Well it seems that the race for App supremacy in the London Taxi Trade really sped up this week with the launch on LDNTaxiAPP. Most of you who have taken an interest in this area of Taxi App’s which could obviously enhance the our working lives and provide a valuable alternative stream of work will already be aware of the offering from TaxiZapp and the much awaited impending release of the TLC/TaxiStop App.
TaxiZapp were the first to enter the market with their app being available for download from the iPhone App store for a few months now, the App is quite good and offers most of the necessary features that you would expect from a Taxi hailing App. The problem with this app is that the company behind it seem to lack the knowledge of how to promote the app to the Licensed Taxi Driver here in London, this combined with the very loose form of vetting for driver subscriptions leaves it somewhat lacking. That said the GUI is intuitive and easy to use even for the worst technophobe! The other problem is that the trade in London have not really embraced this app in any great numbers with just a few drivers playing with it over the last few weeks. The App works on the basis of credits, you buy credits and it uses 1 credit per 24 hours that you are logged into the system. At present there has not been any work coming through the system so TaxiZapp are not charging for the credits but are giving a number of credits free which are then replenished until such time that there is sufficient work coming through on the system. Once they start charging the price per credit will be from £2.71 per day or 24 hour period dependant upon how many credits you buy in advance. The following pricing was taken from the TaxiZapp website:
TaxiZapp state on their website that if a driver does not receive any work during a 24hr period then the credit will be refunded to the drivers account, but as you will see from the above pricing using this App could work out to be very expensive, even more expensive than belonging to one of London’s radio circuits.
The next offering has come from our own TweetaLondonCab team who have partnered up with TaxiStop, there is not much yet known about this App except by the Core Team of TLC. We are promised that this App is going to be something special with TaxiStop providing real time taxi booking and driver management system. TaxiStop is part of the Medianet Group who claim to be the World’s largest producer of award winning mobile applications supporting over 2000 applications on 5000 devices with compatibility across all OS platforms sold in 60 Countries so I was somewhat disappointed when I eventually found their website which in my opinion is somewhat poor for a company who makes such claims! That said I am sure that the TLC Core Team have done their homework regarding this company and are satisfied of their integrity and level of competence and if the App lives up to the hype then I am really looking forward to seeing it’s release. Apparently Beta testing will start very soon with the App being offered to the rest of the drivers of TLC sometime in May. Pricing has not yet been confirmed but it is hoped to be kept competitive.
Now the latest offering has come from LDNTaxiApp.com with an app available for download from the App store, at present the app is only available on the iPhone with Android and Blackberry versions due for release soon. This app is a partnership between a London taxi Driver, a Software Developer and an Application Coder. I recently downloaded this app and I must say that I was very impressed at the amount of thought that has gone into it’s development. All of the basic elements of a good App are present with a lot of thought gone into the driver sign up process. I was a little sceptical as to where or how the drivers details would be stored so I emailed the company and was assured that drivers details are stored on the server only and will not be used for any other purpose except for the LDNTaxiApp. The App is free to download from the Apple App store on the iPhone and it is free to use at present, I have asked the question regarding charging and the Developer said that they are looking for sponsorship and advertising but they cannot rule out having to charge the driver a small subscription charge. This App seems to offer everything that is needed for a smart phone type of Taxi Hail, there is a 2 way messaging facility built into the App so that the driver and customer can communicate with each other and the facility for the customer to know the drivers name a registration number so that they get into the right taxi which will reassure lone female travellers.
So which app do you go with? well my heart tells me to wait for the TLC/TaxiStop App but business sense tells me to go with LDNTaxiApp as they have the right name, are only offering the service to London Taxi Drivers and are the first London only Taxi app available at present! Now the good thing for me is that I really don’t have to make a choice at the moment as I use an iPhone and the beauty about the iPhone (assuming that you are using and iPhone 3Gs or newer) is that you can have as many of these Apps as you like all running at the same time so you will be able to subscribe to as many as you like offering multiple streams of work, I am not sure whether the same applies to the Blackberry or Android type handsets. Obviously once all of these Apps start to make a charge to the drivers for subscription then I will have to make a choice and the obvious choice will be to go with the App which is more financially viable for me personally which means the App which secures me the most work and the most money which after all is what we all drive a Taxi for.
So now the race is really on to see which of these offerings becomes the King of the London Taxi Apps and this will depend on quite a few factors, number 1 we need the public to use these apps, 2, we need the drivers to use the apps and 3 the cost to the driver of using the app, it is no good having a cheap app if the general public are not using it so it is going to be down to the people behind these apps to make sure that they gain ground on the competition and create the largest customer base and ensure that they have sufficient drivers to meet customer demand.
