Tag Archives: London Taxis

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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The Truth about Dogs & Cats

(From “the book they tried to ban”. My book, From Manor House Station to Gibson Square – and Back Again, will be published in a few weeks time. Here is a short excerpt from my Passengers chapter). 

Not all our passengers are human, of course. We are obliged to accommodate assistance dogs, and we sometimes get asked to transport pampered pets, and take dogs to and from the park with their owners. Our mini-cab friends are always in trouble for refusing to carry assistance dogs. Refusing blind people’s dogs has been against the law for several years, and the guidelines have been well publicised – there’s even a poster up at the testing centre where taxi and mini-cab drivers take their vehicles for its annual licensing inspection. Never mind the legislation, I go the extra mile to promote equal opportunities for animals. I’m suspicious of such people who don’t like animals. I’ve never had a problem with animals in the cab, but I’ve had plenty of problems with people.

I welcome our furry friends in all areas of life. For me, a comfortable pub is one where you have to step over a sleeping dog to get to the bar, and where the irritable pub cat dares you to try to sit on his chair. I like the way that in France you can take your pet out to dinner as part of the family. I’ve yet to see a cat or rabbit sat at the dinner table, but I love to see a dog’s head emerge from a lady’s handbag. Those Frenchies are way ahead.

I always stop to pick up people with dogs, and they’re usually grateful as they obviously get refusals. A dog invariably settles straight down to enjoy the ride in quiet contemplation – as our human customers should do. I’ve never carried a dog that was loud and obnoxious through drink, has changed its mind where it wants to go, has criticised my route, has picked the rubber off the armrest, or has left pistachio shells all over the carpet.

I never had kids because I felt I was never earning enough money. I’m not especially keen on children anyway, and I certainly wouldn’t want any in the house. I prefer pets. Dogs are fine, but I prefer cats. Dogs are too conformist. Cats are free-thinking individuals, and I can relate to that. Tell a dog what to do, and it’ll do it without thinking. A cat shows a healthy disrespect for authority and will ignore you if it doesn’t like what’s being suggested, or stare you down in a challenging way. Badly behaved pets are the most entertaining. I like a pet I can have a fight with.  It’s not all violence though: most cats have an affectionate side. They’re just discerning and cautious. They need to get to know you first.

Many people believe dogs are more intelligent than cats, but that’s only because cats are uncooperative. They’re difficult to test because they get bored and walk off. The cat is the only domestic pet that has total freedom to come and go as it pleases. Other pets must resent that. If you don’t feed him right, your faithful house-tiger will simply move next door. Fur Q. You know you are a good person if your pet doesn’t run away. The cat thinks of itself as the master and you as the pet. That’s fine: let them think they’re the boss and they’re happy. I have a cat and I have a rabbit. Rabbits are pretty mad too.

My strangest cab job involving an animal happened in 2014 after responding to an account call in Soho. I waited a fair time until a woman got in with a dog. She sent me to Barking Bettys in Battersea (“Grooming for the Urban Dog”). The lady asked me to wait 20 minutes, then take them back to Soho. Parking wasn’t a problem in Battersea, so I was happy to do so. She took the woofer to Betty’s, then returned to say it would take an hour. The woman sat in the cab while doggie was pampered, and the clock ticked over 20p every few seconds.

The pampering took even longer than anticipated and the lady decided she needed the loo. She found a café to use, though I thought afterwards that she could have used a litter tray at Barking Betty’s.

In the end I waited 2 ¾ hours, but we got back to Soho quickly and everyone was happy. God knows who the account holder was, but it cost them £164 (plus automatic tip). The dog looked clean and happy, clearly oblivious to the expense involved. I’m not sure who was the most barking that day.

 

 

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Toilets & Cycles

(Original edit of article for Taxi magazine).

 

I always read Transport for London’s OnRoute magazine. It might be a bit dry and self-congratulatory at times, but there are always some interesting articles relevant to our work. A couple of pieces particularly interested me in the last edition.

There was a useful piece entitled At your Convenience. This tackled the thorny subject of where those of us who drive around London all day can find toilets. Unsurprisingly there are apps available to help; such as Toilet Finder, Flush Toilet Finder and City Toilet Finder. There’s also a Great British Toilet Map available to toilet aficionados nationwide. Accompanying the listings, the apps no doubt list consumer reviews and star ratings too. None of this sounds as exciting as Trip Advisor, but probably useful to those about to be caught short while driving, but with just enough time to spend on the internet in an endeavour to locate facilities.

