Sunday, 22 June 2008
Looks like I might just be doing weekends and nights for a while. With oil prices on the increase and everyone generally talking about tightening their belts my wife and I thought it might be an idea for her to hold off the plans for me to go full time in the cab.
My first fuel receipt for the cab only eight months ago shows that the price of diesel was 96.9 pence per litre. I filled up yesterday at one of the cheapest local garages to me and paid 128.9p per litre, an increase of about 33 per cent. Compare that to the 4.5% increase that we managed to get from Transport for London on the tariff and you can see that we're starting to suffer a bit. Perhaps I'll become a fuel tanker driver and look forward to the 14% increase on a salary of around £40K p.a.
I know there are plenty of other things that will be hit by this huge price increase (others in the transport industry and indirectly, anything else that relies on the price of oil - just about everything if you look closely) but how do we resolve the problem. Perhaps the government could see people in transport as needing a fuel price reduction and let us by fuel at lower rates. Some hope. We could have an extra price rise on the taxi tariff, but that could just kill the industry off. People already moan that London taxis are the most expensive in the world so any increase may see them turn away from us and go towards other forms of transport. Perhaps in times of recession we just have to realise that we've got to work that little bit longer to keep our takings on a par with the "good times".
There is also news of a new taxi for London. Not saying that we don't need something as competition for LTi's TX4 but to bring out a vehicle that doesn't look like a London Taxi (regardless of whether it meets the conditions of fitness - 5 passengers, 25' turning circle etc) is going to leave the trade open minicab drivers and others buying similar vehicles, fitting a light dome and coming in to take work from us. How will passengers know whether they are using a genuine London cab or a cheaper (the new Mercedes is reported to be about the same price tag as a TX4) version that externally looks the same. And will they care, just so long as they get to their destination. Let's hope they get to the destination safely.
That said, it's bad enough that we have to battle against the legal minicabs, illegal touts and the rickshaws that form rings of steel around theatres at kicking out time, but more and more cab drivers are putting two fingers up to their own by jumping queues at some stations, picking up insight of ranks where cabbies are already waiting for work.
I ranked up outside Hamleys yesterday and in five minutes two cabs picked up jobs right next to the rank while I was there with my light on. I tried to get the attention of the drivers but they didn't seem to care that they were nicking jobs less than 20 feet from a ranked cab. Perhaps it's getting more dog-eat-dog out there. Let's hope that the majority of drivers keep up the etiquette than go for the other option.
Following on from my moan about non-tippers I decided to see if I could figure who are the best and worst tippers. There doesn't seem to be any real pattern to the type of person who tips and who doesn't buty I've found that Londoners tend to tip more than foreigners, and that Australians didn't tip at all over the past two weekends. Women are more generous than men (but we all knew that they are more caring and sharing than us blokes anyway.... didn't we?), and couples tend to tip more if the bloke is drunk and trying to impress.
Other than the couple I picked up from outside Liberty in Great Marlborough Street, going to Denmark Road in Camberwell last night. Not sure that he would have impressed anyone unless he was in a How-many-times-can-you-say-"F***"-in-one-sentence competition. She was a bit wobbly as she got in, he was even worse. Before we'd even got to Regent Street, a distance of less than 100 yards he'd shouted "Put some f***ing tunes on!". He then wanted to argue about what was good music and what wasn't, so I eventually found a station with a song he liked and turned it up so I couldn't hear him. Once in Regent Street he banged on the glass partition and slurred something in his best Sauchiehall Street aggressive drunk accent. I wasn't sure what he said but it was well punctuated with expletives, generally aimed in my direction. I pulled the cab to the kerb and told him that he could either calm down or find another cab. One slurred apology later and we're off to Camberwell, music turned up and intercom switched off.
I heard more from him as the journey continued, particularly some really nasty racist comments as we hit Elephant and Castle. I was tempted to drop him off there and then but figured I'd lose out on the rest of the fare so continued down Walworth Road towards the destination. We eventually got to the drop off point with £25.20 on the meter. He handed me two tenners and started "F***ing let me out of the f***ing cab, you c***". Clearly his day job with the diplomatic corps was frustrating him, especially when I told him that I needed another fiver. Another string of expletives and he realised that I didn't have my foot on the brake so he could have got out of the cab at any point. His girlfriend gave me four two pound coins and an apology while he stood at the side window streaming it with abuse and spittle. Hopefully I'll not have to deal with him ever again.
