Shop around

How to Find the Cheapest Possible Taxi Insurance
It’s a time of year that many cabbies approach with a sinking heart: the time to renew your cab insurance. There’s no getting around the fact that car insurance is expensive, and even if you get a great deal it’s still a bulky outlay. Due to unsavoury characters making insurance claims inaccurately (thanks, in part, to the growing number of ‘no win-no fee’ solicitors) the cost of insurance is increasing year on year. Whilst there is much talk of car insurance premiums beginning to fall towards the end of 2014, it’s still a significant annual cost and one that is worth further research.

Why Will The Cost of Car Insurance Fall?
The Government have announced recently that they are planning to put all driving licence records online in a searchable database by the end of 2014. This means that both individuals and insurers will be able to search for the most accurate information that is held about any person who is applying for car insurance. Insurers will know your driving history with precise accuracy, rather than make the assumption that a certain percentage of applicants will either lie or offer misleading information on their insurance application forms. Having access to this very clear and precise information will enable insurers to give insurance quotes that are much more accurate: they won’t have to factor risk into their pricing or rely on an applicant’s honesty. This is a change from the current taxi insurance system which, as explain, means that most insurers request full details of all of your previous claims for a minimum length of time, e.g. the last 5 years. They will then base your insurance policy quotation on the information you supply and rely on you to supply the right information. The Association of British Insurers has predicted that the average motorist should see a drop of at least £15 in their premiums as a result of these changes. Of course, £15 won’t make much of a dent in the hefty charges for taxi insurance but it is, at least, a step in the right direction rather than another insurance rate increase!

What to Look For in an Insurance Policy
To anyone new to insuring a cab, there are the same levels of insurance options for black cabs as there are for ordinary cars: you can choose from either full comprehensive insurance, third party insurance, or third party fire and theft. Whichever kind of policy you choose it’s important to understand exactly what is and what isn’t covered, so you know the risks involved in having anything less than fully comprehensive insurance (althousgh of course the flip side of this is that your initial outlay will be much smaller if you opt for a cheaper third party fire and theft policy).  As your cab is your place of work it is also strongly recommended that you have public liability insurance: this will protect you should something happen to one of the passengers in your cab. If a passenger takes legal action against you for healthcare or compensation costs as a result of an accident in your cab then public liability insurance will protect you and mean these compensation costs don’t have to come from your own pocket. Some car insurance providers will include this public liability insurance in your policy and some won’t, requiring you to purchase a separate policy. It’s important to be clear where you stand on this, as opting for a cheaper insurance policy that doesn’t include public liability cover could ultimately end up being a false economy.

Shop Around!
It’s an obvious point, but don’t just go with the first insurance quote you get. It’s important to remember that, according to the RAC, one in three motorists are paying more than they need to for their car insurance. Finding the cheapest possible deal will mean putting in a little elbow work, but it does pay to shop around. The most popular insurance policies are 12 month policies, but you can also buy taxi insurance for periods as short as one month at a time. Bearing that in mind, you could find that if you were prepared to extend the length of your contract, you would be in a strong position to negotiate a better deal. Alternatively if you’re waiting for a better offer to appear on the market (because you’re just a few months away from having those magic five years no-claims, for example) it could be that opting for a shorter contract is the right decision for you. The only way to find out is the do the research. Dedicate a day to shopping around for your cab insurance and find the very best deal for you!

Is Your Cab as Safe as it Could Be?                                        
You could write a whole separate article on the subject of securing your cab, and ensuring it is protected from theft and other criminal damage. But it is important to ensure your cab is kept as secure as possible for insurance reasons too.  A car that has an alarm system, tracking device or immobiliser fitted (provided it is a security system that has been approved by your insurer)  can generally achieve an insurance discount of around 5%, when compared to the same car without those safety features as standard. Most cabs will come with these safety features fitted from the manufacturer: make sure you check if yours does too, and declare these to your insurer so that you can take advantage of the discounts available.

Talking about car insurance is never exciting, and insuring your car can be a downright miserable thing to have to do. However if you can take the time to shop around and investigate all of the options available, you can at least find the best deal for you and keep a little more of your hard-earned cash in your pocket!

Goswell Street Road

One of the oft used and pointless pieces of trivia is that the City of London has no ’roads’.

The Square Mile has streets aplenty, along with ‘Lanes’, ‘Gates’, ‘Gardens’, ‘Docks’, ‘Places’, ‘Alleys’, ‘Hills’ and ‘Yards’, but no ’roads’. Along with a veritable smorgasbord of throughfares that don’t fall into any category, ’Old Jewry’, ’New Change’, ’Crutched Friars’.