London train and tube stations are listed in the TfL magazine. A surprising number of stations have toilet facilities. While this is good to know, the most useful thing missing from the article is information on parking. It’s nice to know there are loos at Old Street, Piccadilly Circus, and – Lord help us – Bank; but where are the parking facilities? There’s also a toilet at Regency Place, of course, but many drivers have found out that they also train parking cameras in the immediate vicinity. Has anyone ever nipped into the terminals at Heathrow or City Airports? I often consider it when I’ve dropped off at Heathrow, but I’ve never chanced it. I can just imagine the authorities itching to destroy an unattended taxi in a controlled explosion for the fun of it.

Another useful OnRoute article gives advice to motorists on keeping cyclists safe. There’s nothing wrong with the advice given: giving room, and checking for “cyclists, pedestrians and motorcyclists who may weave through stationary traffic.” It’s one-sided though, as it gives no advice to cyclists: ie. To obey traffic systems and one-way workings; to use lights at night; not to ride on pavements; not to undertake; and no using the cobbled central strip on The Strand as a cycle superhighway. It would be useful to advise caution to cyclists – and pedestrians – when weaving through stationary traffic, rather than put the onus on the motorist to avoid them. How much space are cyclists advised to leave for us when they’re sprinting through roadworks?

I didn’t know there’s a £100 fine, and three points on a licence, for motorists who enter the advanced stop line box at a red light. Sometimes you accidently get caught in the box when the lights change and you don’t want to risk a collision by braking sharply with that over-laden Spanish artic behind you. Enforcement seems to be zero. I’ve never seen anyone been pulled up for sitting in this box. Cars, vans – and yes, even cabs do it; but the box is usually full of motorbikes. It intimidates and endangers cyclists, so maybe they should train traffic enforcement cameras on these boxes as well as – or instead of – box junctions? Some box junctions have their uses – the Euston Road/Upper Woburn Place one for example; but many others are used to generate money.

Too many vehicles sit in cycle lanes too. There are usually about twenty vans in the contra flow cycle lane in Chancery Lane. I know maintaining cameras costs money, but they’d pay for themselves. We generally don’t like cameras, but I’d rather they catch people here than people who’ve accidently been caught on the yellow grid of a box junction.

While on the subject of box junctions, here’s a postscript to an article I wrote about PCNs a couple of months ago. You might remember how I trumpeted the announcement that I was aiming to get my PCN average down to zero this year? Well, two days after emailing the piece off I received a PCN for being in a box junction on Westminster Bridge Road. I fear this subject might run and run…

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Are You Uber in Disguise?

(Original medit of article for Taxi magazine).

I was dismayed to hear that a case of touting in Reading by a TfL licensed minicab was thrown out. Part of the reason given was that the car wasn’t easily identified as a private hire vehicle because nobody could read the TfL licence roundel on the back window.

There are around 24,000 taxi drivers competing with around 114,000 private hire drivers (21,000 actual taxis and 87,000 PH vehicles). We’re easily identified, our competitors are not. Most London-licensed private hire vehicles carry no identifying marks, apart from the little sticker on the back window. The sticker might as well be an Aero wrapper. You won’t notice it on a tinted window unless you are two feet away from the vehicle, and you won’t be able to read the licence number until you are at point-blank range. There are no PH plates or roof signs, by law.

With all the talk about congestion and pollution, I wonder if TfL are disguising their licenced private hire cars on purpose. Are they now ashamed of their unrestricted private hire licensing policy? I think so. I think if the public noticed that nearly every “private” car in Central London was actually a minicab they’d raise a fuss and force TfL to do something.

There are currently 87,000 minicabs exempt from the Congestion Charge. It’s good that they are considering making PH drivers pay the charge, but I’m sceptical it’ll ever happen anytime soon. Like the various Uber issues, there will be years of legal wrangling and court appeals. By the time the charge is brought in most vehicles will be electric and exempt anyway. Or the whole taxi and private hire trade will be run by self-driving pods.

