Friday, 18 July 2008

Holidays are coming... (Part 1)

Before I pop out to start another weekend of work I thought I might bore you all with my holiday plans.

My daughter doesn't really want to go away anywhere this year, so the summer will be spent having day trips out to places and maybe a long weekend up to Great Yarmouth or somewhere similar.

I didn't take a holiday last year so I really wanted to go somewhere overseas, so myself and three friends have decided on a trip to Southern France on motorbikes. I was tempted to start another blog on this but figured it would just provide more content for these pages, and maybe attract more visitors from the biking fraternity. (Of course, if you don't want to read about this you can always skip the page.)

The plan was originally to go in September but due to other commitments we've settled on leaving on 6th October, and travelling for around 10 days. The only plan we have so far is that we want to pay a visit to the Menin Gate at Ypres, as well as taking in some of the War cemeteries; then head south towards the new bridge at Millau, and then head down to Monte Carlo for a couple of days. The ride towards home will then take up towards the Swiss / French German borders and the Rhine Valley. Hopefully we'll be able to do the majority of the ride without hitting too many motorways. A couple of the bikes are getting on a bit so we're going to need to be fairly close to some sort of civilisation for most of the trip in case of breakdown.

And that's about it. I'll fill in more details as plans come into place, but any suggestions for touring in Europe would be very much appreciated by this particular novice.

Thursday, 17 July 2008

A new broom...

I've often picked people up who ask me "Is it OK for you to take me to...?" or "Will you go to...?". This is usually on the back of them having asked other drivers who don't want to go in that particular direction and drive off without accepting the fare.

A couple of days ago, my wife needed to go from the West end of Strand to Cannon's Health Club in Endell Street, Covent Garden. She was running slightly late, and as with a lot of people in the hot weather, any respite from walking anywhere in London is welcome. For those who don't know London, the job is probably less than half a mile, and would take no more than a couple of minutes, with the meter showing less than a fiver, she'd have handed over a "Lady" just to know that she'd got to her physio appointment on time.

She'd even crossed to the North side of the Strand so that the cab wouldn't even have to make a U-turn or fight his way round King Charles I island. She flagged a driver with his light on, who pulled over to pick her up.

She told him where she wanted to go and his reply was a curt "Don't know it".
She told him it was only up in Endell Street.
Cabbie - "Still don't know it".
Mrs P - "I've been there before, would you like me to give you directions?"
Cabbie - "No thanks", and with that he drove off leaving her waiting for another cab (after she'd taken the plate number).

This got me wondering about refusal of jobs as a cabbie. When we get our badge and bill we are given a copy of the Abstracts of Laws which tells us exactly what is expected of us, our vehicles, the PCO, TfL and so on. (I never received or signed my copy of these on the day I got my badge so perhaps none of the above applies to me.)

Reading through these it seems we are to accept a job if we are plying for hire. We're only allowed to do this at designated places and are not allowed to stop somewhere else and remain there to get jobs. Funny, nobody seems to mind the mini-cabs blocking Greek Street of a night. Oh hang on, it's OK, they're all pre-booked... aren't they?

Providing the cab is unhired the driver cannot refuse a fare providing it is not more than 12 miles or one hour duration (20 miles from Heathrow). This applies if the cab is on a rank or stand, OR if it is found unhired in the street but not in a parking place. (It all gets complicated, and I'm definitely no lawyer). There are some questions over whether a job should be accepted if you feel the cab, the passengers or the driver would be put in danger due to the passenger's lack of sobriety or an aggressive attitude. This isn't actually mentioned in the document.

An unhired cab is not obliged to stop and pick up a fare if it is in motion. In motion also means while sitting in traffic jams, stopped at traffic lights etc. If a cab is hailed and the driver and customer speak, the driver is then obliged to take the job with the limits since he is technically "found standing in the street".

