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The Olympics: Taxi Fare Hike

In defence of London cabbies

Written by . Published on November 14th 2011.

The Olympics: Taxi Fare Hike

AS predicted, there has been an up in arms response to plans for black cab drivers to raise their fares during the Olympics. ‘Cabbies don’t deserve 2012 premium’ said the Evening Standard, ‘Black cabs holding London to ransom over Olympics’ barked the Daily Mail.

Now I have a long love/hate relationship with taxi drivers around the world. I have been chased by an angry mob of taxi drivers in Prague after an earlier altercation the previous night when a driver attempted to charge me the 400 percent increased foreigner rate. Even as an atheist, I actually put out a request to a higher force to ensure I got safely to Delhi airport.

London black cab fares are expensive but a recent poll carried out by Hotels.com had London cabs coming out on top, beating the likes of New York and Hong Kong. It was the fourth year running that London was voted having the best taxis in the world…

I had the dubious pleasure in Rome of a driver simulating the act of obtaining imaginary fellatio when in a dispute with a rival driver. In London, I have had a number of run-ins with all manner of taxi drivers, mainly over fare prices. It’s made me think that in many parts of the world there is a common brotherhood of thievery amongst a select few exploiting the trusting or perceived gullible.

But taking aside my prejudices against the minority of taxi shysters, I have to say that drivers do provide a service and their virtues are often unsung. After having given up driving in London many years ago due to stress of traffic jams, idiotic drivers and a real concern for developing a form of Tourette’s from being at the wheel too long, black cabs are an occasional luxury. Being lucky enough to hail a cab in the pouring rain or saving your ass when you might be late for an important meeting or getting safely home in the early hours after a big night out, obviously they have a purpose.  

Unless you are well-off or a taxi driver yourself, black cabs are a treat. The tube and train system, for all its all faults, does get you around and you can get night buses throughout the early hours. In recession times, black cabs feel the pinch as people economise on luxuries first. Most black cab drivers have been working longer hours for less pay than when the economy was buoyant.

They have to push around their cabs in unsocial hours and fill it up with drunks just to make a decent living. Transport for London (TFL) has admitted that the dedicated VIP and athlete’s lane will cause greater congestion and traffic on the roads. The effects will disrupt cabbie’s livelihood and to address that, the Licensed Taxi Drivers Association (LTDA) has proposed that for the duration of the Olympics they are allowed to raise their fares to the higher evening tariff.

Essentially it will be an increase of fifteen percent (not taking into consideration the five percent annual rise). Boris has already agreed a one-off payment bonus for Tube staff working over the Olympics. If TFL acknowledge the disruption to cab drivers I don’t think they have any choice in allowing the increase.

Cab The LTDA has suggested that there could be 40 percent less cabs on the road without the increase as drivers will just take holidays to escape any disruption. This sounds like bollocks though as given the thousands of extra people from around the world coming to the city, many of them wanting cabs, would you pass that up being a cabbie? Good luck to them though and if they happen to make an extra bob or two that’s fine too. I don’t think it’s an excessively greedy demand (see bankers, lawyers, city directors and council chiefs) like the Mail and Standard would have us believe.

London black cab fares are expensive but a recent poll carried out by Hotels.com had London cabs coming out on top, beating the likes of New York and Hong Kong. It was the fourth year running that London was voted having the best taxis in the world using criteria such as safety, friendliness, cleanliness, quality of driving and knowledge.

As Bill Bryson observed, "London cab drivers are, without question, the finest in the world. They're trustworthy, safe, generally friendly, and always polite. And when you get to your hotel or railway station or wherever it is you are going, they like to drive you all the way around it at least once so that you can see it from all angles." But generally most cabbies are pretty decent and trustworthy. I have had a number of chats with cabbies putting the world to rights and having a good laugh about it.

The proposed fifteen percent increase over the Olympics does appear to be a kind of minimal surcharge given any disruption caused. I doubt whether it will seriously effect Londoners catching cabs during the day and be more directed at the influx of visitors to the city. Most city dwellers who only use cabs in the evening will not be penalised as the price will be the same.

Some have argued that it will affect those more inside the fringes of the M25, the designated area of inclusion for the price increase. Have they not heard of the concept of mini cabs? Most people who live on the fringes of London have used licensed mini cab firms for years. They may be the nemesis of the black cab brigade but most offer a decent service and are considerably cheaper. 

Looking to the future, the cushy cartel that black cabs have on the basis of their ‘knowledge’ (time spent memorising streets of London and passing subsequent tests) may be unsustainable in the age of GPS. Licensed mini cabs should be allowed to tout for business on the roads the same as black cabs. It would give consumers a better deal. Even given greater competition, I’m sure many – both locals and tourists – will prefer paying a bit extra for the black cab experience.

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6 comments so far, continue the conversation, write a comment.

AnonymousNovember 14th 2011.

In a city where public transport is getting harder and more expensive to use by the minute, the thought of raising the cab fares is just another blow to the bank account. What will the city do next – walking charges?

JayNovember 14th 2011.

But doesn't everyone have the right to make the most of what will be one of the biggest events to ever hit London?

AnonymousNovember 14th 2011.

I once did a runner from a taxi and fell over in the process, smashed my bottle of tesco vodka too, all in all a wretched night.

AnonymousNovember 14th 2011.

Was it Tesco value too?

AnonymousNovember 14th 2011.

6.99 at the time, probably a couple of quid more now, the moral of the story is - don't be a dick

AnonymousNovember 14th 2011.

and yes definitely Tesco value

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