The New York licensing authority is planning to cap the number of Uber cars licensed. TfL keep saying they need an Act of Parliament before they can cap private hire licensing. A while back, Mayor Khan claimed to have tried to get the government to change its unlimited licensing policy, but didn’t hear back. We now hear he’s written to the Transport Secretary, Chris Grayling. Let’s hope he put a stamp on the letter this time.

Note that the figures above relate to the whole of the Greater London boroughs. Taxi licences also include yellow badge drivers licensed only for certain outer-London boroughs. Drivers licensed in Barnet and Enfield and Hounslow are not allowed to pick up in inner-London’s green badge area. Minicabs can operate all over London – and semi-legally, it seems, in any other towns of the driver’s choosing, such as in Brighton, Southend and at Gatwick Airport. Uber even tried to draw up their own borders!

The issue of cross-border hiring surely affects provincial towns more than it affects London: it seems London-licenced private hire cars are running riot in the provinces. Maybe there should be private hire sectors, such as the taxis’ Suburban sectors?

TfL have tightened up a bit on its licensing requirements, but there’s still a long way to go before adequate standards are put in place. TfL are still one of the country’s go-to authorities for a quickie PH licence, with few questions asked, and inadequate checking of criminal records and insurance.

Of course, we go back to the identification problem: nobody can identify TfL private hire vehicles. The issue of identification will remain should cross border hiring be curtailed. And it seems while identification is an issue, enforcement will remain impossible.

Private hire drivers disguise themselves pretty well too. “A Minicab driver? Who me?” However smartly Uber drivers dress, they’re still minicab drivers, and they’re still driving for a minicab company. The smart, sombre, attire is worn to confuse us: are they over-dressed minicab drivers, or MI5 operatives? TfL love black suits. As a Knowledge Examiner I sometimes had to ask the Men in Black to help me access the Palestra building when my swipe card stopped working. Everyone’s a terrorist suspect at TfL, and everyone who works on the front line carries a serious demeanour. I find it amusing now I’m no longer there, but it must have scared the life out of the Knowledge Boys and Girls who used to go up to Palestra for an Appearance. Personally, I don’t trust anyone who wears a black suit in the daytime!

I presume TfL also license tour buses? After a weekend of being caught behind buses blocking up Ludgate Hill and Buckingham Palace Road I wondered what London would look like if tour bus numbers ever reach 113,000?

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Knowledge Promotion

(Original edit of article for Taxi magazine).

 

I don’t spend much time surfing the net. I prefer to read proper magazines, made of paper. It was a friend who alerted me to the adverts promoting a career in the London taxi trade. He’d seen the Knowledge promotion on Instagram (I’m not exactly sure what Instagram is; like Teletext for young people, I should imagine).

I completed the Knowledge nearly thirty years ago, in December 1988. A week or so after getting my badge, an old-hand asked me how long it took me to pass the Knowledge and join the trade. He then helpfully informed me it would take me longer than 3 ½ years to get out of it. No doubt he’d had drivers telling him the same in the 1950s and felt the need to pass on this priceless nugget of information. I was earning good money and had more work than I could handle. I laughed off his advice and have always resisted the temptation to give the “Game’s Dead” treatment to a Knowledge Boy.

I did eventually leave the trade to do other things, and I foolishly allowed my cab licence to lapse. By 2001 I was a careers adviser. Nine years on and I was fed up of it: I was disillusioned with the politics, and felt the need to run my own show again. Although I was living seventy miles out in Northampton I started the Knowledge again. I reckoned it would take me about two years. After four months I was invited to a re-test. I didn’t know such a thing existed. I felt ill-prepared, but I somehow showed enough to gain a new licence after one mammoth Appearance with the legendary Mr Wilkin.

Work levels weren’t as high as they were on my return to the trade in 2010, but I couldn’t complain. Things are certainly tougher now and we can’t be certain that things will improve. New applicants need to know they are taking on something worthwhile. This isn’t a career where you can dip your toe in to test the water; you have to commit to around three years of hard, headbanging study, and a series of traumatic exams. Only then can you try it and see if you like it.

