Tag Archives: London taxi trade

Christmas Special

(My Christmas article for B-C-ing-U, as it appeared in the on-line mag. A similar article was edited for Taxi magazine this week, but I like this one better)

 

Taxi Noir: Save the Trees

Oxford Street

I hate working this time of year.  I love Christmas, but I hate driving around London in my cab. I dread that moment in November when I’m stuck in a traffic queue, and I have to make that painful admission: Christmas has started. It gets earlier each year. This year it started at about the time they switched on the Christmas lights on Regent Street, almost obscenely in the middle of November.

This is the start of the madness. Black Friday hasn’t even appeared yet. Those traffic queues will get worse, and they’ll spread. Buses won’t be moving, delivery vans will be parked on double yellows blocking everyone’s progress. Tempers will be frayed. Out of towners will be circling the West End looking for parking that doesn’t exist, while craning their necks up at the Christmas lights. All the year’s road closures and madcap re-modelling projects will come into sharp focus as we sit and stew behind the buses. The meter is moving, but our wheels aren’t. All we can do is apologise to our customers for the delays and the inflated fares.

December is fair game for Christmas festivities, but November isn’t. I don’t even allow myself to look up at the Christmas lights until December. It’s just not right. I drive up to Piccadilly Circus eyes straight ahead, as if to gaze upon the Christmas lights in November is to bring down a curse of bad luck for the coming year.

DSCI don’t want to see any Christmas TV adverts before December, or hear Christmas songs or carols. I don’t want to hear Noddy Holder screaming “It’s Christmas!” until December. I don’t want to see Christmas trees on sale too early either. The purchase of Christmas trees in November should be outlawed. I’m disappointed this didn’t feature in any of the General Election manifestos. I thought the Greens would be keen to stop the premature felling of trees at least.

My plastic Woolworths Christmas tree goes up on the first weekend after December 1st. It’s seen sixteen Christmasses. It’s been brought down by the cats and chewed by the rabbits, but it lives to see another year. I’d write to Woolworths to congratulate them on the quality of their replica tree, but the shop has long gone. Last year I bought a miniature pine from Morrison’s. It’s a tiny tree, just big enough to decorate a table top. But at least I can say I have a real tree. Surprisingly, the tree survived all year in a pot outdoors, and I’m expecting continued growth in 2020. If Morrison’s survives Brexit I’ll write to them next year.

A few days before the Big Day, the roads become quieter and trade drops off. We feel we’ve earned our Christmas break. I sometimes work Christmas Eve. It’s quiet, but there’s a jolly atmosphere. If I lived in London I might have tried Christmas Day just to satisfy my curiosity. Same with New Year’s Eve. I often work it, at least until the bridge closures are put in for the fireworks display. I worked a few New Year’s Days, but the road closures are so extensive now that I’ve given up on that. It can pay well though.

London in the Snow

The New Year is a time for reflection. We look over the past year and reflect on what went well and what went badly. Hopefully we didn’t pick up many drunks. It’s difficult because many of them look respectable, and they don’t just operate in the hours of darkness either. I usually pick up at least one party of boozed-up office workers off to annoy Arab families at the Winter Wonderland, but as a paranoid cove, I manage to avoid most of the unpleasantness. It’ll be another interesting year for sure. The LEVC semi-electric cab has sold well since its launch almost two years ago, and there’s a fully-electric cab on its way. Uber are still hanging on, like a manky Christmas tree chocolate melted by the lights.

Will trade be better this year? We ask ourselves that same question every year, more in hope than expectation. There’s now the Kipper Season to endure. No-one’s sure why this time of the year is called the kipper season: some say it’s because kippers were all Victorian cabmen could afford to eat in January. Or it could just mean that the trade is as flat as a kipper. Either way, we can look forward to one, two, or even three months of poor trade. Eventually we’ll come out of that dark tunnel and the days will bring a bit more light. We can look forward to some spring warmth, and hopefully a bit more business.