And so there, you have it. If a fare is refused for no reason other than it being too short a job or not in the right direction, the driver is liable to a penalty of up to £200. Ouch! Of course, this leaves me open to abuse from other drivers for letting my limited readership know that they have cause for complaint, but perhaps they'll think before "brooming" another job. Especially if it's a cabbie's wife.

On the other hand, if people start to take these jobs and provide the service we're supposed to, people might not be so keen to take a mini-cab or rickshaw instead, and our trade will be looked upon with more favourable eyes. Remember that a complaint will travel a lot further than a good comment. If you listen to radio phone-ins about taxis and their drivers, you will generally hear and people will remember the nightmare stories. This may be because unsatisfied people will need to air their grievances more than someone who doesn't have a story to tell.

Enough of all that. Over to my own weekend of work. It started on Friday evening with Tom Tom directing me to a scout/guide camp in East Grinstead where my daughter and her patrol were to be staying for the weekend, taking in events such as abseiling (you wouldn't get me sliding down a rope when there are perfectly good stairs to use), canoeing (they were going to get wet because of the weather), archery (the new street weapon?) and so on.

Having dealt with the closure of the High Street in East Grinstead, Tom Tom finally got me to the destination, but I was distinctly uncomfortable relying on the machine rather than using a map to plan my journey. It did help me get back into town to do a short night's work though, although finding the M23 from East Grinstead isn't exactly the hardest of tasks.

Once into town I picked up in Brixton Road outside the Plan B bar. The customer asked for "Bread and Roses". I joked that I was neither a baker or a florist and that as a cabbie I'd take him to the pub of that name in Clapham Manor Street. A nice easy job to start the evening. It took me a while to get out of the SW postcodes with jobs from Vauxhall Cross to Lavender Hill, then from Beaufort Street to Stonehouse Street (back to Clapham again), and then from South Lambeth Road to the Sheraton Park Tower Hotel. I love it when it rains!!

I then headed into town and picked up in Dean Street, a customer wanting to go to Compayne Gardens in West Hampstead. Slightly tricky to end the job because of all the one ways in the area, but the customer was quite happy to tell me the route he wanted. Much better than any sat nav system although his route left something to be desired.

On the way back I picked up 3 fairly liquid cricket fans in Maida Vale, wanting to go to the Duke of Clarence in Old Brompton Road. All the way down I could hear them talking about various friends who were raking it in, and about how well they were all doing despite a looming recession. "Hang on" thinks I, "This fare's going legal."

I was wrong. They wanted to give me less than legal. We got to the destination with £18 on the clock. "£18 please sir". They all rummaged through their pockets and scraped together a couple of five pound notes and some shrapnel. "Is £17 OK driver?" "Err no, it says £18 on the meter. That's why I asked for £18 please sir". More rummaging, more shrapnel, and I end up with exactly £18 in various coinage. no wonder they're all doing so well, asking for discounts on everything. I wonder if when they bought the first round in the pub and the barmaid asked for £9, if they said "Is £8 OK?" Why do people think that cabbies are any different to any other service?

I only had a couple more jobs after that, one of them from Goodge Street to St Paul's Cathedral. Odd at nearly midnight, but it seems the young man was taking the young lady back to an apartment in Ludgate Square. Wish they'd waited until they'd got back before they started on each other. Don't know the point of putting five seats in cab for people who insist on sharing one seat. And she wasn't even facing forward. (If you don't get the picture... hard luck :) ) Honestly, it gets difficult to use your rear view mirror when there's a game of tonsil hockey being played out in your line of vision. Good luck to them both, hope they had a wonderful time.

Saturday was a steadily busy day. Not too many dead miles, and lots of work from the stations. Weekend Engineering works may be a pain to train and tube travellers but it does help some of us out on occasions. Nothing major in the way of long jobs during the day, but I ended up with a job from Tower Hill to Asda at Beckton at around 10pm. The driver in front of me was "in motion" so didn't stop for the three lads, so I was quite happy with a job straight along the Highway and the A13. From there I dropped through the Blackwall Tunnel to the O2 dome. I made my way to "point" after about 15 minutes and along came a family, a man in wheelchair, his wife, his daughter and their grandaughter in a buggy. This was going to be tough getting the chair and the buggy in, but I moved to get closer to the kerb so that I could get the ramps in position.

