Tag Archives: London Taxis

Spring Has Sprung

(The snow is a distant memory… Here’s my edit of my article published in Taxi magazine this week.  I’ve now put my ice scraper and windscreen frost sheet away for the year…)

The snow is now a distant memory. I’m confident that by the time you read this we can see sunshine and the green shoots of spring. It wasn’t like that at the beginning of the month.

I usually have Monday and Tuesday off. On Monday February 26th I was watching the BBC News. The talk was of the “Beast from the East”, the killer weather on its way from Siberia. There were dire warnings of serious travel disruption, and sub-zero temperatures that were going to cause folk to drop dead from heart attacks. Some parts of the UK were already suffering from The Beast, and it looked like we were all going to get it sometime over the next few days.

BBC reporters stood on motorway bridges and told of mayhem up north, down south, Wales and the west. Train companies had cancelled trains in areas where not a single snowflake had dropped. This both appalled and amused me. I certainly would have been annoyed had I needed to catch a train today. Anyway, how were they coping in Siberia where this weather was meant to originate from? Do the trains stop running in Iceland and Canada every winter?

The media love talking about extreme weather. I later joined in with the jovial humour by posting slightly smug messages on my blog. The sunshine was streaming through my windows as I spoke about how lovely and spring-like the weather was in Leighton Buzzard (I’d already got my sunglasses out, ready to put in the cab, and I was thinking about bringing my ice scraper inside for the next nine months).

I asked my twelve or so blog followers why this country grinds to a halt at the first drop of a snowflake. I spoke about the woman I saw leaving the gym that morning. She had a hat on and she was only walking to the car park a few yards away. Yes, it was cold, but I wore my shorts at Morrison’s as I always do when I’ve come straight from the gym. I later caught a bus into the town centre. They were talking about grim weather coming in the Golden Bell. The bus drivers were talking excitedly about the day off they were going to enjoy the following day when the Beast hit Bedfordshire. Dream on, I thought.

Tuesday was the same: cold but sunny.

I woke up as normal on Wednesday and prepared for work. I looked out of the window and there was a blanket of white. Oh dear. There were four inches of snow on the cab roof, and it was still snowing lightly. Even the cat refused to go out for a look.

I was now faced with the dilemma of trying to make it to London and hope things were all right there, or write the day off. It’s a terrible dilemma when you’re self-employed as if you don’t work you don’t get paid. I thought of those delivery people on zero-hours contracts who were facing the same choice. We’re all on tight margins.

Even if I could get the cab out of the car park at the back of my house I would still be faced with treacherous snow-covered roads on my estate. I found out later the main roads were passable, but a lot could happen in the forty miles between here and London. And what if I got a job to Hampstead Village or somewhere and got stuck there? The TV was already showing vehicles stuck on motorways for several hours. I took the only decision I felt I could and called a writing day.

Thursday was also snowed off. Unbelievably it was now March, and the start of spring.

If anything, things were even worse on Friday. I’d enjoyed a couple of days off, but by now I was fed up and really wanted it to end.

I was confident I’d be able to work Saturday. I started the cab, but I wasn’t confident in getting off the driveway and around the little roads without getting stuck. I felt my time would be better spent on an early lunch at Wetherspoons so walked into town. Just about everyone else had the same idea. The pub was packed at 11.45. It was like the Spirit of the Blitz and we were all huddled down a tube station waiting for the all clear. By the way, if you’re writing a book, as I am, you have every justification for sitting in pubs. I was editing my work. I was working. While there was no guilt on that score, my food and drink bill was mounting.

Most of the snow had cleared by Sunday and I got a decent day’s work in. In London you wouldn’t have known anything untoward had happened weather-wise at all. Spring was coming, I was sure of it. And feeling hopeful, I declared the kipper season over.

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Boris and his Bridges

(Original edit of article written for Taxi magazine).

So, Boris Johnson has suggested a bridge spanning the English Channel? It’s a shame no-one has supported his idea – it sounds great! The idea might seem fanciful, but it’s entirely possible that Boris’s idea could be realised with the right backing. Had the French suggested it, the suggestion would have been taken seriously, but because it’s that mischievous mop-top, people just laugh about it. Maybe people remember his garden bridge idea, the one that cost the taxpayer £46 million without a brick being laid? Fair enough, but at least he has a go.