Will we get to enjoy the romance of a white Christmas? Great! – If it starts late on Christmas Eve and has thawed by the time I decide to go back to work. I don’t really remember the last white Christmas – probably in the 70s. I remember some warm ones. Global warming? Perhaps Extinction Rebellion are on to something after all?

I’ve included one of my own photos taken in late February 2018; just after I called my work day off as I couldn’t get the cab off my driveway.

Have a good one!

 

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A Waste of Space

(Original edit – and title – for article written for Taxi magazine).

With twenty mile per hour speed limits being rolled out all over London, buses now have a ten mile per hour speed limit on Tottenham Court Road. Pedestrians haven’t got used to the new two-way working and keep getting hit by buses. I shouldn’t make light of it, as it must smart a bit being hit by a bus. I certainly wouldn’t want it to happen to me, or my cab.

I wouldn’t call Tottenham Court Road a proper two-way street as the southbound lane is buses and cycles only. There’s so little traffic going south that it’s really just an under-used contraflow bus lane: a waste of space. When traffic is engineered to crawl it encourages people to walk in between buses. Gower Street has been a road to avoid for months, and I believe this road will soon become two-way too. God help us.

Even the signs are annoying: as you turn left off Tottenham Court Road into Howland Street there’s a sign at the lights saying “Cyclists Wait for Signal”.  This is in the vain hope that cyclists might obey the signals if the order is displayed in print. They shouldn’t need a sign telling them to stop at a red light!

Earlier in the year, Baker Street and Gloucester Place went two-way. How’s this working out? Gloucester Place southbound moves well, but at the expense of the northbound which has got worse. Baker Street used to work all right and should not have been touched. There’s only one clear lane going south because of the right turn lanes. And you are always behind a bus or coach.

London driving is becoming more difficult through increasingly complex traffic systems. Just about every part of Central London is blighted by complicated cycle lanes and strange traffic light arrangements. The Blackfriars area has one of the most complex road systems. They’ve tried to compartmentalise space into dedicated lanes. I get what they’re trying to do, but when everyone has their own separate set of lanes and lights to adhere to it unwittingly defeats the safety object. Pedestrians think they can cross New Bridge Street because the cycles have stopped, but the vehicle lane next to it has a green light. The only way collisions are avoided is by everyone obeys the rules; and that means motorists, cyclists, and pedestrians. It’s complicated though. I particularly dislike the eastbound slip from Victoria Embankment into Queen Victoria Street. Cycles are all over the place and their riders don’t always care whether you have the right of way or not. There are some tight turns in that area too; such as the left from Southwark Street on to Blackfriars Bridge, or from Webber Street into Blackfriars Road. In both cases, there’s a cycle lane facing you, and if you’re not expecting it you are driving straight into the path of a line of bikes.

The ten mile per hour limit means buses will be travelling at about the same speed as horse-drawn traffic did over a hundred years ago. Hardly progress. In considering a return to Victorian values I’ve often wondered what TfL would say if we tried to licence a horse as a taxi. Surely it’ll fit in with their green agenda. There will be no nasty diesel pollution and no speeding. We’d be in full future-proof compliance. I’m not sure about the twenty-five foot turning circle, but what is there not to like?

What about re-introducing horse-drawn buses now we’re back down to ten miles per hour? Traffic will move at a nice calm pace. Running a couple of horses is probably cheaper than diesel – or until tax on vehicle electricity inevitably rockets in price. Bus garages could be converted into stables, and a team of unemployed blacksmiths could be re-employed after a lengthy layoff. Feeding and watering can be carried out in the Hyde Park, which is already established for horse care. Or on those oases of concrete that have sprung up over the last few years: by Euston Tower, or on the opposite corner at the UCE where they usually put the Christmas tree up. Back in Blackfriars there’s that wasted space by the Black Friar pub (why on earth can we no longer turn left there? Don’t they realise that when drivers have to find another way round, their vehicles stay on the road longer and create double the pollution?). Cattle troughs still exist, and these just need to be filled with water. It’s a shame that little pond was removed from Russell Square some years ago.