"Don't worry mate, I'll get out of the chair and fold it up for you". Nice and easy. The chair folded and fitted in the luggage compartment, the buggy stayed up and the baby slept through a nice journey back to my childhood hometown of Belvedere. It seems that they had intended to get a cab from Woolwich having taken a river trip, but the boat had stopped at the Dome and kicked everyone off without reaching the destination, leaving the passenger stranded some miles short of his pre-booked cab. We had a good chat about music and my old home town and I finished the night in the right direction towards Medway.

Sunday was a short but busy day, with more jobs to Lords, and luckily lots of work taking me back to Waterloo from Saint John's Wood. some days just fall nicely into place like that. A good weekend's work with a final job bailing taking a young female New Yorker to The Ledbury Restaurant from Queens Gate. A nice easy job but she was full of praise for London cabbies and their knowledge, saying that we're the best in the world. Don't it make you feel proud?

Eventually I had to bail to let Tom Tom direct me back to East Grinstead to collect my tired but happy daughter from camp. And so to the washing machine.

Monday, 7 July 2008

Show me the way to go home

Not quite to home, I already know my way there, but I must admit to using my sat-nav for the first time "in anger" this weekend. And for the second time...

The first was on Saturday night when I managed to pick up a family in Strand who first asked me to take them to Liverpool Street, and then as they were climbing in they asked how much it would be to Romford. I told them it would be around £50-£60 and he said, "Ok then, take us home". I already knew the route to Romford town centre, but it was just putting the finishing touches to the job that I needed. The passenger was quite happy to tell me the route, but I was keen to see if Tom Tom agreed so we tried to programme in the postcode but it didn't recognise it, but the address came up and the route was in.

To be honest I was more comfortable using the passenger's directions than sat nav but it got us there and more importantly, got me back onto the A12 after dropping them off.

I had another long job on Saturday night, from The Banker in Cousin Lane, down to Old Coulsdon ("How far south of the river is that?"). Again, I knew the main part of the route from the suburb runs at the end of The Knowledge, and the customers got me to their destination from there. After that it was back onto the A23, the M25 and head for home, a fairly busy night finished off with two £60 jobs.

The only major problem on Saturday was the lack of roads available for use through the West End. With the O2 Wireless Festival taking place in Hyde Park and the Gay Pride parade and events going on most of Soho and the West End were no go areas for any vehicles (presumably other than Pedicabs). Luckily, most of my work took me well away from the West End.

One of my first jobs was into Long Acre, an I.T. engineer on call for the weekend, and having dropped him off after a trip from Waterloo Station, I immediately picked up two ladies wanting to go to Rose Square on Fulham Road. Since Strand and Shaftesbury Avenue were both closed I warned them that I would have to get down to the Embankment and work my way in form there. There had also been warning that Knightsbridge traffic was heavier than usual so I asked if I could take a more southerly route than usual. They were happy, just so long as we didn't have to sit in traffic for too long. The only time one of them moaned was when we hit a little bit on Kings Road, but once we'd got into Anderson Street, it was plain sailing from there to the destination. Happy customers, despite a fare that was probably 50% higher than perhaps it would normally have been. They were quite understanding about the traffic problems and still gave me a nice little tip on top of the fare.

From there I had jobs pretty much without any down time going to Campden Grove, then Praed Street. From Praed Street I had two tourist wanting to go to Sussex Gardens. I told them it was a matter of no more than 1/4 mile to the hotel they wanted, but they insisted on taking the cab. I ranked up at Paddington after that and 10 minutes later I was on my way to Saint Johns Wood Park. From there I went to the rank at London Zoo and was asked to go to Soho. "Soho - Oh No!". I explained about the road closures and they were happy for me to get them to any point as close as I could get to Frith Street. A long journey to get to Cambridge Circus and then a short walk for them.