Luckily most other couples were a lot more pleasant than Wayne and Waynetta as I worked my way through a fairly slow Saturday night. As usual when it came time to think about heading for home I managed to pull jobs heading in West rather than towards the wonders of the new tarmac on the Gravesend stretch of the A2. The weekend before last saw jobs to Acton and Ealing on both nights with some help on the way back into town at Shepherds Bush. However, as I was preparing to head towards the O2 dome for a last job on Saturday, I picked up a couple on Regent Street wanting to go to Northcote Road near Clapham Junction. After dropping them off I headed back towards the West End and picked up almost immediately, a fare going towards Wimbledon, even further away from home.
I was tempted at this point to switch the light off and head for home, but I though that the next job MUST take me back in the right direction. I got as far as the Clapham Grand before a hand went out ... on the proper side of the road as well...
"Chessington please". Then a pause after the female passenger got in while the male stood outside the cab looking at me, then looking at her.
"Are you getting in this cab or not?". No it wasn't me asking the question, it was the young lady already on board.
With a tiny rebellion going on he mumbled "I dunno, you tell me" as he stepped in the back and slammed the door. I was tempted to comment about not taking it out on the vehicle but thought better of it since he had gone quiet and the only sound from the back was the lady sniffing back tears.
Time for the radio to go on again, and before too long she was screaming at him about his mates, his work and who knows what else. Luckily the TX2 is quite a noisy beast above 40mph so all went quiet again once we hit the A3. And it stayed quiet as peace descended on the pair and I started praying that they would get home before they did the whole "best part of breaking up is making up" routine in the back of the cab.
On the way back into town I managed to pick up five passengers at Putney Heath on their way to Clapham Junction, and then I crossed the river and found four people on the Kings Road heading towards Amika on Kensington High Street. As soon as I dropped them four more people got in wanting to go to China White's in Air Street. To avoid waiting too long at Piccadilly Circus they jumped out at the bottom of Air Street on Piccadilly and I started to head for home thinking I should switch my light off so that I don't end up going back west.
As I reached the lights at the top of Haymarket a lady with a broad French accent asked if I would go to Newbury Park. "Hang on" thinks I, "that's out towards the East." I checked with her and she said "Zee one on zee Zentral line". "Climb aboard!"
So we set off for Essex with five French passengers, all chatting away. To keep things simple I took it straight along the river, up through the city then out along the Mile End Road, through Straftord and along the Romford Road. As we get to Ilford the passengers are being fairly quiet and whispering amongst themselves. The glass partition in the cab is nothing compared to the Bastille so I ask if everything is OK (Everything other than the £48 on the meter at this point). They say that they want to go to Newbury Park and show me a tube map with "Newbury Park" circled on it. I explain in my limited French that we are approximately "deux kilometres" from Newbury Park and point at the road sign confirming what I had told them.
A shrug of the shoulders and their hotel looms into sight over the rooftops. I drop them off and they manage to scrape together the £52.20 for the journey with an 80p tip. Personally I'd be happy paying out £10 per person at 1:30 in the morning to get along a tube line that had been out all day.
From there it was a short trip out to the M25, across Dartford Bridge and home with a happy feeling that I'd finally finished the day with a job in the right(-ish) direction.
Things could have been a whole lot different on the previous weekend. While waiting at The Island near Lancaster Gate, a young "lady" runs over to the cab and asks if I could take her to "Ssh-idcup". Lovely, a nice job in the right direction to end the night. That was as good as it got. She fell into the cab and quickly scrambled onto a chair saying "Go left, go left". Since going left would have seen me going into the face of three lanes of oncoming traffic I opted to let the knowledge lead me in the right direction. "Can you go round the block, my boyfriend's back there". So a couple more right turns later and we're back where we started.
"Keep going! I don't want to stop for that bastard", so I carry on driving, hopefully heading for the Bayswater Road and the route to Sidcup.