[O]f the many theories of the dearth of roads one is that the Old English verb to ride has as its past tense ’road’. While the old Scots form of ride is raid which later would come to mean riding with hostile intent.

So by the 16th century a fixed route for getting from one place to another over land came to be known as a road. As with many words of modern usage the term ’road’ to mean a thoroughfare was first used by William Shakespeare. In 1589 it appeared in Comedy of Errors, Act II, Scene 2:

Go hie thee presently, post to the road:
An if the wind blow any way from shore,
I will not harbour in this town to-night:
If any bark put forth, come to the mart,
Where I will walk till thou return to me.
If every one knows us and we know none,
‘Tis time, I think, to trudge, pack and be gone.

For us to refer to a long distance highway (as the Romans would) a street seems to have the wrong connotation. We rarely refer to Watling Street, Ermine Street, or Dere Street preferring the more prosaic: A1, A2 or A5. So because a road had to go somewhere and in London you were already there ’roads’ would commence outside the City gates.

Another theory is that a ’road’ has to be able to accommodate two carts passing one another, a feat performed with difficulty in London’s narrow medieval streets.

All this trivia was great for the tourist guides (and cabbies) enabling them to demonstrate their knowledge of London. That was until the good Burghers of the town halls moved the City’s limits.

Goswell Street was renamed Goswell Road, in the past the northern section (that being furthest away from the City) was named Goswell Street Road, which probably denoted that by the time you reached the name change you were on the road to somewhere.

In 1994 boundary changes brought the eastern half under the jurisdiction of the City of London, while the western carriageway remains firmly in the Borough of Islington.

The boundary now runs down the middle of the road, pedants might argue that this still, technically, means that there isn’t a single road within the City of London, merely a half-road.

Life in the old dogs yet

As the 15-year limit comes into effect that once ubiquitous and versatile piece of British engineering, the London FX4 Taxi, is reaching the end of its useful life. Well, that’s what Transport for London thought . . .

Launched under the Austin badge 55 years ago over 40,000 units have been produced.

Here is a few examples that have been transmogrified beyond the designers wildest dreams.

[T]he oft quoted remark: “It turns on a sixpence, whatever that is!” by Nubar Gulbenken, an eccentric millionaire who had a penchant for the London taxi. Using some of his not inconsiderable wealth made from oil Mr. G. converted three London taxis to meet his own, if somewhat bizarre designs. The second creation [pictured] commissioned through Jack Barclay and built by FLM Panelcraft was an open-drive town car, with carriage lamps and wickerwork decoration on the body sides, it was reputed to have a Rolls-Royce engine, but this is uncertain. It might have cost him £3,500 (the equivalent of two Mark 2 Jags, aka Inspector Morse), but five years later the vehicle was sold at auction for £6,300 and again in 1993 it achieved under the hammer a price of £23,000.

Nubar Gulbenkian FX4 no 2 ©Bill Munro, LVTA archive


 ©Keith Adams AROnline

[W]hen Royal Mail was floated last year its shareholders could have been buying into a fleet of taxis if the 1967 prototype had proved successful. With its much-vaunted turning circle it seemed the perfect city delivery van. The tall loading space provided 200 cubic foot capacity. Unfortunately being mostly paper the mail is somewhat heavy, causing the vehicle to wobble alarmingly when cornering.

fx4conv_07  ©Keith Adams AROnline

[S]tretch limos are all the rage these days and it could be that a cab limousine isn’t just what Tabitha wanted for her 13-years-old bash. But Carbodies in 1980 anticipated a market and produced a long wheelbase model complete with walnut-veneered cabinets, cocktails, sound system and TV with video by the simple expedient of inserting a windowed fillet panel between the front and rear doors. This gave generous accommodation for 4 passengers and – Heaven forbid! – by removing the cocktail cabinet provided room for an additional person.

Woodall Nicholson 6-door Stretch FX4S

©Bill Munro

[S]tar, News, Standard was the refrain in the 1960s the papers were printed daily, except Sunday, primary evening papers with more than one edition a day. Only the Standard remains, the Star ceasing first. The Evening News vans were bright yellow and black with red writing and the Standards were orange and white striped. These vans would race around and almost without stopping dump the bound stacks of papers on the pavement before chasing off to their next drop off point. The seller would quickly get the latest edition on sale.

Evening News ©Austin FX4 Evening News conversion by Ledlon89

[A]nd finally when a cabbie departs this life for the rank in the sky the London Taxi Hearse, claimed to be the only one in the world, could be used to transport them to their final resting place.