Fewer than 700 students are currently studying the Knowledge – nearly an 80% reduction in just a few years. More drivers are retiring than joining the trade. I’ve said a few times within these pages that driver numbers need to be maintained so we have collective power. We need to be part of a thriving trade, constantly topped up with new blood when older drivers leave, or go to the great cab rank in the sky. We need enough drivers to service the radio circuits and app-based hailing services. The circuits also need to grow. If we fail to do so, the circuits will lose accounts. Think also of the Knowledge schools, garages, and other supporting services.

A delicate balance is needed between under and over-supply. If the Knowledge was easy, the trade would be flooded. I wouldn’t want to be part of a trade that’s over-subscribed. I’ll leave that to our competitors. Giving your drivers just enough scraps to keep them hungry and dependent only makes the owners prosper.

The toughness of the Knowledge creates comradeship. Everyone who completes it joins an elite band of people who have achieved something monumental. If it was easy, it wouldn’t have so much value. But it shouldn’t be so tough as to deter people who could become really good cab drivers. The Knowledge needs to be firm, but fair. I’ve spoken up against the practice of Red-Lining recently. This is where a Knowledge candidate can be put back a stage should he or she fail to gain enough marks within a particular stage. It’s right that you should stay on the treadmill if you’re not progressing, but you should never be put back. This is the sort of thing that puts people off.

The new Knowledge promotion rightly stresses the trade’s inclusivity. It doesn’t matter about your background; whether you’ve a university degree, or were expelled from a sink Comprehensive. All you need is motivation and the determination to succeed.

So who might be interested in signing up? It depends on where you are coming from. People join the cab trade after doing other things. It’s not a school-leaver’s career. You need a bit of adult disillusionment in the world of work first. If you’re happy with your job, fine. Many people’s jobs have both got harder, and less secure. Is it more risky going on the Knowledge, or staying where you are while things deteriorate and you become at ripe for redundancy? My job in 2010 seemed secure, but it wasn’t. It certainly wasn’t fun anymore. It was more of a risk to stay on.

It’s very competitive out there on the streets. We’re being undercut by Uber, and Uber themselves are being undercut by new outfits. We’ll surely go through more periods of uncertainty before things settle, but we’ll come through. It could well be a good time to start the Knowledge.

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The Book they tried to Ban: Brexit Rant

My book is still a couple of months away from publication. Here’s an excerpt from a chapter that I didn’t include in the final draft.

 

Don’t Mention the War

I didn’t feel strongly either way, but I voted to leave the European Union. The EU had expanded to include former Communist countries. Some of the new entrants had very different cultures from the established EU members. They had no experience of mass immigration and they had much weaker economies. I couldn’t see what they were bringing to the party. We had the fifth strongest economy in the world at the time of the referendum. Maybe we should have helped form a breakaway Premier League?

A couple of the new member countries made it clear they weren’t going to take their share of refugees from Syria if they were asked to. Other member countries had economic problems, and it looked for a time as if they might be forced to leave the union. Citizens in other member countries also wanted to leave the EU. So, if the EU was to break up, someone had to be the first to leave and make the first move. Someone had to be Ginger Spice.

If anyone is to blame should the whole thing go tits-up, it’s Cameron’s fault for calling a referendum. The government made no provision for a leave vote whatsoever. For me, all the pathetic scare-mongering from people like George Osborne helped make my mind up how to vote. Maybe it was a token gesture on my part to call their bluff, but none of us expected the leave result.

I was now apparently a “Hard Brexiteer” because I took the government’s pre-referendum flyer as gospel. They led us to believe it would be easy. Cameron was going to invoke European Union Article 50 the following day and we would leave the EU lock, stock and barrel. I thought we’d just cancel the direct debit and unsubscribe from the newsletter. They told us no different. Nobody said there would be months of legal wrangling before Article 50 could be activated. Nobody mentioned a huge divorce bill, a lengthy transition period, or the thorny issue of the Irish border. Unsurprisingly we have heard nary a word from Dave Cameron since he deserted us, the slimy toad.

I don’t think the EU appreciates what a sensitive issue the Irish border is. The EU wants a proper border between Northern Ireland (United Kingdom) and the Republic of Ireland (European Union), yet in other parts of Europe they allow borders where there shouldn’t be any. There’s an illegal border on Cyprus, which is EU territory. Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus, my arse – there’s no such country. It’s only recognised by Turkey. Turkish Cypriots are EU citizens, whether they like it or not. Talking of borders, the EU stayed quiet on the matter of Catalan independence in 2017. Whatever happened with Catalonia – are they independent now or not?