"Go round the block again", an instruction that I decline saying that it's all adding up on the meter. "Don't worry, I've got £20" she says. I tell her that at that time of night she'd be lucky to get to Shoreditch for £20, let alone "Sshidcup".
"But there's some mates of mine round the corner who have got my money." At this point I pull over on the Bayswater Road and suggest that she gets out of the cab, gets her money and finds another taxi. Surprisingly (or not) she doesn't argue and gets straight out of the cab. I suspect that it's not the first time she's tried to pull this particular trick. I end up only losing £3.80 on the clock and 5 minutes of my time. Could have been somewhere around an hour and £50.
These long trips got me thinking about longer runs out into the suburbs, maybe from town or even from Heathrow so today I invested in a ... dare I say it?... Tom Tom sat nav system. i've made a couple of short journeys around my home towns and have found it to be a pile of poop compared to my local knowledge, but it does appear to correct and learn fairly quickly. I'm sure that over the next few weeks it'll sit in the cab and not be used very much, but if it helps me on a trip to East Grinstead next weekend when my daughter goes to Guide camp, and on a poorly planned motorbike tour into Spain, then it will have been an experience. Don't think I'll bother with it in town since my fat fingers make so many mistakes on the small touch screen it would be quicker to walk than let me correct my errors. I might leave it on though and run it as a comparison. I'll let you all know how well it goes... or not.
btw, knowledge boys and girls. If you wonder why you have to learn things like how to get in and out of Cleaver Square in Kennington, I had a job to there last weekend. After the passenger had paid me he offered me the route out. I interrupted him say, "Bowden, Methley, Milverton". He smiled and walked away saying "Very Impressive". Not sure Sat Nav would have been as quick.
Wednesday, 11 June 2008
As I was approaching the rank at North Colonnade, I noticed two cabs. A passenger with some suitcases was talking to the driver of the second cab who pulled off the rank, forward about 40 yards, and then waited for the passenger to catch him up. he then got into the cab and they drove off. I pulled onto the rank and the driver on point got out of his cab.
"Did you see that b***ard do that? He nicked the job off me. Did you get his number?" Sadly I didn't so we had to let that one go, but there seems to be a lot of that sort of thing going on now. We understand that we all need the work when we can get it, but if people start taking jobs off the ranks while others are queuing, or cutting other drivers up just to nick a job off their toes, then there's a possibility that we lose any sort of etiquette between drivers.
After about 5 minutes we both got jobs at the same time and I was on my way to the Mayfair Hotel on Stratton Street in W1. Traffic along the Highway and East Smithfield was quite bad so the fare eventually ended up at just over £30. The customer was a young American student who was fairly good about the traffic. At least we managed to have a good chat about his favourite sport... Rugby! Top bloke.
I picked up almost immediately in Berkeley Street, a gent who wanted to go to Waterloo. Everything heading towards Piccadilly Circus was rammed so he was happy for me to take him up towards Hyde Park Corner and down past Buckingham Palace, quite a pleasant journey for a hot summer's evening.
There were no other cabs at Waterloo, so I picked up straight off the rank, two Geordie Lasses who had been to see the Paul O' Grady Show wanting to go to Kings Cross. Straight onto the pick up rank from there and took a couple via the Royal Scot Travelodge to the Carling Academy at Islington.
A short spell without a job and I picked up in Theobald's Road, heading down to Christies in South Kensington. Straight onto the South Ken rank and picked up an old boy wanting to go to the Chelsea Arts Club in Old Church Street. He insisted on telling me the route he wanted which confused the snot out of me and I nearly missed the turn into Neville / Selwood Terrace. We got the destination, but with cars parked on both sides of the road I had to drive past to set him down without blocking the road for the traffic behind me. Before I got a chance to stop the old boy was screaming and shouting at me that I'd gone past, so I explained that I didn't want to block the road. don't think he was too happy about having to walk that extra 20 yards or so, since he gave me a whole 5p tip on top of the £3.80 fare. I left it for the road sweeper.
I decided to head back up Kings Road to see if there were any shoppers on their way home, but picked up a couple on their way to Le Caprice restaurant in Arlington Street. The fare came to £8.80, he gave me a tenner and said "Make it £9.50."