The bridge idea seems strange in the light of Britain’s forthcoming exit from the European Union, but if we managed to bridge the English Channel, it would open France wide open to both tourism and commuters. Structurally it’s do-able.

A bridge would be much more versatile than the present tunnels for trucks and trains. A bridge could open up the continent to many forms of transport, including pedestrians. There could be some kind of tram connecting the two towns at both ends. Pedestrians wouldn’t normally be expected to walk the whole length, but there could be a rank of Boris Bikes at the foot of the bridge. I wonder if taxi drivers from Kent ever get any runs to France? The bridge could lend itself to fixed-price shuttle services from both the English and the French side (cross-border hiring legislation will need to be looked at).

Any new bridge project would have to be planned properly though. Would it be built to British or French specifications? Would they switch to driving on the other side of the road half way over? The bridge would have to be very long, but also very wide. I expect the French would want to build a few wine bars and patisseries on it. Very nice too. And they’d need a bit of greenery on which to walk their little doggiess. This could be a garden bridge by the back door, only bigger and better.

A bridge administered by the British is more troubling – just look at the London bridges that we are familiar with. Although it would be in Kent, the British section would no doubt be run in accordance with TfL’s anti-motorist agenda. How long before contractors are sent to mark out cycle lanes? A paved strip will then appear down the middle of the carriageway, to provide jaywalkers an unlimited crossing space, and to provide an extra lane for cyclists and motorcyclists, just like Regent Street or The Stand. Segregated vehicle, cycle and pedestrian lanes – by all means; but please don’t let it resemble the chaos of the London bridges. It’s not just the old mayor that we need to worry about; the present one needs watching too.

The foot of the bridge would soon become an untidy mess of rickshaws and Uber cars. Ice cream vans will appear on the bridge; plus pavement artists, blokes painted silver, &c., &c…  I feel sorry for the good burghers of Dover or Calais if that bloke with the bagpipes re-locates from Westminster Bridge.

It must be about twenty-six miles from Dover to Calais – about the same length of a marathon. This won’t go un-noticed by interested parties. In no time, the bridge will start being closed for running and cycling events; perhaps food festivals, bus rallies, Pedestrian-only shopping Sundays, and American football promotions. Imagine the Christmas light switch-on?

Some people think travel through the European Union will become more difficult, but I don’t think things will change too much. We had to show passports at the French border in the 70s, and we still do. Security would have to be high though, and that’s not cheap. A new border would be created with passport and immigration checks. If there are any terrorist incidents in Europe, it won’t be long before metal barriers are put in to narrow everything down further.

None of this will affect us in London, but British pride is at stake. We have the opportunity to show our EU friends across the water that we’re still open for business and that we are still proud Europeans. We don’t need celebs to open the bridge; just someone with some enthusiasm: I’d have the chap with the flags at that tourist shop on Piccadilly Circus to do it.

It’s an exciting vision from Boris, and I commend it to the house.

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Follow that Bus!

(original edit of article written for Taxi magazine, with original title).

We were told access to Bank Junction was denied to taxis because of safety concerns, but we all know it’s really about TfL protecting bus timings – and making a bit of money on the side.  If it was about safety they’d realise it was more hazardous having taxis, mini-cabs and vans tearing around Lothbury and Bartholomew Lane to by-pass Bank Junction, than to have vehicles forming an orderly queue at the lights at Poultry.

The authorities won’t tell us how many cabs are involved in accident statistics, but bus accident figures are high.  Twenty-five people have died in bus-related incidents in London over the last two years, mostly pedestrians.  Around 12,000 people were injured.  Incredibly, the bus companies have targets for punctuality, but not for reducing accidents.  Driving a bus must be the hardest , most hazardous, job in London.  Their drivers are under immense pressure, and have many distractions as they go about their work.

I’m not sure if buses still have an Inspector Blake-type figure telling drivers to “Get that bus out!”, but bus operators clearly have their work cut out keeping to timetables.  Timings are affected because of madcap road remodelling projects, and by allowing multiple road and building works to close roads at the same time.  The bus companies are controlled by TfL, who have allowed the chaos in the first place.  TfL licence cabs as well as buses, but we get few concessions:  they only look after bus drivers and cyclists.

