Tag Archives: London Taxis

Trust Your Head

(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.

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On Your Bike

(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.

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Electric Warrior

(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.

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Live at the Comedy Store

(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.

 

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Sole Trader

(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.

 

 

 

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Minicabs & Minibuses

(Original edit of article written for this week’s edition of Taxi magazine).

 

The March 5th edition of Taxi informed us that: “An on-demand bus service allowing passengers to book their seat using an app is to be trialled by Transport for London”.

It’s unlike TfL to make things easier for bus travellers: some years ago they refused to accept cash payment, and even further back they slowed things down by making bus conductors redundant. This forced everyone to wait until everyone had boarded, scanned their cards, and the tourists had asked the driver to point out Primark on their maps, before moving off.

This is a new and exciting type of bus service though. In fact, it’s so new that I don’t think it’s a bus service at all. It’s an on-demand bus service booked through an app. In other words it’s private hire. It’s a minicab!

In a time when the taxi and private hire trades are looking for clarity as to their respective roles and responsibilities, the waters are muddied further by uncertainty. A taxi can be booked to and from a specific point, by apps and through radio circuits. They can also be hailed directly from the street or from designated ranks. Minicabs can be booked in the same way, though they aren’t allowed to respond to immediate hails (Uber, of course, work in a grey area, but they are essentially responding to immediate hailings via an app). Buses pick up and set down at regular intervals on a specified route. They work to timetables and specified fares.

We are told that customers will be able to book seats on a 14-seat minibus. There don’t seem to be bus stops, but convenient locations, including those not currently served by public transport. It still sounds like private hire to me.

TfL’s Director of Innovation (nice work if you can get it), Michael Hurwitz, wonders if the service will serve the Mayor’s Transport Strategy in reducing car dependency, and whether it “can be deployed to support the established bus network.” I don’t know: is the proposed new service supporting the established bus network, or is it undermining it? The London bus network is made up of several individual bus companies, licensed under the umbrella of TfL. We hear how the bus companies are already struggling as bus numbers are cut. Would these established bus companies lose further custom to the new service? And will there be more congestion if the new minibuses are stopping and starting on additional routes? (on roads thoughtfully narrowed by TfL?).

In questioning what constitutes a bus, we can look at other vehicles. For instance, what’s the legal definition of an ambulance? Some vehicles with “Ambulance” written on the side look like ambulances – y’know, those big yellow and green monstrosities resembling  Morrison’s delivery trucks, only noisier. Other ambulances are regular-sized cars. There are even ambulance cycles. I’m not sure how that works when you need to transport someone to hospital – give them a backy? I swear I once saw a minibus-type “Ambulance” displaying a private hire roundel.

We have cycle rickshaws the size of minis blocking up cycle lanes, and obstructing bus lanes. I recall observing these contraptions a good twenty-five years ago. Successive mayors said they’d do something about them, but they’re still here, and some of them are motorised! There are motorised cycles too – how are they allowed to use public roads?

What about the status of the road user? There is a proliferation of kids’-type scooters being ridden on roads and pavements. There’s also the occasional roller skater, skateboarder, or segeway rider:  why are they allowed to obstruct the public highway? How do we stand with insurance if we hit a bloke riding a plank of wood?

Finally a word about our taxis. As I had a new engine and gearbox fitted to my eight-year old TX4 last year I figured I’d abandon plans to part-exchange it before its licensing inspection in March. I then heard about TfL’s de-licensing scheme. This could provide me with a £10,000 windfall to put towards a new cab, and allow me to sell my redundant cab outside London. Two problems: I wanted to compare and contrast the prohibitively expensive LEVC cab with the slightly less outrageously-priced Nissan Dynamo. The Dynamo is still not available in London, so I’m in a bit of a limbo. Should I sell the cab anyway and rent a cab until I can buy a new electric one? The thing is, it could be another year before the Dynamo appears.

It’d be nice to get my hands on that £10,000 de-licensing fee though. What could I do with ten grand? Should I leave it untouched in the bank until a suitable new cab becomes available or spend a weekend at Cashino? With just a few weeks window before my cab’s licensing inspection I heard there was already a long queue of gamblers waiting to cash in their chips for a ten grand windfall. This trade is becoming quite a gamble.

