(Article written for Taxi magazine)
Available from York Publishing Services:
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(Article written for Taxi magazine)
Available from York Publishing Services:
(or Amazon, if you must – but please leave a review!)
(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!
(Original edit of article for Taxi magazine).
Reading about the Uber driver who crashed his car into the concourse at Barking Station got me thinking about how taxi arrangements at train stations have changed over the years. I can just about remember the time when taxis used to rank up inside Paddington Station, right by the platforms. It was easier for us and more convenient for our customers in those days. Later we’d queue up alongside Eastbourne Terrace. We’ve put up with the horrible ramp off Bishop’s Bridge Road for several years. Maybe when Crossrail is finished we’ll go back to Eastbourne Terrace? I can’t imagine being allowed back inside the station; not with the security risk or the war on diesel. And I’m sure the barrier in Praed Street will remain while there’s the fear of minicabs shooting down the ramp scattering everyone like pigeons.
I’ve long thought that we’re not really wanted at stations (or airports). Those controlling things are making it more difficult all the time. King’s Cross and St. Pancras as are a nightmare for setting down. Pancras Road resembles Mumbai on a bad day with all those minicabs, buses and coaches jostling for access. Pedestrians dodge the moving traffic like sacred cows. Thankfully, the traffic is slower than they can walk, so no harm is done.
Leaving these two stations is even worse. You usually have to queue to leave King’s Cross heading south, and there are now only two exit lanes from St Pancras, left or right. As a crazy bit of traffic management you can’t even go straight ahead into Judd Street.
The new re-modelling at Pancras sees a one-lane rank next to a cycle lane. The kerbing makes joining and leaving the rank difficult. You don’t want to break down there, or decide you’ve queued for too long and want out. You can no longer go around cabs whose drivers are loading up large amounts of passengers and freight. The cycle lane is rarely used, but you have to be alert to bikes, scooters and cycle rickshaws. I’ve seen electric bikes zooming down past the cab rank. I was there recently and saw a taxi that had broken down at the head of the rank. There was no space for other cabs to pull around the rank so we had to use the cycle lane. I made it all right in my TX4, but the Vito behind me had difficulty and the driver scuffed his hubcaps on the kerb. I was picking up a wheelchair passenger so had to pull around to access the kerbing for the ramp. I could put the ramp down, and open the offside door to load the cases; but I couldn’t open both doors fully at the same time thanks to badly-placed metal bollards. Thankfully, my burly Australian passengers managed to squeeze the wheelchair in at an angle.
Don’t get me started on Euston. Access is difficult from any direction apart from Euston Road eastbound. I feel sorry for the folk living and working around Endsleigh Gardens, where their peace and quiet is blighted by all the traffic jostling for position on one and a half lanes at Gordon Street. I feel sorry for myself too whenever I’m in the area, and you can never predict how bad it’s going to be.
Liverpool Street Station has been difficult to access for as long as I can remember. Eldon Street and Old Broad Street take you close, but if you try to drive right up to the station entrance you’ll get a ticket – or at least told off for stopping on the zig zags on Eldon Street as happened to me once. Liverpool Street itself is all right if you find a space, but we’re still not being allowed to provide a door-to-door service. If people have suitcases I usually try going down the ramp off Primrose Street and drop off right by the platforms. This is a longer route from most directions, and I’m always anxious making for this entrance as they sometimes close the entrance off without warning. It’s a real embarrassment as it means quite a long ride to an alternative entrance. I recently heard of a driver unable to set down a wheelchair passenger there.
Spare a thought for our provincial, cousins. They have it worse in many respects. Many taxi drivers outside London have to pay thousands of pounds for the privilege of using station ranks. Airports are even worse. We’ve seen Luton Airport sell taxi provision to private hire. If a Luton taxi driver wants to pick up at his local airport he has to join Addison Lee. Have you noticed how we all have to pay to drop off at certain airports? I believe Heathrow are planning something big, and I wouldn’t be surprised if we had to pay to drop off a City Airport in the future. The folk running these transport hubs need to be reminded that we are serving their customers.
