Blowing my own trumpet

The next time you get in a London taxi, ignore the driver’s valuable contribution to solving Britain’s debt crisis and try to sit back and relax, because hotel.com annual survey on the world’s taxis suggests you are in very safe hands, comprehensively beating its rivals, taking top spot for a third year in a row.

In the poll of 1,900 travellers around the world, London gained 56 per cent of the vote, compared to its nearest rival New York’s 28 per cent in categories including friendliness, cleanliness, driving standards and knowledge of the area.

[Y]ou won’t be surprised to learn that London’s taxis were also voted the most expensive, though of course financial advice from your driver doesn’t come cheap, but surprisingly considering how quiet the trade is at the moment, London failed to win on availability, where New York, which has occupied a consistent second place over the past three years, polled highest.

For all business travellers the concerns of taking taxis in an unknown city will be familiar. Will you be taken on a tortuous route either through incompetence or malicious intent? Will the fare suddenly shoot up as the meter mysteriously ceases to function? Will your driver’s command of English suddenly fail him when it comes to pay him? Or has your driver got a ‘cousin’ who will give you a good deal for getting you to the airport?

This high poll rating for London is all the more surprising, in a city on the cusp of hosting the Olympics and now making a bid for football’s world cup, when the powers-that-be seem determined to model its transport infrastructure on Mumbai.

The commuter train network system is expensive and overcrowded to such an extent that if it was cattle and not people being crammed into the carriages, the animal rights brigade would be demanding to close it down; the tube system, which hasn’t been upgraded since the old king died and has large sections of its network closed at weekends and which shuts down every night just as people want to make their way home from an evening out; the much heralded and heavily subsidised bus network is slow, cumbersome and runs thousands of empty buses that no one needs for most of the day, just look at Oxford Street, then almost unbelievably at night, when the tube is shut and travel options limited, the profitable bus companies run a ludicrously reduced service to a select few places; the minicab trade, despite being licensed, is manned by a transient workforce, who often resort to illegal and dubious practices to survive in a trade that has no self respect.

To complete the authentic Mumbai ambience the bell ringing and banshee like cries from the army of rickshaw riders, complete the descent of the image and reputation of this once great City into that of third-world status.

I would argue that now the only section of this capital’s transport infrastructure that is professional, reliable and genuinely world class is the Licensed London Cabbies. This worldwide recognition would be an achievement for a cab service anywhere in the World but to obtain it in a City as chaotic as this one, has to be seen as nothing short of miraculous.

We achieved this award despite operating across a road network that is near collapse, as the profit hungry privatised utilities close large parts of it on a daily basis, and as a disjointed network of local authorities implement ludicrous traffic schemes on an ad hoc basis in an attempt to force people off the roads, while running a gauntlet of parking and traffic cameras that constantly hinder and fine us just for doing our job and finally we did it despite having to operate under a licensing regime that is ruthless and draconian where we are concerned, whilst being hopelessly lenient and liberal with our competitors.

But if you are still not convinced on the standard attained by London’s cabbies try Bangkok which rose to fifth place overall, where the dubious pleasure of sitting in a tuk tuk is left to the reader’s discretion or nerve, enter into conversation with drivers in Paris or New York who generously share the distinction of being the world’s rudest cabbies.

And when you’re next enjoying a white-knuckle ride through the streets of Rome, it is perhaps best to avoid considering that the city’s taxi drivers were awarded the lowest quality of driving ranking. Instead, recall the opinion of Antonio Martino, an Italian politician—and thank your good luck that you’re not 140 miles south:

In Milan, traffic lights are instructions. In Rome, they are suggestions. In Naples, they are Christmas decorations.

2 thoughts on “Blowing my own trumpet”

  1. I have travelled by taxi in a number of cities and I have to say that my least favourite cabs are London’s poorly designed black cabs.
     
    On a business trip to Bilbao a couple of weeks back, we took two rides in comfortable cabs, competently driven by polite cabbies. From Stansted to Islington, we rode in a cab hired at the airport from one of the cab companies, again a comfortable, competently driven car with a driver who engaged in useful and interesting conversation with us.
     
    Black cabs are designed so that you have to bend double and then, if you are tall, crawl to get to the seat which, for some unknown but obviously malicious reason, is sited as far away from the door as it is possible to get, under a low roof. If you have bad knees like me, you need to be hauled out at the end.
     
    Tigger’s firm hires cabs from a local cab company. They are not only cheaper than black cabs but the cars themselves – modern hybrids with virtually silent engines – are superb and so comfortable you don’t want to get out at your destination. These cars are designed so that you sit on the seat and lift your legs in. No ungainly scrambling as with black cabs.
     
    On each occasion, these other drivers got out of the car and personally loaded our baggage into the boot and then, on arrival, got out again to unload it. When did you last see a London cabbie set foot to ground? I think they must be superglued to the driver’s seat.
     
    The only virtue of black cabs, as far as I am concerned, is their availability in an emergency when you don’t have time to call the cab company. I hailed one the other day – or, rather, two, because the first one refused to stop. The one I got stopped short of the destination, Paddington Station, on the grounds that road works made it difficult to access. When I got there on foot, I couldn’t see any real problems so I guess he just wanted an easy turnaround and played me for a sucker.
     
    I don’t want to be unfair so I will report that I have also had a few good rides in black cabs as when, running late on a couple of occasions, I was delivered to my destination in the nick of time. The picture is not entirely bleak, then, but there is huge room for improvement both in terms of vehicles and in terms of customer service skills.

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  2. It would seem from your experience London cabbies have room for improvement – as for the vehicles, if you think they are uncomfortable in the back, you should try sitting up front for 10 hours

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