Thinking allowed — 07 October 2016

“Can you open the window mate?” But when I stopped the cab, got out and walked to the rear compartment and opened the passenger door to slide down the window, it led to jibes from his mates.

To be fair his request was not unreasonable, most vehicles he had encountered had a little button which effortlessly, using the miraculous power of electricity could move the window up or down.

A few vehicles, soon to be destined for the scrap heap had a handle to arduously turn to move the window in the required direction. A sliding window was circa 1950, a decade which of course, the Public Carriage Office was firmly entrenched. Attached to the Metropolitan Police it was reassuringly run by the firm authoritarian hand of the police force.

You knew your place, vehicles were inspected by their in-house mechanics, cabs checked for cleanliness and drivers aware that indiscretions were likely to result in the suspension, or loss of their licence.

In a rebranding exercise London Transport became Transport for London (an oxymoron if ever there was one) and retired police officers at the Carriage Office were replaced by pseudo civil servants who knew little of transport, let alone the London cab trade.

Private hire (mini-cabs) were given legitimacy but enforcement left to 39 officers policing 24,000 cabs and probably three times that number of private hire – New York had 200 officers.

Inevitably London’s streets became lawless with clipboard Johnnies offering unlicensed mini-cabs; touting was rife; young ladies harassed with impunity; and rickshaws offering a dangerous service at scandalous prices.

Into this seemingly unregulated mix jumped in the ‘digital disrupters’ with little scrutiny over their ‘associates’. Their raison d’être seemingly to provide quantity over quality: drivers who had never driven on English roads before, let alone negotiated London’s busy and dangerous contra-flows; with little command of the native tongue; a cursory check on insurance; and virtually no scrutiny as to the applicant’s criminal past.

You now have drivers buying seven-day insurance policies and hiring Toyota Prius vehicles by the hour; and due to the fact that Transport for London are issuing 700 licenses a week the work is so scarce 16-hour days are the norm with the inevitable consequence of drivers having accidents.

So what has been Transport for London’s solution to this unfolding dangerous crisis?

Precisely nothing. You have a regulator who’s first reaction to criticism is to say “Nothing to do with me ‘Gov, now move along”, while all the time the West End’s streets fill with empty private hire to the point of gridlock every evening.

A report by the London Assembly’s Transport Committee concluded Transport for London were doing:

A woefully inadequate job and the interests of the passengers are being largely ignored . . .  TfL needs to get to grips with the basics – such as improving signage, installing more taxi ranks and staying ahead of the rapid technological advances, putting the passenger first – which is what Londoners and our visitors expect and deserve

It would appear that my old cab’s sliding windows are a perfect metaphor for Transport for London:

It seemed like a good idea at the time, but passengers didn’t understand its purpose; with an inadequate safeguard the windows would just keep falling down; and was using technology decades out of date.

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Gibson

(2) Readers Comments

  1. What a fabulous analysis of the nightmare the taxi trade finds itself in today. Indeed the PCO was an extension of the post-war world that we all grew up in—cooperative, approachable, firm but fair. We now endure this scary future-world characterised by anonymity, unaccountability and corruption. Nobody in authority shouted Stop and we’re in danger of becoming a curious antiquity. All we have is our industrial muscle. Direct action is all these corporatists will understand. I’m ready.

    • This is something that I’ve been wanting to get off my chest these last 12 months. As I have now got back my followers thanks to WordPress engineers after I stupidly managed to ‘lose’ them, it seemed like a good time to write the post. It’s a pity that I can’t see the situation changing any time soon. Each week seems to get worse.
      Anyway Be Lucky! Never has that been more true. Thanks for the constructive comment.

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