Brexit was subsequently blamed for many of the country’s problems. Banks and other institutions used Brexit as an excuse for making staff redundant. In the wake of the referendum, Lloyds bank announced 200 branch closures and 3,000 job cuts, but it transpired that the redundancies were planned before the referendum. The funniest claim came from Mayor Kahn and TfL who said that the “uncertainty of Brexit” was partly to blame for TfL expected loss of £400 million in 2018. It was nothing to do with Brexit. People were deserting the underground because it was overcrowded, full of rowdy people, and prone to cancellations and delays. Buses had lost their popularity because they were too slow. TfL had also shot themselves in the foot with the unrestricted licensing of private hire. This started a race to the bottom and made it cheaper to travel by mini-cab than a bus.

Many in big business are nervous about the UKs withdrawal. Of course they are. They’re worried they won’t be able to get any more cheap labour from Eastern Europe. It’s not Brexit itself which causes panic; it’s the uncertainty and the scare-mongering. Uncertainty is acerbated by the slow progress of negotiations with the EU. Mrs May took three months out for a vanity election in 2017, and talks have been conducted at a French escargot pace ever since.

The British are tough people, or at least we used to be. It’s generally older people who voted to leave the EU. The older you are, the closer you are to World War Two. Our ancestors were tough. They had to be. They needed faith and determination. Not enough people believe in the country any more. A stiff upper lip is now seen as cold and insensitive, but we need to pull together and invoke the Spirit of the Blitz once again. Sadly, it’s no longer PC to say that Britain’s great, or call to make Britain great again.

Time will tell how things will develop once we’ve left the EU. It might be a disaster. Some of our own citizens want us to get a bad deal so they can say”I told you so”. I say off to Traitors’ Gate with them. I’m still not sure how I’d vote if there was a new referendum tomorrow, though I’d probably stick with my original decision and see things through. If the referendum result isn’t respected I’ll be in Trafalgar Square with Nigel Farage setting fire to the EU flag.

The EU had to make it difficult for us in order to warn others about having the same ideas about leaving, but how dare they ask us for all that money? I can’t help thinking that the EU is something of a boys’ club, and I wonder how much money is spent on fat cat pensions and the EU wine cellar (admittedly, I might be sore because I don’t have a pension. Or a wine cellar).

I suggest the EU remember what the UK did for Europe during the war. Germany built up its infrastructure quickly enough after trashing Europe. European transport systems make ours look like the third world. Britain’s Family silver had been sold off to foreign investors years’ ago. Foreign transport systems are cheaper and more efficient than our own. Is this because so many of our transport systems are run by European governments? It’s the same with our domestic energy supply. We had rationing until 1953. We didn’t pay off war-time loans to the USA until 2006 – around £27 billion in today’s values. Other countries progressed while we were still crippled with debt from the war. I think we deserve some respect. If I was Mrs May I’d tell the EU to bugger off, we don’t owe you anything.

People confuse the EU with Europe and think you’re anti-European if you want to leave the EU. You can still drink fine wine in Paris and eat cheese strained through an old man’s sock. You can still lie on a Spanish beach until you turn red and sizzle like a chorizo sausage. You can still drink murky over-strength ales in a Belgian bar. You can still do whatever you normally do on a weekend in Amsterdam they can’t touch you for it.

I’m sorry we’re not such close trading partners, and that borders will re-appear, but I love Europe and Europeans, and I shall continue to take most of my holidays within the EU and the English-speaking world. Admittedly, preference is given to those countries that were on our side in the war. The European project has sidelined the Commonwealth countries: countries with whom we share deep ties, and a common language. A few of them mght have funny ideas about civil rights, and they might put your head on a spike if they think you might be gay; but during the war our Commonwealth cousins rallied round. There were also the plucky Poles, Czechs, Greeks and Scandinavians. But lest we forget, there were also some Bayern Munich-supporting wannabees who aligned themselves with the team they expected to win. They know who they are. It’s sad that the Germans are still telling the Greeks what to do. Search out the World at War series on the Yesterday channel for further details. I guarantee you’ll be a frothy-mouthed Hard Brextremist by the end of it – though I warn you though, that the series lasts longer than the actual war.