I picked up fairly quickly in Piccadilly outside the Academy of Arts and headed off to Charing Cross Station. Just before we reached the circus the passenger handed me a set of keys and said he'd found them on the floor. Since it's not far back to Le Caprice I decided to see if they belonged to my last fare. Luckily, I recognised them as I walked in, and the grateful gent handed me a nice crisp 20 for my trouble. So much easier doing things that way rather than handing them into a police station and having the customer spend a couple of hundred quid at a locksmith's.
The rest of the night just muddled along with only a short stop for a sandwich and a cuppa at Great Suffolk Street. Into Rate 3 and a job from Liverpool Street to St Mary's road in Peckham / Nunhead nearly had me heading for home since I was that side of town, but I thought I'd give it a little while longer. Managed to get all the way to Strand before picking up again, three Japanese who wanted three different drop off in the North Ealing area. Well away from the direction I really wanted to be in, but a job's a job. After being shown round the back streets of Ealing after the first drop off on Queens Drive, I eventually made the final drop off just past Ealing Broadway station and headed off towards town £45 better off.
A job on the way back from Shepherd's bush Green to the 606 club helped things in the right direction. One of the passengers was in a wheelchair, and I was surprised to hear that he's had cabbies tell him that they couldn't take him because they'd have to get the ramps out... a job that takes no more than a couple of minutes at each end. Had a good chat about music and was invited to name drop if I ever wanted to get into the 606 club for a gig. Might just do that.
I decided to head back across town and ended up at London Bridge Station, hoping for someone who may have missed their train into Kent. After a wait of about 30 minutes I got a job. The passenger got in and asked for Peckham.
"Whereabouts in Peckham?".
"I don't know. Get me to the station and I'll show you. Do you speak French?"
Oh no! I've got a passenger going to somewhere in Peckham, who doesn't know the address, who doesn't speak English, and may not have any money. Even worse, as we get to Peckham Rye Station he tries to direct me through the no entry signs, so we're off of the route he knows, having probably only travelled it by bus. My 20-something year old O level French came in a little useful and I find out here's visiting a friend "en vacances". By now, we're in a badly lit street heading towards Nunhead, so I stop and try some more bumbling French. "Qu'est-ce que c'est, le nom de la rue que vous desiree?"
It must have worked since he got onto the phone and asked someone and eventually gave me "Wood Vale". Great, at last a destination. By now, I've already tucked notes in various hidey holes in the cab, fully expecting to get to the estate on Wood Vale and having a weapon pulled on me. I shouldn't be so paranoid, the passenger showed me exactly where he wanted to go and I dropped him off at the door he wanted, and we went our separate ways, him tired and late in a strange town, and me trying to remember where I'd hidden the money.
Hope I manage to find it when I take the cab back on Friday. It may be my last fling with the firm I'm with since having been with them less than two weeks, I've had two cabs that have had things wrong with them, the latest being that the replacement cab has some sort of fault that drains the battery (possibly and alternator problem, possibly the battery itself). But it's a pain in the backside when you need to get somewhere and the bloody thing doesn't start only 12 hours after doing a 10 hours shift. Thank God it didn't fail on me in Ealing. That's a long walk home.
The alternative is that the vehicle gets recovered back to Bethnal Green, and I've then got to find my way back to Medway from there at 1 o'clock in the morning. It would have to be a cab, and I know I wouldn't have been happy having to pay out a fare for that particular journey.
Monday, 9 June 2008
After the change of cab last weekend, I managed to get back up to the new garage and swap over for a 54 plate TX2... with working air-conditioning. And didn't I need it this weekend. Lovely weather, but just a little warm to be in a cab with no air-con and LTI's inability to design a heating system that actually switches off. After 60 years you'd have thought they'd have got it right by 2004.
