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.


Wyn Grant said...

Didn't know you came from Belvedere. My aunt and uncle lived in Picardy Road.

Anonymous said...

Re "brooming".

Some years ago I moved from St John's Wood to Blackheath and was immediately shocked by the difficulties I suddenly faced in getting home from the West End (something I do by cab after work almost every night).

Prior to moving, I had always been able to depend on cabs to take me home (as the first available would happily take a fare to NW8). By contrast, I find that OVER 70% of cabs refuse point blank to go to Blackheath! I've even been refused by drivers "on point" at a rank (and had the second man fume at me about it).

Initially I was amused and made a game of seeing how many consecutive refusals I would suffer before I managed to proceed home (my record was six, with the seventh cab accepting the fare; but three is a much more usual number). However the novelty soon wore off and I quickly tired of it, choosing instead to take my business (usually c. £50 + a generous tip) elsewhere. I now use a very handy iPhone app from Addison Lee, who have never once begrudged any of my fares.

It's awfully unfair on the 30% of drivers who accept such fares that their reputation has been sullied by the majority of drivers who seem to think the law shouldn't apply to them. Worse, it really saddens me that I no longer feel I can depend on London taxis to get me from A to B (I find myself reaching for that iPhone app before even attempting to hail a cab, even for journeys around central London).

On the rare occasion today that I find myself trying to get home by cab and am refused, I don't hesitate to demand to see the driver's badge in order to report him (at which point he either changes his attitude, or curses and drives away). I don't do this lightly - but there comes a point when enough is enough! And I do it for the sake of the profession, who really need to take much stronger action to stamp out this behaviour before customers lose all confidence entirely.

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