Cab Hearse

Thanks to Bill Munro at Earlswood Press for some pictures including the brochure illustration and background information and also Keith Adams at AROnline for the Royal Mail conversion story.

Wheel of fortune

Today we have the London Eye which is rightly regarded as a marvel of modern engineering.

Tall as it is the wheel is not London’s first. In 1895 the World’s tallest Ferris wheel opened at Earls Court.

The Great or Gigantic Wheel (as it is called on the brooch left) stood at 310ft, today’s Eye is only a third taller at 443ft.

[F]orty open air gondolas each holding 30 people with 10 handsomely furnished for 1st class passenger and five were smoking capsules. A total of 1,200 passengers could be accommodated at a time (the London Eye by comparison has 32 capsules and a capacity of just 800).

It was based upon the Ferris wheel at the Chicago Exhibition of 1893 and of the dozens subsequently built by its designers only the Ferris wheel in Vienna which featured in the 1949 film The Third Man remains.

The Earl’s Court wheel was originally planned to have built recreation towers on either side with lifts carrying visitors up to the axle, through which it would have been possible to walk.

When in operation a completed revolution with interruptions, so that passengers could admire the view, took 20 minutes and during its 12 years carried 2½ million passengers its Vanity Fair described it as ‘A revolution of the Graydon wheel will exalt the passengers in its forty cars by 300 feet above the groundlings . . . it can hardly be doubted that we shall all do the circular trip at Earl’s Court – rising as if in a balloon, in a comfortable carriage, without risk and “without exertion”, rising as if in a balloon in a comfortable carriage without risk and without exertion’.

The Builders publications were more critical:

We have as little sympathy with this foolish kind of sensational toy as we have with Eiffel towers . . . it is only a pity that all the ability and cost expended in its construction should not be devoted to some more useful end than carrying coach-loads of fools round a vertical circle.

The wheel was notoriously temperamental and ‘stuck on the wheel’ became an over-used excuse for lateness. But for some sightseers, the ride made them very late indeed.

At 9pm on 28th May 1896, just as passengers were enjoying panoramic views from the top, the drive mechanism snapped and the wheel came to an abrupt stop. It was clear repairs would take some time so sailors from the Royal Navy were called in to climb the wheel with iced buns and soda water for the stranded.

When midnight struck and engineers were still scratching their heads, the Band of the Grenadier Guards assembled at the base to blast out some jolly tunes.

Weary passengers were eventually freed at 7 o’clock next morning and as they disembarked, each was given a crisp £5 note. The next day some 11,000 gathered to ride on the wheel, in the hope of another breakdown. The episode spawned a music-hall song ‘I’ve Got The Five-Pound Note’).

The wheel was pulled down in 1906. Kensington and Chelsea library has a full illustrated account of The Great (or Gigantic) Wheel. Picture: Big Wheel Brooch on Ebay.

The London Grill: Alf Townsend

We challenge our contributor to reply to ten devilishly probing questions about their London and we don’t take “Sorry Gov” for an answer. Everyone sitting in the hot seat will face the same questions that range from their favourite way to spend a day out in the capital to their most hated building on London’s skyline to find out just what Londoners really think about their city. The questions might be the same but the answers vary wildly.

Alf Townsend

[A]lf Townsend, a London Cabbie for 50 years. A founder member of HALT, the cabbies co-operative at Heathrow, later the Chairman, and Editor for some six years of The HALT Magazine. A well-known trade journalist for the past 45 years and author of six published titles. Winner of The Taxi-Driver of the Year Competition in 1979, followed by many appearances on TV. A popular lunch-time speaker at the American Women’s Clubs in Greater London, where I try and spread the gospel of London taxis and their longevity! One of the first to join The LTDA in the sixties and still an active member.

What’s your secret London tip?
Stay along the river for most of your runs if you can.

What’s your secret London place?
Highgate Cemetery where our eldest daughter Jenny and her son Sam, lay at rest.

What’s your biggest gripe about London?
All The PCN’s dished out to us cabbies while the bikers get away with murder!

What’s your favourite building?
Oak Tree House Hampstead – where I live!

What’s your most hated building?
The Gherkin – ugh!

What’s the best view in London?
From the top of Parliament Hill.

What’s your personal London landmark?
The Old Curiosity Shop in Portugal Street – just off of Lincoln’s Inn Fields.

What’s London’s best film, book or documentary?
My book The London Cabbie tells everything about London that tourists should know!

What’s your favourite bar, pub or restaurant?
The Garden Gate, South End Green,

How would you spend your ideal day off in London?
A trip on the boat from Westminster Pier to Greenwich.

This ‘Grill’ was first posted on the Radio Taxis blog.