Friday was a short day in town for me and it reminded me why I'm not going in to do the short days before having to get back in time to pick up my daughter from school. Started off at Liverpool Street Station - I just can't seem to get a starting job anywhere before there, despite a short stop at Royston Vasey (or the O2 Dome) and a couple of laps of Canary Wharf. Picked up a couple who wanted the Indian Visa application centre. "Down at the High Commission in The Aldwych?". Apparently not. they've moved from there to a place in Goswell Road. Off we go, having a good chat with the couple who were making the application for their son, and having a day in town. We arrive at Goswell Road, a nice little tip and as I start to drive off I hear a whistle and a shout. Seems the new system has failed and they need to go from there to Wilton Road in Victoria. Another few quid on the clock having fought my way through horrible traffic and they finally get to where they need to be. Having re-started the clock again, I let them off the flag-fall cost. "Are you sure?" asks the gent, who tries to pay me again and add another tip. I'm in a good mood so I insist that he pays me the lower price that I've asked. Instant Karma's gonna get me.
Well, it may have been instant Karma, or it may just have been the good weather putting people in a good mood at the weekend. My first three jobs of Saturday were all around the £10 mark, but all three gave me £15 and told me to keep the change. Nice!
The day carried on with people in good moods... until lunchtime. Having popped into the Royal Oak cafe for a quick sandwich and a cuppa, I jumped onto the rank at Paddington. Picked up a European gent with his suitcase (which I loaded into the cab for him) and he told (not asked) me to take him to Wandsworth Bridge Road. My mind clicks the route over in my head and since he wants the Kings Road end, I decide on going over the top of the park, down through Kensington and in from there. It's possibly a line through the park normally, but since Hyde park was hosting the Red Bull Flugtag I figured that my chosen route would be quicker and more comfortable without having to deal with the speed humps. (The park may have actually been shut anyway (South Carriage Drive definitely was).
As we get to Kensington High Street I hear the passenger saying "You do know we're going to WANDSWORTH Bridge Road, don't you?". I explain about the Flugtag and tell him the rest of the route that I planned to take. He then tells me that every other driver goes through the park and straight down Kings Road. So I explain again, but I'm pretty sure he wasn't listening. We reach the destination having been rolling all the way, not a traffic jam anywhere along the route. I offer to get his bag for him but he's already in the luggage compartment dragging it out, paying me off legal and slamming the door without a word. "Thank you sir. Enjoy the rest of your weekend." I might have muttered something under my breath by the time I got back to the Kings Road, but I was determined to not let it get to me.
Other customers included some of the most pleasant and politest Americans I have ever met. One gent who looked like Ed Straker from the old UFO television series was on his way from Piccadilly Circus to the Metropolitan Hotel at Old Park Lane who told me he was impressed with the clean cab, my neat appearance and my sharp wit. To be honest I can't remember saying anything comparable (or attributable) to Oscar Wilde, but I accepted the compliments (and tip) with good grace. The other Americans were four girls in their late teens, travelling from the Four Seasons at Park Lane to Regents Park. They were all chatting and asking about various places in London, but every question was opened with "Sir?". Perhaps I look older than I am. Older and wider, perhaps.
Sunday was even warmer and with everyone in a good mood, even the Irish-Canadian gentleman travelling from Paddington to Le Meridien at Piccadilly, whose journey was cut short at Sackville Street by the march by several thousand Sikhs trying to form their own independent state of Khalistan. Not sure that holding up the traffic through the West End of London will help them on that particular road, but I am now aware of another piece of social-geographical-religious news that I wasn't previously. And the passenger, despite having to walk the last couple of hundred yards of his journey still thought that London cabbies are the best in the World.
Going back to my posting about needing the knowledge, I was happy to have picked out a couple of "lines" that were frequently called during my long call-over sessions with my COP Brian (who didn't work the weekend after buying his children a Wii system. Rumour has it, he's still trying to beat anyone in his house at ANY of the games.)
Having dropped at South Kensington junction I ranked up and within a few minutes had pulled a job to Fernlea Road in Balham. The journey started well with me saying "Bal-ham, gateway to the south", a comment which received a cheer from both passengers. I knew the expression, but did not know from where. They explained it was an old Peter Sellers sketch, so thanks to YouTube it can now be shared.