(Original version of article for Taxi magazine).
Every day I get the feeling we’re not-so subtly being discouraged from using petrol and diesel vehicles; but I nearly choked on my Rice Krispies when a talking head on BBC Breakfast News complained that cars are sat parked up doing nothing 98% of the time. I thought we were meant to leave them at home and cycle to work?
Transport for London have got themselves into a difficult position. They’ve zealously taken on the green agenda, but in reality little of it is a real attempt to improve air quality. It’s cost TfL – and the London taxpayer – a fortune re-directing, re-paving, and re-kerbing roads, and installing new traffic lights and road signs. Much of the recent road re-modelling is all about keeping the buses moving. TfLs precious buses can now use Tottenham Court Road to go south, while everyone else queues behind buses going north since they’ve taken two lanes out. Same with Baker Street and Gloucester Place: these two roads worked reasonably well until they made them two-way and cut the lanes. The ban on motor vehicles around Bank Junction is nothing more than a cynical ploy to improve bus times, while pursuing a very lucrative cash from cameras agenda.
There seems to be more traffic, but there’s actually less. The number of motor vehicles in London has reduced, but those of us forced to drive here are kettled into fewer streets, crawling behind buses or belching out fumes while stationary. No-one can get around, and in many cases that includes the buses, which TfL are trying to protect.
That figure of 98% of cars being inactive is alarmingly high, but don’t worry, Transport for London can help to utilise that neglected Prius on your driveway. Their remedy is to licence them all as minicabs. Even if you’re not living or working in London, TfL are happy to licence you so you can work in Wolverhampton or Brighton. Keep those wheels rolling! (minicab drivers don’t just use the Toyota Prius, of course. If you have a BMW you can earn shedloads of money, I’ve seen the ads!).
It makes a mockery of their green agenda, but getting all those under-used cars on the road raises a lot of money through private hire driver and operator licensing; plus the Congestion Charge that private hire drivers now have to pay. Maybe the idea was always to tempt people in to apply for PH licences, then hit them hard? Local authorities make a lot of money through parking and box junction fines, and using all those enforcement cameras to catch people out with complex road layouts, and complex rules involving times of operation – or the enigmatic “Access Only” rule (of course, I want access!). I think we can use Queen Victoria Street and go through Bank Junction while Cannon Street is closed, but I don’t think we can use it in reverse, even though Cannon Street westbound is closed too. We recently read in Taxi that they’re fining someone every minute in the City’s Square Mile.
Transport for London have spent a lot of money paying taxi drivers to de-licence their cabs, in the hope that they’re sold up north and become someone else’s problem. They want to bring in a shorter licence period so any London cab will have a working life of only twelve years. No, I don’t want to drive a twelve year old cab either, but the shortage of cabs to buy or rent has already started with the de-licencing scheme, and will surely get a lot worse.
I worked out that my cab is used little over 20% of the time. I thought of de-licensing it, but there’s still no affordable cab available to buy, and there’s a shortage of cabs to rent. Maybe we should all be thinking of renting our cabs out when we’re not using them? We could see a return to the tradition of drivers doubling-up: one driver using the cab in the daytime, and another using it at night. As the 2,500th electric taxi rolls off the production line I doubt their new owners will be able to afford to have their sixty-grand cabs sitting around doing nothing.
So, they don’t want us driving, and they don’t want us not driving. A lot of people make a lot of money out of motorists: a diverse selection of folk working to different agendas. Some want us to keep buying cars as it’s good for the economy, while others tax us to an inch of our lives, and fine and charge us for driving where they don’t want us to go. The government are still making money from the exorbitant taxing of petrol and diesel, but they’ll surely want to find other ways to make up their money when electric vehicles become more popular. All interested parties lose money when our vehicles are laid up on the driveway.