One thing that needs to be sorted out is who is responsible for cleaning up emissions (do the police clean up after their horses?). I don’t want to go too far into this, but horse waste has its uses. Perhaps Extinction Rebellion activists could volunteer their valuable time and do something useful for a change? They’d get the public back on their side at least. Tune in next time for more half-baked ideas, and expect a return to the horse idea sometime in the near future.

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Rebels Without a Clue

(Original edit of article for Taxi magazine)

 

Extinction Rebellion’s activities are over at last – for now anyway. Their Autumn campaign ran for two weeks, but by the second week they’d lost the support of the public. Boris called them “un-co-operative crusties”. Few people corrected his choice of words.

I don’t normally work Monday or Tuesday, so I went out with trepidation on Wednesday in the first week. My strategy was to keep out of trouble; which meant keeping out of the West End and Westminster. I pretty much managed it on the first day by restricting myself to account work on ComCab. I’d never covered so many Taxicard jobs in one day. The success of my strategy was limited: I avoided the worst excesses of disruption; but through picking and choosing my jobs my earnings suffered on a week where there was clearly the potential to make money.

On Thursday I took a job from Goldman Sachs to Westminster City Hall. I needed to take a detour, but my passenger knew the score. On my first job on Friday I had a similar experience with a Taxicard customer going from West Hampstead to Waterloo. My lady had to change her train ticket en route as I had to drive quite a long way off the usual route and she missed her ticketed train. She wasn’t happy, but cheered up when I pointed that it would only cost her £5 whatever happened.

On Saturday I was pulled into the West End. With relief, I noticed that Trafalgar Square had re-opened. It was drizzling and I passed the grim scene of protestors camped in tents in the square. Tourists photographed the forlorn sight. It reminded me of watching the DVD of Woodstock when the rains came. It was if they were waiting for Hendrix to come on and set fire to his Strat.

Things still weren’t back to normal with parts of Westminster still closed, and there was more aggro on Sunday when a running race added to the misery.

on my next working day the following Wednesday the worst was over, but there were still areas to avoid. As I swung around Trafalgar Square I watched the Polizia holding back a mob of crusties on Whitehall. I’d had a week of listening to all the debates on LBC, but I still found their aims and objectives unclear. I wanted to know what they actually wanted us to do. The millennial on LBC who started every sentence with “So” didn’t tell me anything; and the bloke who shouted at listeners to stop driving cars and stop eating meat was unrealistic and annoying. They were all saying that disruption is necessary to get their message across, but I’m sure they would get publicity if they spent their time doing something positive like planting trees.

They’re clearly a half-baked and disparate group. I wonder how many of them have any clear idea of what they are aiming to achieve, and how many are just anarchist-types attempting to bring down the government. I think many just want to belong to a group. In a society where actual human contact is becoming rarer, people have a need to belong. Whether it’s being part of a football crowd, wearing silly blue EU hats in Parliament Square, or sitting in the roads; you feel you have a place in society.

I believe around 1800 protestors were arrested in the end. That’s 1800 people who don’t much care if they get a criminal record. They are either out of work, or they don’t care if they continue to work. Are they claiming benefits?

I started to wonder how many of them actually lived in London. Why not stay in your own town and stop people getting to work? Stop the taxis, re-route all the buses, and force delivery drivers on zero-hours contracts into unscheduled days off.  Let’s see how their townspeople react when they can’t make hospital appointments.

The protestors had much of it their own way – until they hit the East End. Here they weren’t entertaining tourists, or annoying motorists from a safe distance; they were up close and personal with real people who were late for work and weren’t shy in showing what they thought of their tactics. Watching protestors being pulled off of the roofs of trains was a joy to see as I turned on the BBC News. But something was missing from the TV footage: where were the TfL station staff in yellow vests, or the police? Why was it left to commuters to handle the situation and restore order? Perhaps TfLs remedy to train overcrowding is to allow passengers to sit on the roof like in India?

A bystander commented that when he heard the station announcement apologising for delays he thought it was something to do with terrorism. It was. Terrorism isn’t necessarily about violence; it’s about the threat of violence and stopping normal activity.  Extinction Rebellion aren’t killing people but they are disrupting people’s lives and stopping society from functioning normally.