Timings are important to the bus companies because they are losing customers.  Half empty buses crawl along like a solid block of red on Regent Street, then queue to clear junctions like Oxford Circus, or to block everyone else at Piccadilly Circus.  Many of the roads buses use have been narrowed, making it impossible to get past them.  It’s not their fault, it’s the system.  I shudder when I see a bus bound for Streatham or Crystal Palace.  We sometimes grumble about going into the Deep South, but imagine what it must be like dragging a bus through Camberwell and Brixton.  Or sitting on one as a passenger.

I’m more a West End than a City man, but the closure of Bank Junction impacted on me when I took an account customer from St James’s Square to the Mansion House for a function.  I didn’t panic because I knew I could swing around into Bucklesbury before being confronted by the blue warning signs.  However, Bucklesbury was closed and I had to discharge my dinner-suited gent next to a building site, and amongst a gaggle of mini-cabs that had done the same thing.  If there’s another entrance to the Mansion House outside the exclusion zone I’m not aware of it.  How do we access Number One Lombard Street or the Ned Hotel?  How do we get a wheelchair there?  We’d been making great strides in making buildings accessible, but things are being reversed in the misguided name of safety.

Further west I’ve noticed bollards blocking the entrance to the Lyceum Theatre too.  And where does safety fit in with allowing the drivers of the number 3 bus to park up for their break on the cycle Lane in Jermyn Street?.

I’m dismayed people have been fined for driving into Cornhill from Leadenhall Street.  I also thought the warning sign referred to the section further towards Bank Junction.  The City of London notification concerning the closure features a map.  It’s in different colours.  It reminds me of the maps we received prior to the Olympics.  Maybe I’m being over-cynical but both maps gave the impression they were designed to confuse us.  The exclusion zone is in red, and the “Access Only” sector is coloured blue.  This looks like you can drive into Cornhill to access the Royal Exchange.  The map also gives the impression you can drive into Cornhill and leave by Finch Lane before you hit the red section.  I sincerely hope those drivers fined will get their money back with an apology.

You can do what you want at the weekend, so for the purposes of research I drove around there the other weekend.  It seems you can access Cornhill from a left turn from Threadneedle Street.  I couldn’t check the signage coming into Cornhill from Leadenhall Street as the road was closed.  It’s only open two days a week, and it was closed!

Motorists have lost an incredible amount of road space over the last couple of years.  The East-West Cycle Superhighway is congested most of the time, even at the weekends.  If the traffic is bad driving from Westminster to the Tower we need to think twice before diverting away into quieter streets.  With Bank Junction out of bounds, we know we are likely to get caught in heavy traffic in Eastcheap.

The recent spate of road closures are meant to be about safety, but the congestion is causing pollution, which is killing people.  The Ambulance service has complained that they can’t get past on emergency calls.  This is also killing people.  It’s not for safety, it’s against taxis – and other motorists. The closure of Bank Junction is only a trial, but from day one it was a cash from cameras scheme, bringing in a whopping 16K an hour!  It’s generating money for nothing, and we’re paying for it.

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Round the U-Bend

(Original edit of article for Taxi magazine).

Some people still think there are too many cabs on the streets – or more accurately, too many cab drivers.  In fact, driver numbers are reducing, and there are fewer people starting the Knowledge. Drivers are retiring, and fewer would-be cab drivers are prepared to sign up for three years of blood, sweat and tears; not knowing what kind of future the trade holds for them.  Their big question is:  will Uber destroy the London cab trade?

Uber’s aim is clear:  to build up a power base of investors and government lobbyists, then use loopholes in taxi and private hire legislation in order to dismantle taxi and private hire operations around the world (well done to Reading and North Tyneside for having the courage to ban Uber).

There’s been a lot of talk about English tests for private hire drivers, but it’s a minor factor.  It might slow licensing down, but other factors are likely to prove more decisive.  The employment status factor is interesting:  should Uber lose their appeal and be forced to treat its drivers as employees, they will have to provide the rights and benefits that apply to regular employees.  Uber can currently undercut taxis and competing PH firms, but if they are forced to grant employment rights it’s a different story.  Uber’s business model will be destroyed and it won’t be able to sustain cheap fares.