So what’s all this got to do with the London cab trade, I hear you ask. Probably nothing. Who knows? Anyway, I’ve gone on a bit in this section. File my ideas under half-baked if you want to, but I reckon I know as much about it as some of the so-called experts I hear on radio phone-ins.

 

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Taxing the Poor

(Original edit of article for Taxi magazine).

  • Two days after saying I was aiming to get my PCN average down to zero a year I got a £65 fine for slipping into a box junction on Westminster Bridge Road.

 

London is so congested and polluted that something needs to be done. Last month I filled in a Transport for London on-line consultation regarding congestion charging – including the proposal to charge mini-cabs to drive in the Congestion Zone. Well, yes; but that’s only part of the story: in giving my opinions I also suggested they strip away the cycle superhighways as a start. I reminded TfL that there is less traffic than there was a few years ago; it has just been slowed down by ill-thought out road modelling schemes.

The consultation on road-pricing got me thinking how poorer motorists are most affected by congestion charging, as well as the fines that those of us forced to drive in London inevitably pick up by being forced to park where we’re not allowed to, or by touching the sacred yellow paint of a box junction.

In 2010 I returned to the trade after eleven years of doing other things in other towns. As I planned to tackle the Knowledge for the second time I assumed Central London would now be free of traffic! Well, they’d brought in an £8 Congestion Charge – who’s going to pay that?! I reasoned. Of course, the traffic was even worse than it was when I left London. Not only that, but there were more restrictions, and there were cameras watching your every move.

There was a TV programme on in July called Killed by Debt. It was a harrowing depiction of how things can spiral out of control when you fall foul of the powers that be. It concerned the true story of a young man starting his first job, as a motorcycle courier.

When his motorcycle lets him down, he replaces it with a new bike with the help of his mum’s boyfriend. The monthly payments seemed reasonable, but the poor chap doesn’t earn as much as he expects to, and his running costs are high. Being self-employed he is responsible for his own business, and when things go wrong it is up to him to sort out.

When he picks up two PCNs, he neglects to pay within fourteen days and the fines rise sharply. Before long he’s the subject of a computerised court case and his details are passed on by Camden Council to legalised gangsters – bailiffs. The debt builds to over £1000, but the chap is too proud to ask his family for help. He loses his bike – his only way of making a living. Unable to see a way out he takes his own life.

Whenever I get a PCN, I pay it immediately then forget about it; but what if £65 represents a whole week’s profit as in this young man’s case?

I eventually got my own PCN level down to one a year, and I’m aiming for zero this year. I need to rely on luck though, as on a few occasions I have been caught on the edge of box junctions. I also did two illegals within five minutes when I was shocked by a job down to South Wimbledon and wasn’t expecting any banned left turns. Well, what does any day man know about Wimbledon?

Well-off people don’t need to worry too much about the legalities of minor driving offences or parking infringements. A box junction infringement is an inconvenience: just get your PA to deal with it and move on. It’s the same with the Congestion Charge. This just keeps the poorer motorist out of Central London. It’s mostly commercial vehicles in Central London. Few people drive up and down Regent Street for fun. The people who are forced to drive in London are the ones that suffer.

TfL, and their allies, bring in damaging road-narrowing schemes that slow the traffic down. They allow multiple road closures to occur in the same area simultaneously; and they schedule as many road closures for special events as they possibly can. They then complain that people are being killed by pollution and claim they are doing something about it. They fail to see that it’s pollution engineered by themselves (Yes, I reminded TfL of this fact in my consultation response). Let’s not forget that cab drivers are among those most affected. We’d all support sensible proposals, and sensible proposals mean keeping the traffic moving.

If petrol and diesel-powered motor vehicles are so responsible for deadly pollution they should have been banned outright. The switch to electric vehicles should have started years’ ago. All those lumbering red monsters should be operating out of garages and should not be sat blocking West End streets. Bus stands should have been converted into ranks of electrical charging points. Instead of banning motor vehicles they levy a charge that only affects the poorer drivers. You can pump as much filth into the air as you like, so long as you can pay for it.

Anyway, the consultation runs until the end of September.

 

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