By the second week of the Uprising, people were thoroughly hacked off with Extinction Rebellion. By the time they reached Canning Town their message had been lost. It was no longer about what they believed in, or what we could do to help the very real fight against environmental damage; it was all about the pros and cons of disruptive protest generally, and how we deal with eco-terrorists. I’m expecting a better thought-out strategy next time.

 

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Driven to Distraction

(Original edit of article for Taxi magazine)

 

The police have been criticised for being slow to prosecute drivers exceeding London’s 20mph speed limits – probably because they’ve more important work to do, like apprehending  fire engines crewed by Extinction Rebellion, and yachts on Oxford Street. The bad news is that new 20mph roads are coming soon, and the authorities are calibrating more cameras to catch speed freaks. These 20mph limits are just another money-making scheme dreamed up by hard-up councils. Anyway, can you remember when you last exceeded 20mph on any road in Central London?

Speed is reported to be a factor in 5% of road accidents. Distraction is the biggest cause. Mobile phone use gets a lot of coverage, but there are many more distractions. I’d venture that some of the biggest distractions are those 20mph signs. As soon as you see them your eyes are involuntarily taken off the road and drawn down to your speedometer. The signs don’t usually exist in isolation either; they are just added to the cluster of other signs that we feel compelled to read as we try to concentrate on the driving. While scanning both sides of the road for red and white warning signs, and yellow diversion signs, you’ll also be checking the road below as you negotiate miles of speed bumps. If you are in Islington and want to avoid the horrors of the new system at Highbury Corner, Liverpool Road proves to be a very bumpy and frustrating short cut to Holloway. We all know that Islington like their traffic cameras.

The yellow road closure signs are the hardest to read. The closure details are often crudely written in marker pan, or contain so many words that you’re never going to take in all the information in one go.

We all have our favourites coming in and out of work. Driving in and out of London every workday my eyes are always drawn to the large yellow signs around the junction of Finchley Road and Hendon Way. The signs warn of pointless time-bound closures of Briardale Gardens and Pattison Road. There are a lot of words on those signs: I thought about counting them for the purposes of this article, but that’s like giving in to madness. They’re huge signs, but on a 40mph road like Hendon Way I defy anyone to read every word as they fly past avoiding the buses and coaches pulling in to the middle lane as we merge into Finchley Road. Further down towards Swiss Cottage I’ve sometimes wanted to read the parking restrictions, but you can’t make sense of complex parking rules while you’re moving, and Finchley Road isn’t a place to stop and sightsee.

The signs are often inaccurate: I noticed September’s closure of Fetter Lane started several days early. I never got to read the signs at the southern end of Gray’s Inn Road before the closures. I assume the closures came and went; but a new sign went up the following week at the new closure caught me out. I like the way they keep these signs up to warn us off London completely. I suppose it’s the modern equivalent of putting heads on spikes outside the Tower of London. As I write this I’ve noticed a yellow sign in Brook Street just before Hanover Square. Unless I’m the first cab at that junction I’ll probably not get to read that, so I’ll prepare myself for a nasty surprise if I need Hanover Square in the next few weeks.

I don’t know if driving standards have got worse over the years. Possibly. Driving conditions have certainly got harder. Current road closures are the worst I’ve ever known – and this is before Extinction Rebellion’s October uprising. Bridge Street, New Bridge Street, Oxford Street, Piccadilly Underpass, Brompton Road and Hammersmith Bridge don’t even get mentioned on the traffic reports any more. There are too many to report on, so only a selection of new ones make the bulletins. Hopefully, these closures are temporary; but you never know. I’m surprised they’re working to fix Hammersmith Bridge. It’s going to take three years, and I’m surprised Boris didn’t commandeer it as his garden bridge.

Those are the closures for works. It’s the other closures that are more troubling. All too often we are prevented from doing our job effectively and providing a door to door service. Just recently I’ve come across unexpected restrictions in Bute Street and Enford Street. Time-bound restrictions are the most irritating of them all. Lloyd Baldwin listed many closures in Taxi 452. It made grim reading. As Lloyd pointed out, the timings vary too. Many roads are now closed at certain times of the day around schools. There were no road closures when I was at school. We had to walk on the pavement. We could try driving on the pavements like the cyclists, but there’s probably a law against that too.