Then there’s the publicity angle.  Many high-ranking employees have left in the wake of negative publicity:  over twenty staff members left following allegations of sexual harassment and discrimination of female staff.  The high number of sex attacks Uber’s drivers have been accused of has also caused concern:  the Met recently reported a 50% rise in allegations against Uber drivers.  One of the most alarming incidents concerned the rape of a woman in India by an Uber driver.  The driver who attacked the woman was jailed for this, and other crimes; but not before an Uber executive obtained the medical records of the victim in order to discredit her.  The executive responsible was sacked after journalists discovered details of the incident.

As the bad publicity continued, Dodgy Dave Cameron’s friend, Rachel Whetsone found it too hot and left.  More recently, CEO Travis Kalanick, was forced to resign when investors turned against him.

The biggest turning point will be when investors start to pull out of this increasingly toxic brand.  Reports suggest that those trying to sell their investment are finding it hard to find buyers.

There’s such a vast conveyor belt of drivers required to maintain Uber’s model of over-supply, that if licences are capped, the company will be weakened.  It will no longer be able to guarantee a car within three minutes – a pretty impressive selling point to be fair.  Its drivers might be less inclined to put up with current working practices should they become more sought after.

The good news is that private hire licensing is already slowing down.  It’s reached saturation point where too many drivers are chasing too few jobs and no-one is making any money.  Unless numbers continue to fall, a cap on licences looks inevitable.  No-one thinks having 117,000 mini-cabs on the streets of London is a good thing, and if that figure rises, something will have to be done.

London Mayor, Sadiq Khan, isn’t happy about the traffic mayhem and pollution that unrestricted PH licensing has caused.  Mr Khan and the government have been arguing whether the Mayor actually sought a change in the law to restrict PH numbers.  Mr Khan said he’s “written a number of times” to Transport Under Secretary, Andrew Jones.  Mr Jones replied in the House claiming he’d “made no formal representations on capping the number of private hire licences in London to the Secretary of State or Department of Transport Ministers.”  Who should we believe?  This sounds like Cameron’s government denying they’d put pressure on Boris when he wanted to curb Uber.  We’ve seen the emails, Dave.

Uber, as they stand now, can put competing PH firms out of business in the race to the bottom.  We’re in a stronger position as we can ply for hire in the traditional way.  Our numbers might be gradually reducing, but there’s still a trickle of new blood through the Knowledge system.  Those of us left standing will still be able to respond to street hails and service the many hotel and station ranks.  That work won’t necessarily go to Uber.

If PH licensing is capped, the number of drivers will reduce dramatically.  Most people don’t stay in the PH trade for long.  There will be a queue of drivers attempting to apply, but those already licensed will still renew their licence every year.  Those who stop driving a mini-cab will keep their licence should they ever want to return in the future.  A PH license also serves as a Congestion Charge season ticket:  who’s going to give that up? (something else that needs looking at).

I don’t think TfL have the courage to refuse Uber another licence: there’s too much pressure from powerful people.  But I think things will become less favourable for the PH trade anyway; particularly for Uber, when their investors desert the sinking ship.  With Uber gone, or at least greatly weakened, many of its drivers might return to the less rapacious PH companies.  Things might settle down in the taxi and private hire world and go back to where they were a few years’ ago.  Wasn’t it great when all we had to worry about were Addison Lee?

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Driven Out of Business?

(Original edit of article written for Taxi magazine)

Driven Out of Business?

