Category Archives: A window on My World

The world’s most luxurious cab

Occasionally here at CabbieBlog, we bring interesting cab conversations. Situated on St. John’s Wood roundabout, and passed by thousands of cabbies every day, Clive Sutton has produced the ultimate cab. Dubbed the world’s most luxurious black cab, the Sutton VIP LEVC Taxi starts at £104,680, with the fully-loaded vehicle costing £121,480.

Fitted out to your specifications, among those offered include automatic push-button door closing mechanisms used by Rolls-Royce, leather-clad reclining seats, a drinks fridge, sunroof with blinds, 20″ TV screen, electric footrests, ambient multi-colour mood lighting and for London’s inclement weather – matching umbrellas.

Now, where’s my wallet . . .

Counting the cost

In 1891 Wilhelm Bruhn invented the taximeter, this at a stroke gave the vehicle its now common appellation, and made travelling by taxi, whether as a passenger or driver, a lot less stressful.

Anyone who has taken a taxi without a meter knows the scenario, either you negotiate the fare before starting the journey or argue the cost when arriving at the destination.

I’ve experienced the agreed fare doubling during a journey in Egypt, or whilst in Capri, the meter adorning the dashboard without being activated.
Seventy years before Herr Bruhn brought his clever device to London’s streets Mr Quaife solved the problem by producing a list of fares in a handy book.

According to Sean Farrell in his extensive cabbie history: Abstracts of Black Cab Lore

By 1828 there were reported to be six men and one woman, all having the name Quaife, working at the Hackney Coach Office…at least James [Quaife] was industrious. In 1821 he published, under the authority of the Hackney Coach Commissioners, The Hackney Coach Directory, which he claimed had 18,000 distinct fares.

The book’s compilation was made easier than it would be today, as cabs could only pick up at the 84 designated ranks, so all calculations start from these places.

Later the 1853 Hackney Carriages Act stipulated that every driver was to carry a book of fares which had to be produced when asked for by the passenger.

So how do the Georgian prices stand up to today’s metered fares?

I’ve used the RPI cumulative inflation rate taken from measuringworth.com at 5/- (25p) equalling £21.79. The website’s labour conversation value, showing how far one’s wages’ buying power went at the time, gives a rather different £223.20 conversation of five shillings at today’s prices.

Obviously, I haven’t driven these distances with the meter running and with the cab devoid of passengers. Instead, I’ve lazily used the taxi-calculator.com website and based it on tariff 1 (daytime) rates.

1821 Berkeley Street to Penton Street (site of the old Public Carriage Office) 3s 6d (£15.25)
2021 Black Cab £12.50

1821 Aldgate to Jack Straws Castle 8s 0d (£34.86)
2021 Black Cab £27.60

1821 Bridge Street, Blackfriars to Shoreditch Workhouse, Kingsland Road 3s 0d (£13.07)
2021 Black Cab £13.10



So there you have it, today’s fares are not much different than 200 years ago.

A potted history of the Public Carriage Office

For about 200 years London’s cabs were virtually unregulated apart from limits upon their numbers and from where they could pick up.

It might not come as a surprise to a lot of people that regulation of London’s cabs and its drivers originally was the responsibility of the Stamp Office. Maintaining the city’s pipes, gullies and sewers, as well as the paving of the streets, it was originally funded from the license fees of public vehicles, carts, drays and cabs.

Complaints from owners of the vehicles that drivers couldn’t be traced and the proprietors ended up paying the fines, in 1838 led to all cabbies being registered.

In 1843 control of the cab trade passed from the Stamp Office to the Commissioner of Police, who soon set up the Public Carriage Office, without, of course, taking on the responsibility of the sewers. They had enough crap to deal with.

The regulations were then passed to the Metropolitan Police in 1850 and were undertaken by the Public Carriage Office, which was originally located in an annexe to New Scotland Yard in Whitehall called ‘The Bungalow’.

In 1869 an Act of Parliament gave the Commissioner of Police authority to regulate how the carriages were to be fitted and furnished, and importantly the number of persons allowed to be carried.

The Carriage Office moved to 109 Lambeth Road in 1919, an old Edwardian building where you walked down an ancient cast-iron spiral staircase for your appearance in the examiner’s office known, unsurprisingly as the ‘snake pit’ or ‘dungeon’.

In 1966 the Public Carriage Office moved to a post-war white-clad Brutalist building at 15 Penton Street, Islington.

On the 1st January, 2000 administration of the Public Carriage Office passed from the Metropolitan Police to Transport for London.

Then in 2010 the Public Carriage Office was renamed and given the catchy title ‘The London Taxi and Private Hire Licensing Authority’ and re-located to the Palestra House at 197 Blackfriars Road.

Featured image: Public Carriage Office, Great Scotland Yard by Leonard Bentley (CC BY-SA 2.0) The building with the Hansom Cabs and Growlers parked outside is the Public Carriage Office built in the early 1870s and standing in Great Scotland Yard. You can see why Scotland Yard was called a yard because of the large amount of space. The building was demolished to make way for GSY Stables and the Central London Recruiting office in 1910/1911, which made GSY into just another street.

If you look to the right of the Public Carriage Office in the distance you can see the pub sign of The Rising Sun. The pub was extensively damaged in May 1884 by a Fenian bomb which was placed in a public Urinal situated on the corner of the Public Carriage office building adjacent to the pub; several other bombs were placed around Central London at the same time including one which was placed at the foot of Nelson’s Column which was defused. In 1973 an IRA car bomb was placed in GSY which subsequently exploded, if nothing else the IRA have a great sense of History. Behind the pub is a Fire Station built in 1883 and subsequently closed in the early 1920s, it is now the Civil Service Club.

