Friday, January 08, 2016

A year like no other by AndyCabb

2015, a year unprecedented in Taxi trade politics.


I would like to share my experiences of the last year, my thoughts and how the situation we all find ourselves in has affected me.

I’d like to start in July, when I attended Parliament along with many other drivers for a lobby of Parliament organised by the RMT. This was to launch an Early Day Motion calling for a statutory definition of plying for hire. This was well supported by all the other trade orgs, who all spoke up in favour of this. 


It seems to me though that this EDM is now dead in the water and that the chances of getting ‘plying for hire’ defined in law is at best unlikely. 

I think this is a huge shame as if this was defined properly and covered all modern technologies and was future proofed to protect the principle, then clear boundaries that have been allowed to become blurred, would exist between Taxis and Private Hire. I have not heard one reason why this is not a good idea.

The one thing about this meeting that really stood out for me was one gentleman who stood up and implored us to get out and lobby lobby lobby our MP’s. 

For me this was something that inspired me to do just that. I didn’t want to do this individually though I felt that if I could gather enough drivers who lived in the same constituency as myself we could lobby collectively. More of this later.

A few weeks later Unite held a meeting where Tom Watson, Val Shawcross and Sadiq Khan were to be present. Well it was an open meeting to anyone wanting to attend, so off I went once again. It was clear that Tom Watson is a man who doesn’t like injustices and sees our situation and realises things just aren’t right. 

He spoke very well but the one phrase that stood out when he was talking about freedom of information and wishing to find out how far Uber have got their tentacles into British politics was that this process is ‘slow and laborious’. We should, in my opinion, support his efforts however long they take. We might not like the long game but my message would be ‘keep going please Tom’. 

Sadiq Khan spoke broadly in support and said he understood our concerns and understood the issues, we’ll see. 

Regarding the various demos I encountered overwhelming support from the public, (apart from a Mr Angry who took it upon himself to single me out) who seemed interested in why we were there and always wished us luck when we explained to them various issues. 


I even managed to get my Cab parked right in the middle of Bank Junction and there was a great atmosphere. 

What struck me was the complete lack of traffic noise, all that could be heard was chatter and the clip clopping of shoes and heels of people walking by, occasionally interspersed by the "Drumslayer" masterfully beating out bass and rhythm.  

I had a lovely chat at the 30 minute demo with the policeman that was handing me the notice about section 12. He said he hoped we got what we wanted and it just wasn’t right what was being done to us, we shook hands. It’s not the police on the ground who are our enemy.


One of the most uplifting things to come out of the year was the formation of the Save Taxi group. 

These ladies are a true credit to our trade and deserve all of our thanks. The family demo at Victoria Street almost had me in tears such was the emotion I felt at this solidarity. Illness kept me away from Downing Street, more of that later.
 
Wednesday 16th September, Mayors question time. The day we became luddites. 


Up bright and early (at least for me) a hop on the train, it’s incredible how so many are engrossed in their phones during the morning commute, and a meet with my friend Garry outside Fenchurch Street and a swift walk across Tower Bridge to City Hall. Illness wasn’t keeping me away this day. 

Fortunately we were early enough to gain entry. Johnson, Luddites, disquiet, suspension, pandemonium. 


The Tories walked, all of the other assembly members, to their credit, remained. So did we. These people who were to be removed stayed put. Eventually we had to leave, nothing more was to be gained.

Outside was an atmosphere, though heated I did not feel it was aggressive. Sean Day (not someone I know personally but it’s hard to ignore him) gave a wonderful impromptu speech boomed from his megaphone, demanding amongst other things that the responsibility for regulating Taxi and Private Hire be taken away from TFL and returned to the Metropolitan Police. We applauded.

What happened next was incredible. I had lost contact with Garry and had been happily chatting with a few friends and acquaintances when suddenly a drum started beating (the Drumslayer) and an impromptu call went up to walk towards London Bridge. I followed. 


This turned into a 4 or was it a 5 hour march across London in the pouring rain, I was glad of my umbrella, especially being unwell, others were less fortunate and got absolutely drenched. Apparently there were about 600 of us. We marched over London Bridge through the City stopping at Peterborough Court (yes them) along Fleet Street the Strand and down Whitehall stopping at Downing Street (yes him at 10 and him at 11).


We stopped at Parliament Square then carried on along Victoria Street up to Windsor House, where we naturally stopped for a while. We headed back on ourselves following much the same route in reverse stopping at much the same places as we already had until we reached Ludgate Circus where we turned right crossing Blackfriars Bridge on our way to Palestra, where rather comically some delightfully bolshie schoolboys joined in with the protestations. Here it all ended and we dispersed.

Along the way I chatted with many and bumped into a few friends as well. While using the toilets at Westminster I was mistaken, by a friend of mine, for an old tramp while drying my hands (thanks Paul) though due to the nature of my illness my face was somewhat distorted and for the only time in my life I was sporting a rather scruffy beard which I had grown for ‘medicinal reasons’!!! He honestly thought I was a tramp and had to do a double take.

My only regret about this march was the abuse some of our colleagues received along the way. I had no idea about this march and I was on it, so I’m prepared to accept that neither did anyone else. Sure it was world taxi demo day but no org at all had organised anything, and the march took place after Mayors question time, with a vague suggestion of a drive in at 2pm at Westminster. 

Back outside City Hall Grant Davis had given a speech which I had missed. However this leads me onto the Class Action being proposed against TFL. This could be magnificent, we haven’t heard much about this in recent weeks but I really hope this gets off the ground. There is nothing I would like more than to see TFL officials (we all know which ones) squirming in the witness box. They are slippery though, like eels, so this action won’t be easy. However I am rock solid behind this.