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Keeping Your Head Above Water

(Original edit of article written for Taxi magazine).

New York City yellow cab drivers have been having it tough for a while. Like many taxi groups around the world, their trade has been hit by unfair competition from organisations like Uber. The situation in New York is particularly bad because in the past, drivers paid huge amounts of money to buy access into a trade where numbers are restricted.  Each taxi needs a licence medallion. The medallion system restricts numbers, and by 2014 they cost up to one million dollars to buy. Drivers can lease a medallion for $100 per shift, but in the past drivers took out loans to buy medallions when times were better and are now finding it hard to make the loan repayments. The arrival of Uber, Lyft, &c. have greatly reduced trade and taxi drivers aren’t making enough money to cover their loans. Some drivers have committed suicide over the worry.

Debt isn’t something you hear discussed in the cab caffs, but many of us have been affected by it at points in our lives. I’m managing to keep my head above water, but there have been some grim times.

London drivers don’t have to buy medallions; but a cab loan, or the weekly rental, takes a big chunk out of our pay. I was soon in trouble when I joined TfL as a Knowledge examiner in 2011. I was on a decent wage, but I was only a few months into a finance deal on a new cab and I had to find £768 every month. That was the basic cab loan; my fuel bill driving in from Northampton every day was colossal. I had to work one or two days on the cab at weekends after five days at TfL just to pay the loan. And although TfL paid my train season ticket from Northampton – yes, very generous – I had to wait four weeks for my first pay packet. I was also shocked how much I was deducted for tax, National Insurance and pension.

I dug myself into a hole. It isn’t always easy to admit you have a problem, but I eventually sought help from a debt charity. They consolidated my various debts and loans into one agreed monthly payment. Even with a large debt, it can be spread out and managed. They helped explain things with the banks.  My main bank put my account on “Control”. All that really meant was that I couldn’t get an overdraft. Just as well really, as that helped me to get into difficulty in the first place.

I eventually recovered, but I faced another financial meltdown when the cab’s engine and gearbox needed replacing in October 2018. Before I could get straight, the cab failed its licensing inspection in March 2019. I had to spend a king’s ransom on bodywork. It would have ruined me had I not been able to cash in a small pension I took out when I started out in the late 1980s. I only take a week each year on a proper going-away holiday, but problems with the cab forced me to have several weeks off. I’m sure some drivers have been ruined by similar events. Having enforced holidays costs us dearly.

Having a bad credit rating makes it difficult to get further credit, but once you get straight and start making payments on time you credit rating improves quickly. After a few years I managed to obtain a credit card, and my credit Iimit has been raised a few times. I try to pay the full amount every month to avoid exorbitant interest payments.  I used to dread official-looking envelopes arriving from companies I didn’t recognise. I still do, but mostly because I think it might contain a photo of my cab on a yellow box junction and a demand for payment – as it did only last week when a photo arrived showing my cab touching a yellow box junction on Cricklewood Broadway.  I don’t open letters straight away if I think they might contain something nasty. I wait until I’ve finished work for the week. I recently received a letter from Huddersfield. I don’t know anyone in Huddersfield, or knowingly have any business dealing with anyone in Huddersfield. When I eventually found the courage to open the letter I saw it was from my bank offering me a credit card. Times have certainly changed for me, though I’m not complacent. I also know where to find help if I need help. Unforeseen things happen, particularly when you’re self-employed and are dependent on an expensive vehicle for your livelihood. It’s important not to overreach yourself with cab loans, and to be realistic about your earning capability. You need to base your financial projections on your worst day rather than your best day, and sometimes that figure needs to be reviewed.

You need to be honest with yourself if you are getting into difficulties. Admitting you are in trouble is difficult. It affects your pride; but it’s usually best to speak to your family about any problems and have them on your side too.

If anyone reading this gets into financial difficulties, I can recommend a free service from the organisation that helped me get back on the straight and narrow, Step Change.