I’ve been so pre-occupied trying to earn a crust that I’d forgotten all about driverless cars. Recently, the subject was mentioned again in the media, and it seems they’re still being trialled. That’s all we need: more demand for road space – plus the possibility of driverless taxis making 25,000 cab drivers redundant!
The nearest place to London for testing is Milton Keynes. Milton Keynes isn’t far from my home, so I know it well. Actually, I don’t know it well, but I know where it is. Central Milton Keynes is arranged on a rational American-style grid system: instead of horizontal streets and vertical avenues, you have roads prefixed H5, V9, &c. The central roads are broad, dead straight, and – whenever I’ve been there – relatively free of traffic. You couldn’t find a town more unlike London. I get lost every time I go there, as it all looks the same, and every few hundred yards there are roundabouts. The H and V signage ensures you know your horizontal from your vertical, though you don’t always know what direction you’re going in. Anyway, driverless cars are just about imaginable here in Milton Keynes’s futuristic roadscape. It’s a much bigger leap of the imagination to see driverless cars on London’s irrational, often narrow, traffic-clogged streets.
Still, we can all imagine which app-based private hire company will be the first to try to run driverless cabs. Powerful organisations with money behind them will surely try to buy in to both driverless civilian cars and private hire. So could it really come to pass? Tentatively, I still don’t think so.
I’ve read that driverless cars could currently handle 1% of American roads. That’s still a whopping 99% to go, and American cities tend to be more spacious and more rationally arranged. There’s simply too much traffic and not enough room in British cities. London’s far too chaotic. Whole lanes will need to be given over to afford driverless vehicles safe passage. They’ve spent the last decade marking out cycle lanes, and they’re still relentlessly paving the already narrow roads into single lanes. If driverless cars are given a dedicated lane, where will the buses go? (Actually, driverless buses have also been predicted).
“Driverless” usually means the vehicle’s steering, accelerating, braking and indicating will be automatically controlled between two points, similar to an aeroplane’s auto-pilot system. There is also the technology to park a car automatically while you stand on the kerb. Driverless could mean there’s someone present in the vehicle, but not driving; or a completely un-manned vehicle. A new Highway Code will be brought out to cover all eventualities. Google seem to be at the forefront of driverless development. They’re testing a “Chauffeur “system, which uses what they call “Lidar”: an extremely accurate version of radar and sonar.
It’s possible to run driverless tube trains; so the idea of driverless Intercity trains, or the Eurostar, should be possible too (union support withstanding). But trains are run on rails and have very limited stopping points. Obstructions on the line are rare. You’re unlikely to be surprised by a crane operation, or find your way barred by a gaggle of rickshaws.
Some people see driverless vehicles in a convoy like a road-train. How will a driverless car negotiate around obstructions, or overtake? I don’t see how these vehicles won’t be obstructed by other vehicles cutting through the gaps. What about cycles and pedestrians? In normal driving you are often changing lanes because of obstructions. Think of roadworks, badly parked vehicles, or the humble pothole. It’s said that a driverless car can’t tell the difference between a rock and a piece of crumpled paper, and will steer to avoid both. If it encounters a set of roadworks it has a wobble, slows to a crawl, and occasionally gives up.
Research and testing continues around the world. Developments seem to be progressing at a fair pace in some countries. Apparently, Nissan has fitted an all-electric LEAF with an array of lasers and sensors so it can drive itself. Nissan claim it will be the first semi-autonomous car to be marketed, in 2020. Driverless taxis are also being tested. Developments in driverless technology are easily looked up on the internet. A quick scan this morning brought up the scary – yet predictable – headline from a technology website: “Singapore wants a driverless version of Uber.”
I’m prepared to believe cars can park themselves. I can believe cars can drive themselves on a test circuit. But I don’t believe we’ll see driverless cars on the streets of busy British cities like London. Still, the first Knowledge boys of 1851 would have looked forward to a cab-driving career involving a horse and a bale of hay for fuel. Maybe they would have laughed at the idea of a diesel-powered taxi with electric lights, heating, a CD player, and air conditioning. And stuff I don’t understand such as MP3s and blue teeth. So, while I remain sceptical, I still have that nagging fear that nailing my colours to the mast now may set me up to look foolish should this article be reprinted in ten or twenty years’ time. We’ll see…
Copyright: Chris Ackrill, 2016.

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Knowledge is Power

Knowledge is Power

(original edit of article for Taxi magazine).

I hear that Conservatives on the Greater London Assembly are calling for the Knowledge to be scrapped in its present form.  Assembly member, Richard Tracey, mentions an ageing workforce, with the Knowledge standing as a barrier to future drivers.  The report also argues that the Knowledge is obsolete in the age of GPS.

As an ex-Knowledge examiner I take a particular interest in the subject, and I neither think the Knowledge is obsolete, nor deterring people from entry to the trade.  Unite Cab Section’s Peter Rose countered that the Knowledge isn’t a barrier, “it’s a qualification for the job.”  Quite right.  I’ve heard no calls for doctors’ training being made easier as it’s putting applicants off.  As far as I know, doctors still need an immense knowledge of medicine, even though their patients can self-diagnose on a computer, and the doctors themselves can brush up their knowledge on the web.