Ps. cycles probably aren’t being ridden 98% of the time so beware a campaign in the near future.
(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!
(Original edit of article written for Taxi magazine).
Reports suggest that cab passengers will soon be able to get alerts when the Google app they are using senses that you have strayed off course. Minor diversions shouldn’t trigger an alarm, but if you go off course more than 500 metres you might have to explain yourself. I don’t think I’m being controversial in saying that it’s largely the private hire competition who are going to be the more nervous, though we’re all likely to get the occasional passenger who thinks they know more than we do about the geography of London. I don’t know about you, but I trust my own judgement over a computer anytime.
I first became aware that customers were following my route on a phone app about five years ago. After a short hop from The Mall into Soho, my Indian man beamed and said “very good.” It was good to get the vote of confidence, though I had nothing to worry about. On a different run the bells might have been ringing though. I’m sure almost all cab drivers going from Central London to Heathrow use the M4. Look at a map: we should be using Bath Road for some of those runs to Terminal 5. Someone following the route on an app might question this. I’ll go any way a passenger wants me to go. If anyone ever questions me over a run to Heathrow I’d me more than happy to sit on Bath Road and go around those roundabouts and around buses.
I’m unsure if the new alerts on Google will factor in the time element. Or the pain-in-the-arse element. Have a look at Victoria to Cricklewood. It’s a straight line, so would satisfy the bots at Google. Have you ever tried driving from Marble Arch to Cricklewood? I go home via the M1 so if I ever finish near Victoria I make for Staples Corner. I wouldn’t go up Edgware Road though! It involves negotiating two of London’s most slow and challenging gyratories: Hyde Park Corner and Marble Arch. Then there’s the crawl up Edgware Road. If the shisha fumes don’t overcome you, the stop-start traffic will. It goes on for miles, dragging through Kilburn and Cricklewood. West End Lane is no better.
Driving myself home I usually bypass Marble Arch and go through Mayfair. Once I’m on Regent Street I just go straight up into Regent’s Park and come off at Avenue Road. It’s a much longer route than going straight up Edgware Road, but it’s faster. Carrying a passenger it may or may not save money as well as time. Finchley Road can be bad with all the buses and coaches, so I sometimes use Fitzjohns Avenue.
A satnav only shows you one way, unless you fiddle about with the settings. Both the shortest or fastest route settings are pretty useless in London. I also warn against using a satnav if you’re on holiday in Wales. I once set the satnav for a route that would have been simplicity itself had I followed a map in the traditional way. My satnav’s shortest route sent me down narrow country lanes for miles. It was a very stressful experience.
A satnav doesn’t take into consideration road closures – I’m unsure if the new Google app does. Cannon Street has hardly been open since they closed Bank Junction off a few years ago. The Bank closure left Cannon Street as the only sensible option through the City, but it’s never open. At the time of writing half of Mayfair and Marylebone is closed. I think the closures are temporary, but who knows? Even if there’s a yellow sign up, they don’t tell you much.
Our Knowledge training teaches us to use the shortest route. It’s right and proper that our default is set to the shortest route, but in practice we need to employ our own internal computer – our brain – to find the optimum route in any given situation. Traffic conditions change throughout the day. With experience we learn what certain roads are going to behave like at certain times of the day. It’s a huge matter of pride that we know the shortest route. We’re proud of our lines, but sometimes they’re out the window when we need to keep moving to save time. The skill is to have alternatives stored in our brains to use when traffic is heavy. This is where misunderstanding can occur. Thankfully few people question us, as our customers usually have confidence in our judgment.
We could get a few more questions as more people follow the route, preparing themselves for an alarm bell to go off on their new Google app; but we’ve every right to feel confidence in our abilities to both know the shortest route, and to get out of trouble if we need to take evasive action due to heavy traffic or road closures. The situation is worse for our mini friends who have largely learnt on the job, often slavishly following a satnav. Our work is cut out keeping up with the constant changes to our road systems and traffic behaviour. We know that a satnav won’t get us out of trouble, but our brains just might.
