Well, actually it’s tomorrow when I’ve been a London cabbie for 21 years. But I’m telling you now to give you time organising a party.
After spending 30 hours a week for 4 years, 10 months and 13 days I gained my coveted Green Badge. Not the fastest to get The Knowledge, nor indeed by a long chalk – the slowest. It wouldn’t be until 12 February that I managed to pluck up the courage to face the public in my newly rented droshky.
[S]o indulge an old timer as I relate to you the changes that have taken place in the interim, both for the trade and London in general.
If you were to return to 1996, conspicuously absent from London’s streets would be rickshaws, it would be the best part of a decade before hundreds would appear on the streets. Whether punters are realising their danger – and cost – of this mode of transport is a matter for conjecture, but in 2017 there are substantially a lot less plying London’s streets.
Even though they first appeared 40 years previously, there was still no such thing as an illegal mini-cab. Many prowled the streets in their vehicle of choice – a rusty Datsun with the ubiquitous aerial swinging around on the roof with a plastic bag sandwiched between the aerial and the roof (one wonders whether they would be so keen on using a plastic bag since the 5p levy), but as everybody could give it a go none were illegal.
The Public Carriage Office, which at the time, was run by the Metropolitan Police seemed populated by pedants. One example doing the rounds was a vehicle failure due to ‘avian excrement found on windscreen`.
We might not always have agreed with their draconian interpretation of the rules, but they exercised them in a firm and fair manner. It was when, in 2004 the Met relinquished their role leaving it to Transport for London to regulate both taxis and the newly named Private Hire.
Great inroads were made: mini cabs and their drivers had to be registered at a cab office, records kept which led to better vehicles, drivers and safer travel. Large organisations popped up. The likes of Addison Lee offering Londoners wide private hire services. Cabbies might not have liked the intrusion upon their domain, but times move on and with many in the trade still sticking to the age old mantra “Sorry Guv’, I’m not going South of the River” private hire made great inroads into our business.
Now we have the digital disruptors, Transport for London, with complete disregard to the existing cab services have allowed Uber to dominate London’s streets.
The result? More accidents as their drivers work very long hours (and to think we objected to the EU proposal to have tachometers installed); scant regard to who is driving the vehicle, with a consequent rise in crime against women; minicab offices closing at record rates, even Addison Lee is a shadow of its former self; and gridlock as more and more vehicles converge upon central London chasing fewer and fewer fares, with the consequence that Black Cab fares are rising as we sit in unmoving traffic with the meter still running.
So what for the next 21 years? Minicabs will disappear from central London, banished to the suburbs and with 700 Uber licenses issued weekly, by the end of the decade over a ¼ million drivers will be choking the Capital’s streets looking for work.
As a consequence the Black Cab will cease to exist, just left to providing novelty rides for tourists.
Back at the start of this post I posed the question: “Who is going to invest five years of their life spending money and time when the pot of gold is not to be found at the end of the rainbow?”
It will mean punters with animals, the disabled, especially those in wheelchairs, cyclists with punctures, large packages or pictures and unaccompanied children will have no service to enable them to traverse London.
As we say in the Trade
You’ll need it.