 

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London Closed for Business

(Article written for Taxi magazine prior to No Car Day).

 

Are we all looking forward to No Car Day on September 22nd? I expected taxis to be exempt, but it seems we’re all going to be punished on the big day. Reading further, it seems the Mayor’s “No Car Day” is a bit of a marketing con anyway. I thought the whole of Central London was going to be closed, but it’s only certain roads. In fact, it looks like any number of weekend days closed off to accommodate a programme chock full of disruptive cycling and running races, organised demos and marches, and non-organised flash demos.

I’ve already taken a handful of days off this year that I didn’t want to take off, and here comes another enforced holiday. I hear this event – if you can call it that – is costing London taxpayers one million pounds. I thought the aim would be to save money. Who else is paying? Anyone who has to drive on that day will be making a contribution in lost time and wasted fuel. Those forced to work will be sat in traffic queues on the few roads that are open pondering on their situation. It’ll cost many individuals and organisations money.

I’m convinced these events are arranged as part of an anti-car agenda. At one time it was just the London Marathon and Gay Pride. Now, as many disruptive events as possible are scheduled throughout the year; mostly at weekends, but sometimes on weekdays too. The idea is to make the environment as hostile as possible so people keep away.

In August we had the Notting Hill Carnival. Every year we hear calls to scale down the carnival or move it to a park (it then stops being a carnival and becomes a fete). It must be very disruptive if you live in the area and need to move around, but Notting Hill is unaffected by travel disruption for most of the year, and the carnival is at least concentrated in one area; it doesn’t usually form part of the demonstration route for angry crustafarians.The carnival procession doesn’t go from Piccadilly Circus to Ladbroke Grove, and it doesn’t affect our work too much. The event also provides enjoyment to thousands. I can’t see any fun in a No Car Day.

Even on a Sunday few people drive in London for fun. Some people have little choice but to drive. Anyone on ComCab will tell you that lots of folk need to get to and from hospitals every day of the week on Taxicards; people with limited mobility who find it difficult to use public transport. Most events that shut our streets are for the benefit of a small minority. The rest of us have to suffer.

Extinction Rebellion are the biggest nuisance. They’re like those boorish neighbours in the flat upstairs who decide to throw a noisy party when you’re trying to sleep. You see them bringing crates of beer up, but you give them the benefit of the doubt until the music and dancing starts up, and there’s a yacht captained by Emma Thomson on your garden. Call the police? They’re co-ordinating the dancing.

While I’m at it, have you noticed how (mercifully) short demonstration marches are these days? The BBC to Trafalgar Square? That’s not a march, that’s a sightseeing excursion. In my day a Rock Against Racism march would run all the way to Brockwell Park. That’s in the Deep South in case you’re wondering.

How much does the London Mayor earn, I wonder? (I could look it up, but I’d rather not know). Perhaps London taxpayers could have a whip-round and finance a No Mayor Year. Another million should do it. Few people would notice the Mayor’s absence, though London might get some peace and quiet and we might be able to get on with our jobs without botheration. A Mayor’s job should be to open things, not close them. I should have asked him to open the new KFC near me. Its opening has caused a buzz around town, and it’s open until 11.30. No more shall Leighton Buzzard’s nightlife be in the shadow of the bright lights of Luton. I’m sure any Mayor worth his salt would want to be part of that event. Yes, put Mr Khan on light duties and let him do the things Mayors normally do; like wear a chain and a tricorn hat and cut ribbons at village fetes. At least he’d be opening something.

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Up The Workers

(Original edit of article written for Taxi magazine).

 

I read with interest that Uber drivers have taken strike action to demand they are recognised as employees and are paid the minimum wage. I thought this employees v self-employed thing was sorted ages ago. Apparently not; the appeals go on and there are still court cases pending. The last time I saw an Uber advert aimed at recruiting drivers they were promising huge amounts of money to drivers. Do you think they were telling porkies?

Anyway, I’m not here to have a pop at Uber drivers; they have it hard enough with their employer/agency supporting the ULEZ charge. Ain’t that a kick in the head? Good luck with the holiday and sick pay.