After the RMT meeting at Parliament I managed, mainly through social media, to cobble together a few drivers in my local area. This led to a few more drivers getting involved and eventually we grew to around 25. We finally secured a meeting with our MP at Portcullis House at the beginning of November. My friend Garry and myself represented our group and met with our MP. 

The initial reason for forming this group was to get our MP’s signature onto the Early day Motion, and I wish I  could report that we had been successful in that aim. However she stated that along with many of her colleagues she doesn’t get involved with EDM’s. However she was sympathetic to our concerns but did not support some of the proposals being put forward by TFL in the recent consultation. 

The five minute wait and fleet insurance she did not agree with. She did agree that a cap on private hire numbers was needed and apparently a figure of 60,000 has been suggested. She also agreed that enforcement was not good enough. She stated that she would write to TFL, Zac Goldsmith and the secretary of state regarding these matters. The meeting lasted 90 minutes, and you may like to know that our MP is Jackie Doyle-Price and our constituency is Thurrock. 

Putting this together was not easy and I’m delighted we managed to pull this off even though we were not as successful as we would like to have been.

This year, like many others, I have filled in more consultations and signed more petitions than ever before. I do believe we have support and I do believe our message is getting through. But, and it’s a big but, the people in power are shafting us and somehow we must expose this. 

Our organisations are under immense pressure but they have to find a way to obtain the evidence that’s needed even if it means dirty tactics. As an ordinary working driver all I can do is support everything they are trying and I do.
 
I finally signed up to Twitter this year (@andycabb66). I try not to get embroiled in arguments on there but I have had one or two discussions. It’s a strange place and I must admit I’m a little bit hooked and I’m not sure that’s a good thing, but I do enjoy making the odd comment here and there and asking ‘Dan’ the odd awkward question which never gets an answer. It would be easier to mine for oil on Jupiter.

The issues we are facing are affecting us all in different ways. I mentioned earlier that my health has been affected, and I only mention this because I have had two very nasty stress related illnesses that left me needing hospital treatment. It doesn’t take a brain surgeon to work out where the stress originates from. It’s blasted at all of us from Victoria Street via City hall and Downing Street. 

Maybe I have involved myself too much in everything that’s going on but I can’t sit back and just let them kick me in the teeth. I am just a foot soldier if you like and I will support anything I can that will help our trade. Our enemy is TFL and I feel they are willingly allowing themselves to be used by Uber to hasten our demise. Make no mistake Uber are playing them like a fiddle.

I have one New Year’s resolution and that is to attend the LTDA branch meetings, I shall keep my counsel about the LTDA as I have tried to write this piece without favour or prejudice to anyone in our trade.

After a much needed week off I will venture back out onto London’s ghost like streets searching down dark alleys for early January scraps. But I have been left infuriated this evening after listening to Mr Leon Daniels on BBC Radio London, so much so I felt compelled to write to him personally. 


The letter is below.
Be Lucky everyone here’s to 2016 the year our fight continues with zest,

AndyCabb

Listen to Leon the on Eddie Nestor's drive time show earlier this week:  >Click Here<

Dear Mr Daniels,
Having just listened to your performance on The Eddie Nestor show this evening I feel compelled to write to you to correct the amazing misrepresentation within the answers you gave in regards to London’s Taxi Trade.
 
Firstly your statement that the amount of private hire vehicles within the central area is small is a complete fallacy. As things stand currently 1 in 10 vehicles inside the congestion zone is a private hire vehicle. 5 years ago this figure was 1 in 100. You must agree 1 in 10 is not a small amount. I would like your comments on this please.
 
In regards to your being legally obliged to licence any person as a private hire driver who meets your criteria, I believe it is an abdication of your responsibility in keeping congestion on London’s roads to the minimum possible by licensing upwards of 600 new drivers every week. 

Yes you are the regulator so this is your responsibility. I beseech you to find a way to stop this as waiting for primary legislation is taking far too long. I can only assume you are prioritising income over all other issues. I would like your comments regarding these points please.
 
Your claim that licensing criteria for Taxi Drivers and Private Hire Drivers being very similar hides one very important point. Anyone who has just entered the UK is able to apply for a PH licence as long as they have a letter of good conduct from their embassy. This is because they are unable to be checked by the DBS system as they do not have records that go back three years. 
I would like to ask you if you think this is acceptable?

Just on a matter of public safety it cannot be acceptable, you surely don’t need me to spell out why. 

Again as regulator you are responsible for hundreds of drivers who have been licensed in this way with minimal checks (one is too many). You as regulator bear responsibility for this and you should stop this practice now. So please tell me whether you feel it is responsible to continue licensing drivers who are un-checked.
 
You also claimed that during busy periods in the West End it’s impossible to find a Licensed Taxi. This is ridiculous. I can only assume you are trying to justify in some way the huge number of private hire licenses you have issued in the last two years. 

I can tell you that I have been a licensed Taxi driver for over 20 years and I work during the times that you might call ‘busy periods’ and it’s fair to say that there are so many yellow lights that it feels like Blackpool illuminations. Your licensing policy has completely saturated the market place to such an extent that finding a licensed taxi in London has never been easier. I would welcome your comments about this also.
 
On a further note this job that I love has become almost intolerable in the last 18 months and I put the blame for this solely at your door Mr Daniels. On a personal note it has affected me so badly that during the last year I have suffered physically from stress related illnesses that has seen me referred to hospital for treatment. I know there are 25,000 others feeling the effects of your policies also.
 
Yours sincerely,