I often take writing this blog as an opportunity to share my personal experiences living in London. In the ‘Meet Londoners‘ series, I’ll be chatting to random people about their own outlook on life in the capital.
For this first installment I had an interesting chat with David, a black cab driver who’s been roaming around the streets of London since 1997, and writes at Cabbieblog. He discusses some of the oddest things he’s encountered as a cab driver, and some of the problems his job faces today.
What made you decide to become a cab driver?
My chosen profession was the ancient art of typesetting. Having worked for many years producing documents for the City of London we found our customers preferred to keep the work in house thereby controlling costs and improving security. As the work dried up I looked around for something that would give a middle aged man a decent living and alighted on The Knowledge.
What’s the best thing about your job?
You choose the hours. There can be no other job in the world that gives that kind of flexibility.
And least enjoyable?
These days? Roadworks.
What’s the funniest/strangest thing you’ve ever seen or heard?
A Tale of Two Griffins: As traditional pubs continue to lose custom, landlords have to make decisions if they want to stay in business. They could become a “sports bar”, but how many noisy multi-screen establishments can one town take? Become a trendy restaurant if located among the leafy leftie enclaves of Chelsea and Fulham. Another option available is to become a “Gentlemen’s Venue”, lap dancing club to you and me.
So when a young woman with a small airline case asked for “The Griffin” I naturally took her to the sleazy pub conversion in Clerkenwell. On arrival as my passenger got out, another heavily made up young woman got in with the ubiquitous suitcase and asked for Brown’s a well known strip club. With that, girl number one returns wearing a rather startled expression to inform me accusingly that it was certainly NOT the Griffin pub she wanted. I drove red faced to Brown’s via the correct Griffin pub with not a word spoken in the back from my two passengers. The moral of the story: Don’t always assume small flight bags are full of g-strings.
Would you recommend someone to become a cab driver today?
No. It’s been said before, many times in jest, but the Trade’s finished.
How much do apps like Uber affect your job?
Transport for London in accepting the use of Uber, which is illegal in London (I’ll not bore you with the details), has flooded the taxi industry with tens of thousands of extra untrained drivers. There is just not enough work to go round.
How much has your job changed since you started?
40 per cent less earnings and 40 per cent more traffic jams.
Do you think the Knowledge is still a must now there are GPS systems?
A driver who relies on Sat Navs doesn’t know the city. When gentlemen have enjoyed supper at their club with their old regimental chums, they need a taxi to take them to the station. As they can generally afford to live in East Sussex, their station, Victoria, is only six minutes from Pall Mall.
Depending on which entrance they want, they ask for The Shakespeare, Old Gatwick, or Hole in the Wall. Show me a Sat Nav which not only has that database but can be programmed in seconds, and I’ll buy shares in it myself. It’s that kind of service our regular customers expect.
London’s cabs are considered among the world’s best. Why do you think this is?
I think you mean cab drivers. Most cab drivers in the world regard their occupation as transient until something better crops up. With Licensed London Cab Drivers after spending the best part of 4-5 years on the Knowledge it’s a profession.
Occasionally when I go out I stop a cab to get home. They refuse to take me because ‘they’re not going that way’. What’s that all about?
In better times some cabbies, in contravention of regulations, picked their jobs choosing only those that suited them. With earnings at an historic low if you are sober I doubt that happens to you these days.
What are the strangest questions you’ve been asked by a client?
American tourist: “Just what kind of vehicle is this”. Me: “A cab”.
If cab driver is a ‘dying profession’, what do you think will replace it?
I would refer you to New York. A plethora of cabbies some not knowing how to get from the Plaza, Fairmont to the Waldorf Astoria. That’s London’s future.
Do you make more or less than when you started? Why do you think this is?
An old cabbie whilst moaning about the state of the trade told me recently that when he started as a cabbie he earned in one day what a bus driver earned in a week. You do the maths, as they say. There are just too many untrained drivers calling themselves cabbies out there.
As they say in the trade ”Be Lucky”