I wonder if we could claim we are employed workers of TfL and get holiday and sick pay? We’re told what to drive and where we can do it. TfL control just about everything to do with our business. We are just as dependent on TfL as Uber drivers are on their organisation.

In terms of vehicle, we’re even more restricted. We can only buy one model from new, and I’m unconvinced we’re going to see more. All London taxis have had to be wheelchair accessible as far back as I can remember. They also have to comply with the twenty-five feet turning circle. It’s a great feature, but it undoubtedly puts the price up. TfL have got it the wrong way round anyway: minicabs outnumber us about 4 to 1, so it’s minicabs that should have the turning circle requirement.

We’re told where to place the stickers and notices provided by TfL. We’re compelled to publicise certain credit card companies; but we could be in trouble if we publicise our own business ventures. All advertising has to conform to increasingly strict guidelines. TfL decide what’s permissible in the style of a Taliban censor: no women in underwear, and nothing dangerous like guns, bombs, salt or sugar. Are our cabs even our own? We learnt in a recent edition of Taxi that a taxi is “a designated public space.”

We used to think of the road network as a designated public space, but it now appears to be privately-owned by TfL. They decide who can use it, when to close it; and they can muck about with the roads as much as they like. The useable roads are reducing at an alarming rate each week, and whole areas are out of bounds (ie. Bank Junction). Their cameras are watching our every move. Any mistake and we get a photo of our cab in the post with a demand for money.

We’re told where we can work: fair enough. I don’t have much grasp of what goes on east of Bishopsgate so I’m not going to be plying for hire in Essex. There don’t seem to be the same restrictions for minicabs operating out of their licensing areas though. TfL-licenced cars are famously operating all over the country with impunity. If we tried picking up folk in Wolverhampton our feet wouldn’t touch.

We’re told what to charge by a tamper-proof meter.  Fine; but private hire companies can charge what they like. Uber are keeping their fares as low as possible until they’ve taken over the world, but they can’t resist ratchetting up the fare when there’s a spike in demand (in the unlikely event they do take over the world, their surge-pricing fares will become the norm. 370% I heard recently).

We have to use ranks appointed by TfL, and we can’t turn jobs down when our For Hire light is on. We’re compelled to take a passenger twelve miles out (we should be so lucky; I can’t remember the last time I had a job longer than twelve miles). Minicab drivers are under pressure to take every job offered, but the pressure come from their organisation rather than TfL – whether they’re self-employed or not.

Our training is clearly stipulated. You can combine study at home with riding around London with a clipboard, but there’s no distance learning option: you have to physically present yourself at an exam centre for a very traumatic series of Appearances. There’s virtually no transparency or flexibility. Complaining is pointless, resistance is futile.

What else? Ah yes, we haven’t yet been told what we can and can’t wear, but give it time. In fairness, the opposition tend to dress smarter than we do, though I don’t see why anyone needs to wear a suit to drive someone to Euston. Aspiring taxi drivers pretty much have to wear a suit and tie for Knowledge exams. I shouldn’t think trainee barristers have to wear suits for law exams.

My ideas might be a touch under-baked, but there is certainly compelling evidence suggesting that we are merely employees of TfL. I could do with some holiday pay, so I think it’s worth taking this one to court. To register your interest in my crowdfunding claim, just send me your money in a brown paper bag. I regret I’m unable to accept credit cards or give change. Oh, I forgot to mention mandatory credit card acceptance…

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Tom Hutley - London cabbie, Tour guide, Writer

CabbieBlog

Taxi talk without tipping

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Marcus Kazmierczak

View from the Mirror

History, trivia, stories & more from Robert Lordan, author of 'The Knowledge, Train Your Brain Like a Cabbie'.

tomhutley.wordpress.com/

Tom Hutley - London cabbie, Tour guide, Writer

CabbieBlog

Taxi talk without tipping

mkaz.com

Marcus Kazmierczak

View from the Mirror

History, trivia, stories & more from Robert Lordan, author of 'The Knowledge, Train Your Brain Like a Cabbie'.