One job that I knew wouldn't get me a tip was The Westbury Hotel in Conduit Street to The Langham at the top of Regent Street. One top destination to another. This was obviously going to be legalled off at £4.40. And the female passenger insisted on telling me which route to take... Blimey love, it ain't that difficult, get to Regent Street from Conduit Street and head North, set down on left. Should I have bothered with the Knowledge with all these good people knowing best? Yes I think I should.
By the time the children had arrived and we were all ready to go the atmosphere had really picked up and cabbies were starting to look forward to the trip as much as the children from various local hospitals and schools. My charges were three 6 year olds from a school in Fulham, and one of their classroom helpers.
As we set off we were encouraged to make as much noise as we could so with the kids all screaming and shouting and drivers blowing horns we set off on the trip down Old Brompton Road towards Putney and onto Chessington.
The organisers had hoped for a police escort for the journey but that didn't appear, but local PCSOs held up the traffic for the exit from Earls Court and some RAC vans did the same for us at some of the major junctions en route.By the time we got to Chessington some cabs had already lost balloons and the hot weather had seen off a few more. A little threadbare compared to the departure, maybe, but still well in the spirit of things.
What I hadn't realised was that the drivers were to stay with their charges for the day and be their hosts around the park. Of course, this meant that since some of the children were below the necessary height to go on rides unaccompanied, the drivers got to have some fun as well.
By the end of the day and the journey home, the children (and a few of the drivers) were exhausted, but there were smiles all around. The journey back to Earls Court was a little more subdued, but everyone seemed to have had a good time. I had considered switching the light on and doing a few jobs on the way home, but the early start had taken its toll and I was heading for home.
Anyone who hasn't been on one of these trips should really consider it. All you have to do is to give up a day of your time, and perhaps a little bit of fuel getting to and from the start venue. I had a great time, and hopefully, the kids will remember their day out for some time. I'm sure I'll do another trip in the future, just need to set the alarm clock for a sensible time though.
Wednesday, 4 June 2008
Since my last update I've gone through the 6 month barrier since getting my badge and starting as a cabbie. I have to say that I'm still enjoying the job, but am still unable to get in as many hours as I'd like to. The customers are still pretty much OK, with occasional daftness, occasional rudeness and plenty of conversation.
One particular moment of daftness was the man who wanted to go from Whitehall to Tottenham Court Road. Nice easy run, but while he was on the phone I could overhear his conversation, questioning why someone was waiting for him at the airport when it clearly stated on his ticket that he wouldn't be arriving until the morning of the 19th. It wasn't until I pointed out to him that "today's the 19th", that he suddenly made lots of apologies and started struggling to find a number at Heathrow so that he could re-arrange his flight to Johannesburg. Thankfully the LTDA diary comes loaded with numbers for just about all the airlines to just about all destinations and I received a nice tip from the customer for this little bit of help.
The London Mayoral elections saw Boris Johnson win over all-comers, although it felt more like a vote to "get Ken out" rather than a "get Boris in" result. It'll be interesting to see if there are many changes now that Bo-Jo has made a mark in politics rather than as a bumbling, blustering TV presenter. The next four years will tell.
I finally got my cab running the way I liked it after 6 months, with little bits and pieces finally being put right over time. And then, like a comfortable pair of shoes something happens that means you have to say goodbye. I went in to pay my rent last week to see a scene reminiscent of the USA abandoning their embassy in South Vietnam with a small bonfire going on the forecourt and a shredder running pretty much non-stop.
"OK Kev, we need your rent and your cab. We're closing down the rental business." Luckily they'd arrange for all the drivers to be supplied by one of the other local firms with newer cabs. Unluckily, mine is a year newer, but has a rip in the driver's seat cover, a badly patched up hole in the driver's carpet, a clutch that slips for the first half mile, a steering system that makes more strange sounds than Tangerine Dream gig in a china shop, no mileometer or trip reading, several dents all over the bodywork, a windscreen wiper that only clears half the screen and an oil leak that is the REAL reason for Gordon Brown asking the Oil industry to increase production. Add to that the fact that the air-con system leaks and the heater is permanently on, and you can see why I'm getting it changed this Friday.
Rather than post a couple of months worth of updates in one go I'll try to filter them through over the next few days. Remind me to tell you about the trip to Chessington.