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Today Luton, Tomorrow the World

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

However much we London cab drivers complain about those in power making our job more difficult, things in the provinces things are even tougher. For instance, cab drivers outside London have to pay thousands of pounds each year for permission to rank at train stations. London drivers don’t pay to rank at stations, but it’s useful to keep an eye on what’s happening outside the M25 as who knows what might happen in the future.

I take particular interest in the goings on at Luton Airport because it’s only up the road from my home in Leighton Buzzard, and it’s an airport I use every now and again for my holidays. If you’ve ever been lucky enough to take customers to Luton Airport you’ll also know that you have to pay £3 for the privilege of dropping off. You may have also heard that the airport authorities sold off taxi provision to private hire a couple of years ago.

In September we were flying out to Kefalonia from Luton, so we had the chance to see how things were working. For the outward journey, my wife arranged a fixed price fare in a Central Bedfordshire taxi. No problems there. Mo often takes a taxi to work, and her usual driver gave her a good price. He offered to pick us up when we return, but we declined. You can’t trust flights arriving on time and we didn’t want anyone waiting around for hours. There was no reason not to expect things to run just as smoothly for the return journey. I knew Luton taxis were a bit more expensive, and I knew things had changed at Luton Airport; but I still assumed it would be a simple matter of getting a cab off the rank.

I found what was happening at our local airport both depressing and confusing. The night we arrived back we followed the “Taxi” signs. We couldn’t walk straight on to the rank as there’s an Addison Lee booking office in the way. We tried to walk around it to find another way to the rank when a bloke stepped out of the shadows offering his services. He took an ID out of his pocket. It was a TfL private hire driver’s licence. I explained we were looking for a proper taxi, not private hire. He said there are no taxis at Luton Airport any more (only later did I wonder what a TfL-licenced minicab driver was doing in Bedfordshire. I neglected to inspect the licence plates, but I assume all the licenced cars at the airport would be licenced by Luton. I expect his minicab was in the car park while he touted in the darkness next to the official booking office).

What he told me was almost true though. When I spotted a solitary TX4 mixed in with the Addison Lee minicabs I found a way on to the rank and spoke to the driver. He told me that everyone working the airport is signed up with Addison Lee and we had to go through the booking system.

Knowing there was at least one taxi working the airport I approached staff in the booking hut. I requested a taxi. They said all their vehicles were taxis. I held my lip. After much deliberation between my wife and I, we decided to go with Addison Lee and see what happened. We gave our address to the woman and within seconds we had a slip of paper from a machine. The fare would be £45.25 and we’d pay cash on arrival. It was considerably more than we paid to get to Luton. Fair enough, it was nearly 10pm, but this is the price for a minicab!

On the rank, the solitary TX4 taxi was now number two. I asked the marshal if we could take this vehicle. He was reasonable enough to allow this.

I exchanged a few words with the driver on arrival. My driver was driving back to the airport. He confirmed that Luton Airport have sold off taxi provision to Addison Lee and that the only way taxis can access the airport is signing up with Addison Lee. I’m not sure if drivers have to pay AL a cut, or just subscribe to their circuit. He told me that times are hard for the local taxi drivers (I didn’t want to depress him further by asking if Uber operate in Luton). I guess the only other option is to work Luton town centre and risk the drunks and weirdos.

It’s scandalous that any taxi or private hire driver should be charged for ranking up to serve airport or station customers. As for arriving customers: they follow the Taxi sign, but it’s darn near impossible to actually find a taxi. I only managed it by having some idea of how things work. Too many people use the “Taxi” name in vain. If a “Taxi” is indicated, customers should at least be able to request one. Customers are being directed to a private hire booking hut by misleading signage. People aren’t getting what they think they are getting.

With all the talk about Uber maybe we’ve neglected the threat of our old foe Addison Lee now that the battle has moved thirty miles up the M1? We need to keep our eyes on other transport hubs as I feel this could be the thin end of the wedge.

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