(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.
(Original edit of article written for Taxi magazine)
Donald Trump called the London Mayor, Sadiq Khan, a “stone cold loser” when he visited these shores in May. Although Trump was referring to violent crime rather than charging points for electric cabs, Sadiq really could prove to be a loser when the Mayoral elections come up next year.
While being quizzed by Conservative Assembly Member, Shaun Bailey, on the number of electrical charging points for taxis, Mr Khan said there were enough charging points “as things stand.” A rather cavalier comment, if I may say so. As of May 8th there were over 200 rapid charging points. This includes 72 dedicated to taxis. London boroughs have also installed over 1,000 lamp column charging points for overnight charging. There might just be enough charging points right now, but there are over 2,000 electric cabs in London and that number is growing fast. Around 40 new electric cabs are being bought every week. It’s the Mayor who told us to go electric and stopped us buying new diesels. It’s his responsibility to provide the infrastructure. If the self-styled electric warrior doesn’t see a problem looming, he’ll be caught out later on.
There are websites showing the location of charging points, but nobody should have to consult the internet to plan their re-fuelling. If people are currently driving around looking for points, it’s going to get worse if provision doesn’t keep up with demand. Then there’s the time spent waiting to charge up. An electric cab saves money on fuel, but not on time; and as we all know, time is money. I wouldn’t want to sit around for half an hour just to save a couple of quid. The situation isn’t so bad for the civilian car driver who doesn’t clock up the kind of miles that a taxi does. Many of us need to drive many miles before we can even start work. I burn up 70 miles just driving into Central London and back, then add another 60 or 70 miles in stop-start urban traffic. The current TXE has a petrol engine back-up, but it would still need a daily charge. Forthcoming electric taxis probably won’t have a petrol back-up. I could easily run out of power on the M1 going home, or if I trap a roader late on in the day.
A few years ago we were told we’d have a choice of five new taxi models to choose from. We still only have one. We were meant to have a new Nissan, which was said to have a better range. This model is meant to be coming out this summer, but they’ve been saying that for years.
The cost of the vehicle is a big factor too. We don’t know how much any new cab is going to cost. The TXE is out of the price range of many drivers, and I’m surprised they’ve sold so many. Who are buying these sixty-grand cabs? Clearly people who are working longer hours than I am. Will the TXE continue to sell well? It’s surely dependent on the Mayor’s attitude to charging. We need confidence that he’s committed to the electronic switchover, but we’re not getting it.
It’s inevitable that the current (current – get it?) price of charging will prove to be an introductory offer. The government will want to get the money back it’s losing on petrol and diesel tax. There could come a time when electrical re-fuelling becomes as expensive as diesel, but taking much longer to do. Anyway, that’s a matter for the government and whoever sails in her, to sort out in the coming years. In the meantime, the Mayoral candidates need to be grilled on their plans for electrical charging. The people of London can then decide.
Cab families make up a fair chunk of the electorate. I’m unable to vote as I live well out of London, but I can’t afford to be smug as I’m as affected by many of the goings on within the M25 as those who live there (though I’m glad my Council Tax didn’t go towards Boris’s garden bridge project which had to be abandoned by the new Mayor in order to save further waste – to think Boris is likely to be our new Prime Minister in a couple of weeks!).
I hear Mr Khan is planning a no-car day in London on Sunday September 22nd in order to improve air quality. London’s air quality isn’t caused by extra traffic; it’s caused by daft road re-modelling. I assume he’s not including taxis and minicabs in the ban? If he does, we’ll know that he’s a loser who has really lost it.
(Original edit of article written for Taxi magazine this week).