In the case of cab drivers, doctors, and other professionals, their qualifications on entry provide a minimum competence to do the job.  In our case, we know we don’t know it all when we gain our licence, but we have a sound basis on which to build our competence.  The Knowledge isn’t a barrier; it’s a hurdle, or a series of hurdles, that have to be successfully jumped.

The Knowledge is extremely hard work, but unlike other qualifications, it doesn’t have to be fitted into a set period of time like a degree course.  You can take as long as you want.  It’s possibly the most democratic form of occupational training known to man.  As the fictional examiner, Mr Burgess, says in the wonderful film, The Knowledge, it’s not about who you know, it’s about what you know.  Every applicant is on an equal footing; whether you start the Knowledge with a degree under your belt, or whether you earned a dishonourable discharge from a sink comprehensive.  You don’t need to sweat while your initial application is pondered over by a college admissions tutor, and you don’t have to convince anyone of your cleverness before acceptance.  You just need to have kept your nose fairly clean, and show the ability to identify some points on a map.  And I’m not diminishing the achievement of passing the map test.  I marked a few map tests as an examiner, and I wouldn’t feel that blasé if I had to pass one now.

Many more people start the Knowledge than complete it, that’s true, but every successful Knowledge Boy knows the maxim that “you can’t fail the Knowledge, you can only give it up.”  Some people are better than the Knowledge than others, but even the weaker candidates are rewarded if they believe in themselves and stick at it.  From the outset, you know the Knowledge is difficult.  Very difficult.  What Richard Tracey doesn’t realise is that the satisfaction comes from knowing it’s very difficult.  If it was easy it wouldn’t mean so much.  The one thing that all Knowledge candidates have is pride.  It’s a big achievement when they “score” at an Appearance, and a massive one when they get their Req.  When they attend their Finals talk and are presented with their badge they know they have achieved something monumental.

Those who would remove, or weaken, the Knowledge, would presumably be content to accept a taxi service where the driver relies on GPS.  On gaining your badge, you know more than any other new cab driver in any city around the world.  You also have the ability to beat the sat nav.  The sat nav is woefully inadequate for use in a complex city like London.  It can get you out of trouble, but it can’t handle the permutations of routes and road conditions that an experienced London driver has running through his blood.  GPS can’t analyse like a human brain, and it can’t advise on the best roads to use at certain times of day.  In these times of daily road closures and major diversions it is an inadequate tool to find you way around with.

The public would surely prefer their drivers to be trained to current standard, and I believe so would the drivers of the future.  The drivers are proud of their status.  A status that comes from knowing they are the best trained cab drivers in the world.

Would I change the Knowledge?  I wouldn’t make the Knowledge easier, but I would abandon the cruel points system that heaps unnecessary pressure on the candidate.  People shouldn’t be pegged back because of one or two bad Appearances.   Is the map test necessary?  In my day, you wouldn’t have an Appearance until you’d completed the Blue Book.  I think this is too long a wait for a benchmark assessment, so I’d go back to the time where you were examined on the first section of the Blue Book and abandon the map test.

There’s been a small reduction in the number of Knowledge applicants, but by no means has everyone deserted the Knowledge and gone over to Uber.  The taxi trade is still attractive enough to those who drive a mini-cab for a living.  Many Knowledge candidates are private hire drivers.  They initially took the easier option to do a similar job, so why would they put themselves through two or three years of hell for the green badge?  They are best placed to compare the two trades.  Do they know something others don’t?

Copyright: Chris Ackrill, 2016.

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The Wild West End

(original edit of article for Taxi magazine).

I recently read about the rickshaw rider who tried to charge a Dutch tourist £600 for a thirty-minute journey.  Thankfully, the tourist stood firm and argued back.  The rider was filmed by passers-by and consequently shamed in the modern way.  There must be scores of similar rickshaw scams going on that are never discovered, where the victims pay up out of embarrassment of having seemingly agreed to the fare.