 

London by numbers

1Taxi exam

The Knowledge

2National nature reserves

Richmond Park and Ruislip Woods

3Black investment bankers

Last July the Financial Times reported that only 3 out of more than 650 senior investment bankers in London were black

4Aircraft holding stacks

Bovingdon, Biggin Hill, Lambourne, Ockham

5Michelin 3-star restaurants

Core by Clare Smyth, Hélène Darroze at the Connaught, The Lecture Room and Library at Sketch, Restaurant Gordon Ramsay, Alain Ducasse at the Dorchester

6Ferries across the Thames

Woolwich, Canary Wharf-Rotherhithe, Hammerton’s Ferry, Hampton Ferry, Shepperton-Weybridge, Hammersmith (proposed)

7July 2005

Known as 7/7, four Muslim extremists attacked London on this day starting at 8.50, within an hour the explosions had left 52 innocent people dead and over 700 injured

8Royal Palaces

Buckingham, Hampton Court, Kensington, Kew, Lambeth, Palace of Westminster, St. James’s, Windsor

9The number of days Lady Jane Grey was Queen

The luckless monarch managed just nine days before she was charged with high treason, on 12th February 1554, Lady Jane was beheaded, along with her husband, at Tower Green. She was 16 years old

1

0Cathedrals

St. Paul’s, Southwark, St George’s, Westminster, Orthodox Cathedrals: Greek Orthodox, Russian Orthodox, Coptic Orthodox, Georgian Orthodox, Syriac Orthodox, Ukrainian Autocephalous Orthodox

1

1Underground lines

Bakerloo, Central, Circle, District, Hammersmith & City, Jubilee, Metropolitan, Northern, Piccadilly, Victoria, Waterloo & City

1

2Buildings over 200m

The Shard, 22 Bishopsgate, One Canada Square, Landmark Pinnacle, Heron Tower, 122 Leadenhall Street, Newfoundland, Crystal Palace Transmitter, South Quay Plaza 1, One Park Drive, 8 Canada Square, 25 Canada Square

1

3The number of people NOT allowed to dine at the Savoy

Superstition at The Savoy Hotel has it that 13 diners are unlucky. If your companions make up that unlucky number a 1920s three-foot-high black wooden cat is introduced to a 14th chair, a napkin is placed around his neck and he is served with each course by a diligent waiter

1

4Railway terminus stations

Blackfriars, Cannon Street, Charing Cross, Euston, Fenchurch Street, Liverpool Street, London Bridge, King’s Cross, Paddington, Victoria, Waterloo, Marylebone, Moorgate and St Pancras

1

5Restaurant

Fifteen Restaurant in Westland Place opened in November 2002, inspired by Jamie Oliver, a social enterprise providing young people with the opportunity to have a career in catering. It closed in May 2019 after training 15 young people a year at £40,000 each

1

6City farms

Mudchute, Vauxhall, Surrey Docks, Hackney, Spitalfields, Deen, Stepney, Newham, Freightliners, Brooks, Kentish, Forty Hall, Crystal Palace, Hounslow, Lee Valley, Belmont Children’s Farm

1

7The number of mosaic murals at the entrance and tunnel to Leytonstone tube station depicting Alfred Hitchcock

Installed to commemorate the centenary of Alfred Hitchcock’s birth, the designs capture the star or the feel of the film, from Psycho to Catch a Thief. In a strange coincidence, one of them is for an Alfred Hitchcock film titled Number 17

1

8Blends of tea at the Ritz

The Ritz is the only hotel in the UK to have a certified Tea Sommelier, Giandomenico Scanu, who travels around the world to various tea plantations to source the 18 different types of loose-leaf tea to choose from at their famous Afternoon Tea in the Palm Court

1

9The highest number of buses you can catch from a single stop

Stop K on Hounslow High Street, go there and try catching every bus in order, then return home and think about what you’re achieving with your life

2

0Minutes equivalent on the Northern Line to smoking a cigarette

According to a 2002 study air quality on the Underground was 73 times worse than at street level, with 20 minutes on the Northern Line having the same effect as smoking a cigarette

Where to Now, Gov?

Last January I wrote Parting company with TfL, laying out the demise, as I saw it, of the London black cab.

Little did I realise then just how successful Transport for London would be in reducing the number of wheelchair accessible vehicles on London’s streets.

On 1st August TfL published its fortnightly statistics covering the number of vehicles and licences in service on London’s streets.

The previous week there was a decrease of 20 licences (22 surrendered and 2 issued}, while 13 vehicles were taken off the road and 14 new vehicle licenses issued.

On the face of those figures not much seems any different from any previous week in August.

Until you drill down to the cumulative figures. Comparison with 10 years ago show a very different story: 2011: 22,558 vehicles (2021: 13,461), all London drivers’ licences 2011: 21,499 (2021: 18,341). Private hire record an even more dramatic change with operators numbering 3,111 in 2011 (2021: 1,955) and drivers recording a dramatic rise to 61,200 in 2011 (2021: 105,329).

All this has not gone unnoticed in the national press. The Daily Telegraph ran a piece by Oliver Gill, their chief business correspondent with the headline ‘Black cab slump to the lowest level since 1983 as a quarter of drivers quit’.

The transport union RMT have called on ministers to work with London Mayor Sadiq Khan to introduce emergency support measures following Department of Transport figures showing a catastrophic 29 per cent drop in the number of licensed vehicles, the lowest since 1983. From that, they extrapolated there has been a drop of more than 5,000 wheelchair accessible vehicles operating in the capital.

So there you have it. Get caught on a TfL vehicle without a face mask, and a valid excuse, you get fined or refused transportation. Find yourself in the vulnerable position of needing some kind of aid (wheelchair accessibility, low steps or swivel seats), and I’m afraid you’ll have to wait some considerable time.