Once again, it’s my weekend off and I’m watching TV footage of demos closing off London. Last time it was Extinction Rebellion; this time it’s the State Visit of Donald Trump. This one had a much funnier side to it though, and I really enjoyed the handbags between Trump and the London Mayor, Sadiq Khan. The American President had already caused a stir by expressing support for Brexit, and various British politicians had expressed disapproval of the President. Sadiq Khan, had called Trump a “global threat”. Jeremy Corbyn called him a “negative force” and even attended a demonstration against him. Several dignitaries declined to meet Mr Trump while he was in England, or attend the Queen’s dinner in his honour.
Mr Trump’s plane hadn’t even touched the tarmac when he started tweeting. He compared the London Mayor with his New York counterpart, calling Sadiq Khan “the twin of de Blasio, except shorter”. I was highly amused when Trump called Mr Khan a “stone cold loser”. Trump’s comments were possibly cruel, but he’d been badly let down by his hosts. Whatever you think of Donald Trump as a person, he holds the office of the President of the United States; our closest political friend. And we could do with as many friends as possible at the moment.
In the taxi game you need a sense of humour. It’s what gets us through. I found myself comparing politicians with comedians. Boris provided a few laughs as London Mayor, but there was little substance underlying his comedy (London taxpayers will remember the £513 million he wasted on a phantom garden bridge). Mayor Khan never got going, and it’s certainly not funny what he allowed to happen to London’s road systems. The new workings at Old Street gyratory make the travel news every day, and many of us have been sat behind a bus on a single lane on Tottenham Court Road since re-modelling. Artificially engineered traffic jams: he’s a real funny guy.
So who would you pay money to see at the Comedy Store? Mr Trump has the air of a seventies comedian, Mr Khan doesn’t. Trump would appeal to the old school Bernard Manning-type crowd, while Mayor Khan would be more like Ben Elton in the eighties, going on about Mrs Thatch, only less funny. I bet Trump gets on great with Prince Phillip. If Trump and Khan teamed up as a Little and Large type-act, Khan would definitely play the straight man. He’d be too right-on to blame Old Street on the mother-in-law. Add Boris into the mix though, and you’d have a good comedy evening to please everybody.
Trump, and his best mate, Boris, are like drunken uncles coming round at Christmas. We know they’re not PC, and we know they’ll say something outrageous. If we’re being honest, that’s why we like them, or at least find them entertaining. Boris would be an entertaining PM, but he’d soon outstay his welcome.
Mr Trump showed impressive comedy timing at a press conference during his visit. Mrs May laughed along, but I don’t think she quite gets it. Mr Khan’s people described Trump’s insults as “childish”. That’s the thing: childish humour is a very male thing. Male humour is based on insults. It means nothing. It’s a sign of affection. Look at the way we talk to each other in the cab caffs. You’re not accepted until you’re given a nickname and are insulted every time you make an entrance. Men enjoy the same humour we did in the school playground. My wife humours me with a strained grin when I chase around the kitchen pretending I’m Leatherface from The Texas Chainsaw Massacre every time I carve a roast with the electric knife. Every man worth his salt when presented with a torch will put it on under his chin and pretend to be a ghost, complete with “Woo!” sound effects (come on, it’s not just me, is it?…). It’s only men who play air guitar, or quote lines from our favourite films (I did it earlier in this article). Have any of us never done an impression of Robert Di Niro in Taxi Driver?
More political comedy was to come when candidates for Prime Minister jostled for position. They set out their views on Brexit, taxation – and their drugs of choice. It was all a bit silly and improbable. One hopeful said he had a cannabis lassi while backpacking through India, while another took opium at a wedding in Iran. As you do. Boris once claimed to have tried coke, but sneezed at the moment of impact and missed out on the powder. The regular dope-smokers were pretty much ignored, but Michael Gove was singled out for special treatment. I’m not sure why, and it’s hard to gauge whether public opinion of him has become worse or better. Mr Gove has something of the Mr Bean about him, and I think he’s made himself more interesting by admitting to taking cocaine twenty years ago by mistake. At the Comedy Store, Michael Gove could surely now tell a few spliff jokes to get the students on his side.