I picked up heading South on Charing Cross Road, a customer wanting to go to Regency Street, SW1. After 10 minutes we had moved about 50 yards because of the closure of Trafalgar Square, so I suggested it might be easier for him to walk. He agreed and I let him off the £3.40 that had clocked up up to that point, saying it wasn't fair that we'd gone nowhere. Another grateful customer.

From there I managed to get Eastbound along Strand and picked up a job to Euston Station. Since the rank was back in operation after some refurbishment work I decided to drive down the ramp to see how different it was. A bit cleaner and the island had been removed allowing you to get out of the rank if things re a bit slow down there. Wish I'd taken that option. Sat there for 45 minutes before getting a job to Gibson Square (my second to that famous destination - but never from Manor House Station). Everything after that seemed to keep me North and West with jobs to Crouch End Hill, Rutland Grove in Hammersmith, Chiswick High Road, Kensington High Street, until finally getting back into town for the two "roaders".

Sunday was just as busy, but with road closures still in place until mid-afternoon from the previous day's Gay Pride Festival, and that morning's London 10K run (Why would people want to run that far in London when there's a perfectly good cab network?) This caused some problems for one customer who wanted to get from Pimlico Road to Charing Cross Station. Road closures around Whitehall were causing horrible queues all around Victoria and Westminster. Luckily, chatting to the customer I found out he wanted to get the train to Woolwich so suggested that we cut across Lambeth Bridge and head for Waterloo East. Another changed destination, but another happy customer.

The Rail Air Freight Terminal at Victoria (RAFT) was particularly busy during the afternoon but only resulted in jobs to Tedworth Square, Royal Hospital Road and Fawcett Street. After that, most jobs kept me away from the centre of town and I found myself in some areas i hadn't been to in the nine months since I got my badge. I had a job that took me out to the Turnham Green area so made my way back to Hammersmith Broadway to see if there was anyone heading back into town. Two ladies approached the cab and asked for Maida Vale. I had the route in my head until one of them told me "It's not actually Maida Vale, it's Walterton Road". This threw me completely since I couldn't place the street at all. Now, I could have got the A-Z to see where the road was, but asked if they'd mind me cheating and switching on the sat-nav. "No problem".

So, I programmed in the destination and followed the route. Wish I'd used the A-Z since it would have shown me the final destination and made me think of the route. As it was I followed almost blindly, and when it took me along Great Western Road, right into Woodfield Road, Left Woodfield Place, Left Harrow Road, Right Elgin Avenue instead of just going straight over at the end of Great Western Road I had to apologise to the customers. I got them to the destination but knocked a couple of quid off the fare with which they were happy. And I've got one more area to report to the Tom Tom mapshare system.

All in all a good weekend, cab rent covered, a few quid towards my summer holiday wherever that takes me, and a lesson learned about not being lazy and relying on the sat nav instead of the three and a half years of training on The Knowledge.

Friday, 4 July 2008

An apology

Seems my last posting created a bit of a stir on the board of a well known knowledge school. It seems that because I mentioned the fact that the price of diesel fuel is on the increase and that I'd had a couple of shaky fares that things are not well in the cab trade. Sorry boys and girls, just stating facts. If however, you read other entries on these pages you'll see that most of the time, things are pretty good.

It seems that my view on the new Mercedes taxi-van are fairly similar to everyone but the people who are trying to sell them. It'll be hard to see too many people paying the same price for one of these things as a traditional cab, and with electric doors and a button to give rear wheel steering there's an awful lot more things that will need servicing and repairing. Think I'll continue with the rented TX2 with its brand new stickers advertising some financial service or another for now and leave the vans to the minicab boys.

