle; though this case has just fed into the claim culture, something the innocent cyclist wanted to avoid.
Personally I’d welcome an introduction of a jaywalking charge, though I recognise that’s not going to happen. As traffic systems become more complex, with different lanes and different traffic signals for motor vehicles, cyclists and pedestrians, everyone needs to obey traffic signals and respect the right of way. I’m thinking in particular of areas like Blackfriars where there are some sharp turns and where accidents are only avoided by most people being sensible.
We often complain about cyclists, but pedestrians sit at the bottom of the food chain and are a menace to everybody. We’re all pedestrians sometimes, and most of us behave properly. Every day though, we see brain-dead zombies plugged into headphones, or staring at their phone, while crossing the road in front of us. The ones who aren’t listening to music can usually hear us coming, but electric vehicles are being fitted with artificial noise to help the zombies out. Of course they can’t hear cycles, even in the case above when the rider shouts out a warning and sounds an air horn.
We’re quick to see the differences between cab drivers and couriers, but there are similarities too. Emily Chappell’s book, What Goes Around, describes the realities of the job, and describes similar experiences she’s had with stupid pedestrians. I’d say it’s a tougher job than ours. No, I couldn’t do it, but I was once a motorcycle courier for a couple of years, and this book brought it all back. That was over thirty years ago I don’t remember it that clearly. I do remember it was hot in the summer, cold in the winter, and thoroughly miserable in the rain.
It’s probably even worse as a cycle courier, exposed to the elements, and to the dangers of fast moving heavy machinery. It sounds all right in the summer, but it’s going to get unbearably hot and sweaty, and all you’ve got for protection is sun cream.
After some months I hated being a courier. I found it easier driving a cab. I did one job at a time, and wasn’t dependent on a temperamental controller handing out work and complaining when I wanted a lunch break. Many motorcycle couriers eventually did the Knowledge, as did I. The idea of being a taxi driver wouldn’t have come up had I not been a courier. One of Emily’s cycle courier friends also joined our ranks. She mentions discussing the best route from Manor House Station to Gibson Square with him.
Couriers and cab drivers are actually quite closely related. We’re all independent free-thinkers. I don’t consider myself part of regular society. I’ve had regular jobs, but I’m no longer tied to an office or part of the rat race. There’s a lot of movement in our job. We’re always going somewhere. We might not want to go somewhere, but we have a purpose. We’re getting paid for sightseeing and living on our wits.
The cyclists make a living with few resources: they ride around on tubes of metal and rubber, with a bag slung over their shoulders. They sprint into an office reception in their strange clothing, then disappear with an envelope to deliver. It’s so basic and pure. However some of us feel like outlaws, with our nicknames and healthy disregard for authority, the cycle fraternity really fit the bill. Both our jobs give those in more conventional careers something to talk about. Few people were interested in my previous life as a careers adviser, but people are interested in the lives of couriers and cab drivers: they want to know how we handle the traffic, what hours we work, and what celebrities we’ve met – when they start asking what we think of Uber we know it’s time to move on.