So, could we be getting a stoner PM? The Europeans might well be laughing at us, but we can take it. We can laugh at ourselves. The USA is our friend because of a shared language. We share culture and comedy too. So let’s hear it for Trump, Boris, Gove, and all the other greats in the great British comedy tradition.
(original edit of article for Taxi magazine).
I’ve spent a fair bit of my working life as a self-employed sole trader, with reasonably success. It doesn’t suit everybody though. You need self-discipline and a sense of responsibility.
You need self-discipline, as every day we face the choice of getting out of bed or not to go to work. No-one but yourself is going to reprimand you for taking unauthorised leave – or throwing a sickie. We need to be able to handle responsibility because when things go wrong it’s down to us to sort out. When your cab is out of commission for any reason it can cost you dearly (as I write this, my cab is in a local body shop following a disastrous inspection failure – more about that next time).
Being your own boss has its advantages and disadvantages. You have to take the rough with the smooth. Being self-employed helps give you motivation. You never know if you’re going to have a good or bad day, but you have some influence over the outcome. As an agent of my own destiny, I can choose my own hours using the twenty-four hour clock and experiment with different hours and days. I can work longer and turn a bad day into a one. Taking things further, I can choose to take on different work completely, or start a new business. Having a portfolio career would allow me to work the cab part-time.
I’d hate to do my job for a regular wage. It would be boring and restrictive to have to work the same hours every day for the same pay. Even the wage was good I’d be going through the motions. I’d need the motivation – excitement even – to know I had the ability to motivate myself to improve things.
Working to regular hours wouldn’t suit any of us who drive cabs. What if your agreed five days included days where it’s virtually impossible to work? I like working weekends but I’m regularly having days off to avoid disruption. I wrote a whole weekend off in March: I got just three hours in on Saturday 23rd until anti-Brexit demonstrators closed off Central London. I didn’t bother at all the following day when a half-marathon shut many of London’s key routes.
I could be having a slow day, and I’m watching the clock until I feel I’ve put in a shift and can justify heading home. Out of nowhere, someone stops me and asks for Terminal 5. A bad day has suddenly turned into a good day. This has often happened when I’m thinking of home but open to one last job.
A guaranteed income is over-rated. Whatever you’re paid you cut your cloth accordingly. If you’re not being paid much you know you’re not going to afford many luxuries, and if you sail too close to the wind, when unforeseen things happen and you’re presented with an unexpected bill, you’re in trouble. If you’re on good pay, you will get used to that level of income, and whatever you earn will be eaten up. It’s the same with having time on your hands: however much free time you have you’ll always find something to fill it with.
There’s also the matter of tax and National Insurance. It costs a lot to keep a cab on the road, but our tax bills are negligible compared with employees on similar pay. When I joined TfL as a Knowledge Examiner I was on a decent wage, but I was shocked when I received my first pay slip and saw how much I was deducted. When things were running well I was financially better off on the cab, even taking into account holiday and sick pay.
I’ve tried other self-employed pursuits, including writing. Writing is even more precarious. Few people make a full time income. I’d need five columns in national magazines every week, plus a best-selling book, to make a living. It’s a nice image, tapping a few words out in your pyjamas until it’s time to go to the pub to edit your work. You clock off after five pints and congratulate on a job well done. Of course, it’s not like that. When I look at the sales for my book the pint glass is always half empty before I start. Hence the cab
As everyone knows, driving a cab is one of the best part time jobs you can have. I’m often asked if I would choose to go into this job if I had my time again. I’d say it depends on where you’re coming from. Rather than spend three years doing the Knowledge, you could go to university (I’ve done both). It’s not always the answer. Everyone’s job has got harder, and few people have job security. After university I thought I was safe as a Careers Adviser. I took voluntary redundancy in 2010 and went back on the Knowledge. The company I worked for has downsized staff every year since then, and better folk than I were unceremoniously put out to grass in middle age. That’s scary. Probably more scary than worrying about Uber.