Thanks to family commitments I was only able to get out on Saturday last weekend, starting off with a little job from Liverpool Street to Waterloo. From there I picked up immediately off the rank (lots of punters and no cabs) going to Greenwich Market. Nice start to the day. Didn't really have too many long periods of sitting around on ranks, other than at the Mandeville Hotel where three jobs came out, all with people and their luggage with LHR tags on. Sadly though, every one of them had a pre-booked mini-cab. In the past I've seen one of the doormen there running up the road to find one of the mincabs parked up in Manchester Square, so I know where I'll not be ranking up in future. Perhaps one of their "friendly" mini cab firms would like to take the jobs that are only going to Regents Park from now on.

Most of the jobs were fairly short after the trip to Greenwich, but it was fairly steady, especially with people going to the Hard Rock festival at Hyde Park. I picked up one couple from the Sanderson Hotel, going to the QEQM Gate on Park Lane. They were telling me that they had been at Glastonbury that morning and that it is one of the "Must do before you die" events. I told them "Perhaps a few years ago before it sold its soul". I've done festivals, indoor and outdoor, big and small gigs and I just feel that some of these events are now becoming a jolly for people other than those who really enjoy the music so that they can use it as one of their "I bought the T-shirt" fashion statements. And I told them that I thought that the whole thing has been hijacked by big money sponsorship to the exclusion of the people who were the lifeblood of the summer festivals.

Eventually it came out that they were one of the sponsors of the event, but we had a good chat about how sponsorship of these "fashionable" events is killing the smaller music venue. If people really care about music and not just "Greatness by association" then why are so many small pubs and clubs struggling to fill for live music events? The same thing happened with football in this country and it's all about the money. Some of the backing needs to be filtered down to the grass roots so that we can build up what was at one time one of our greatest industries.

Anyway, enough of that particular rant for now. I'm off to either WOMAD or the Rhythm Festival before they get too big for discomfort. (btw I went to see a singer/songwriter at the Troubadour in Old Brompton Road on Monday Night. Billy Franks has been around for a few years - previously with the Faith Brothers but is still turning out some fantastic stuff. Check him out if you get a chance, and look out for his new film "Tribute This" which is currently being premiered in the USA.)

I took the new Sat Nav system out with me in case of any long distance runs but it wasn't needed, other than as something to check some of my past lines where people have moaned about the routes. Most of the time the Sat Nav agreed with the routes I've taken (which doesn't necessarily make them right) or I've been fairly close. One thing I did find was that the planning of routes might be quite useful, except for where it sends you northbound along Tabernacle Street to go straight across Great Eastern Street and into Pitfield Street. I've supposedly got the most up to date maps but the top of Tabernacle Street has been paved over for at least a year, and would result in no small embarrassment for anyone trying to take that particular route. And it would have cost them a fortune in tyres and suspension to try to get over the two raised kerbs.

The only time I did consult TomTom was when someone asked for a particular number on Sussex Gardens. It gave me a rough location of the building (albeit on the wrong side of the road) and saved me the bother of having to drive up and down the whole length of the street to find it. Of course had I not quizzed the Sat Nav for the location I would have found my way to the centre and worked from there.

I had a short night out last night while my wife and daughter went to the Open Air Theatre in Regents Park. The Tom Tom stayed inside its little pouch all the time I was working, including the two long-ish jobs I had to Mortlake from Regent Street and to a little road off of Tulse Hill from Embankment Place.

I had to cut my evening short to pick up the family from Romeo and Juliet, a real shame since there were lots of people with their hands out as the gig at Hyde Park started kicking out, and then again as I got to The Inner Circle as the theatre finished.

At least I've got all of this weekend to ignore the Sat Nav again and rely on The Knowledge.

PS - I've just spell checked the document. There may be a few mistakes but having spell checked and proof-read the football fanzine I produced a few years ago it's a lot easier (albeit very lazy of me) to humbly beg you to ignore teh pedant in you when it comes to grammar, spelling and sense. This doesn't always work well, as with the poster by Rochester Bridge advertising the news that Medway's Charles Dickens festival is to improve. Surely a newspaper advertising hoarding should be spell-checked, especially when it comes up with words like this.