I’m normally tucked up in bed before midnight, but London’s night time economy brings out all the chancers offering to drive people home:  rickshaw rip-off merchants, rogue mini cab drivers, dodgy app-based car providers, and the myriad of blokes who chance their arm with unlicensed cars.  Most people get home, eventually, but you’d expect the public to be afforded more protection against the plethora of dubious hire and reward transport providers. The response is that nothing can be done about the rickshaws, or the issuing of hundreds of private hire licences every week in order to service app-based car providers operating in grey areas of the law.  Add madcap road systems that slow everything down, and the result is a transport system run like the wild west, in a city resembling a third world capital.

I’m sure visitors to London are aware that we live to very strict regulations:  do anything illegal and you’ll be caught on camera.  They are everywhere, watching your every move.  Visitors also expect our transport laws to be strict and enforceable.  Buses, trains and taxis, are regulated to an inch of their lives – down to what colour interior door handles are.  Thankfully, the things that go on in taxis in other countries doesn’t go on here.  Visitors know they can trust us.  But lower down the transport food chain, the regulations are slacker and the regulations blurred.  Private hire cars are allowed to obscure their licence stickers with tinted windows while pretending to be limousines.  Our friends, the rickshaw riders give the impression they are officially endorsed by way of phoney licence plates and fare tables.  The fare chart gives the impression of an official pricing structure, and the rider can claim that having it on display constitutes an agreement.  The rider’s hire and reward operation doesn’t need a licence, so there’s nobody to complain to.

London has many of the attributes of a third world capital.  There’s the unhealthy divide between rich and poor, where the less well-off are being socially cleansed.  On the transport front, there are badly congested roads full of pot holes, nonsensical traffic systems, and seemingly pointless road works that last for years.  Pancras Road between King’s Cross and St Pancras resembles Mumbai on a bad day with its triple parking free-for-all.  It’s all contributing to authentic third world pollution.

I rarely see the Police in Bedfordshire where I live, but there are enough of them in London to mount checkpoints and saunter around with machine guns.  They don’t control the traffic when the chips are down, like in a real third world capital.  Other groups have taken on the role of traffic management; such as the paramilitary builders who operate like lollypop ladies when they want their contractors’ lorries to pull out without waiting their turn.

Those who drive themselves around are fair game to modern day highwaymen; those legally-endorsed pirates who fine and photograph motorists who accidently get caught with a wheel touching a box junction.

There’s not a lot I feel I can do about it all as I watch yet another madcap traffic scheme add to the frustration of driving in London.  All I feel I can do is write about it, and contribute to consultations.  I’ll carry on driving my diesel-powered filth cart until a cleaner and cheaper alternative becomes available.

The city in which I work is changing rapidly.  Things are more difficult and uncertain.  London residents will have noticed that the old certainties have gone.  Taxis have always been seen as expensive, but reliable.  The cheaper alternative was to take your chances with a mini-cab.  Every man and his dog now wants to work as a cab driver and it’s easier than ever – maybe we should be flattered that so many people want to do our job?  Recent developments in private hire licensing has resulted in many thousand more private hire licences being issued, and a blurring of the boundaries.  Over the new year period, people using an app-based private hire service were shocked to find hundreds of pounds taken from their credit card accounts by way of surge pricing.  The operator would say they didn’t read the small print, so there’s nothing they can do about it.

Is the body who are meant to be controlling everything that happens on the streets taking enough responsibility?  Local authorities need to be reined in and prevented from implementing complex road systems that slow the traffic down and make driving more difficult. Driving should be made easier, not harder.  Traffic schemes that look good on paper, don’t always work in practice.

Rickshaws aren’t normally motorised, but they are vehicles.  Vehicles shouldn’t be obstructing junctions and forcing buses out of bus lanes so they can rank up.  If they are working for hire and reward they should be subject to licensing laws.  The app-based providers have exploited loopholes in order to ply for immediate hire by phone.  The race to the bottom by way of cheaper fares isn’t healthy for anyone.  Safety is compromised for both drivers and customers, as drivers are forced to work longer hours to make a living.  Today’s society is in many ways over protective, but at the lower rungs of hire and reward transport, it’s still a free-for-all.

Reports of tourists being ripped off aren’t good for the reputation of London, and particularly for those of us who depend on tourism.  London’s streets are becoming like the wild west, though the sheriff is nowhere to be seen.

Copyright: Chris Ackrill, 2016.

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