Well the Olympics is fast approaching and do we as a trade really have any idea what we are going to be up against with regards to the traffic around London? We have been told that a lot of the bus lanes around London will be replaced with VIP lanes for the duration of the Olympics, so where are the buses that normally use these bus lanes supposed to go, we can only assume that they will have to mingle with all of the other traffic in what is left of the road space. So this would mean that Buses, Taxis and Motorcycles that currently use the bus lanes would not be allowed access to them during the period of the Olympics, that is an enormous amount of traffic that will have to use what is left of the road space.
Now we can assume that this will cause quite bad traffic on certain routes on its own, but what about all of the other factors and situations that will occur during the Olympics. Another factor to take into consideration is that the Mall and all adjoining roads are likely to be closed for the duration as the Beach Volleyball will take place in the area so that is even more road space that will not be available to traffic.
I recently attended a meeting where it was explained that there may be a VIP lane in operation along the A2 from Ebbsfleet through the Blackwall Tunnel and along to Stratford in both directions, now this would make the Blackwall Tunnel virtually unusable for the duration of the Olympics and it can also be expected that the traffic which normally reaches back past the Kidbrooke Junction may well go back as far as the M25. You may think that using Blackheath as an alternative route would be wise but we must also remember that Greenwich Park is going to be used for the Equestrian sections of the games so we can expect that all roads across Blackheath and through Greenwich will either be gridlocked with traffic or closed, both of these routes are bad enough when there is a problem with the Blackwall normally without having any extra influence on the traffic situation. So the only option for Traffic entering London from the South East will be to travel along the A20 and through Lewisham and you can imagine how bad that will be with all the extra vehicles. Another problem that will hit the South East is that it is expected that the high speed train link will be suspended for the duration of the games so where will all of those commuters who normally use that service go? We must also not forget that other Venues will be in use around London including the O2, Regents Park, St James Park, Excel, Earls Court, Lords Cricket Ground, The Royal Artillery Barracks and Wembley Stadium will all be utilised for parts of the games.
I recently came into contact with members of the Olympic Transport Committee for whom we were doing a Taxi Treasure Hunt, the committee seemed to be made up of mostly Americans and Australians and was Chaired by a female Olympic runner, during in my conversations with these people it seemed that none of them came from a transport background and to be perfectly honest they did not seem to have a clue about the traffic in London and were basing their estimates and figures on pure speculation, the other 5 drivers who were doing the treasure hunt at the time all came to the same conclusion. Whilst talking to the committee members in the back of my cab I asked them a few questions as to what they though the traffic was going to be like during the main part of the Olympics. one of the members who was a very smarmy American replied “we know what the traffic will be like through the calculations and planning that we have done” I told him that the Chairperson had stated to me that she though that the journey time from Heathrow to the Olympic Village would be about an hour to which he stated that he agreed with her! I stated that I thought it would be a lot longer and he said “not for our Olympic cars but for you Taxi drivers the traffic will be horrendous as you wont be allowed to use many of the bus lanes and none of the VIP lanes and will have to just sit in the traffic with everyone else” he seemed to take great pleasure in making this statement and did it with quite a smirk on his face. Now most of us are well aware that on a normal day during the rush the journey time from Heathrow to Hyde Park Corner can be an hour so you would be looking at the very least for the journey to the Olympic Village to take at least 90 minutes if not more, now factor in that the outside lane of the M4 is likely to become a VIP lane during the games and that will further add to the journey time.
The smarmy American stated that they also new what the traffic conditions in London would be like through their “planned traffic management” he then asked me would I be working during the Olympics to which I replied that I could not really see any point and was considering going away on Holiday to which he replied “there you go planned traffic management” to which I laughed and thought you really have no fucking idea mate. Reading through the 2012 transport leaflet it seem that the committee are basing their strategy on the belief that twice the number of Londoners that normally go away on Holiday during for the last week in July/first week in August will leave London during the main part of the games, this would mean something like 1.2 million Londoners would vacate London for this period, but it seems they are not taking into consideration the fact that these Londoners would be replaced by at least 600,000 people visiting the games every day!
In the brief conversation In had with the Chair of the committee she stated that they would need lots of Taxis at Paddington station as they were going to be making extensive use of the Heathrow Express and they would need taxis to transport a lot of people including wheelchair users to the various venues but she hadn’t contacted anyone within our trade regarding this and she didn’t even know who to speak to! She also stated that they would be chartering loads of coaches to transport people from Paddington Station to the venues, where will they park all of these coaches, I hope I am wrong but I can see the Taxi rank being used as parking for these Olympic coaches with us being pushed outside of the station for the duration of the games.
Now I am sure by now that you must be building a picture in your mind that half of the roads in London will be totally unusable to the Taxi trade or any other normal traffic for that matter so basically we are going to have the whole of London’s traffic squeezed into a drastically reduced amount of road space. We all know the traffic chaos that occurs when the taxi trade has a demonstration in London and the knock on effect that it has for all of then surrounding roads and the trade only targets one location so you can imagine with all of these areas that are being used for the games being closed to normal traffic what traffic chaos will occur.
Over the past couple of days I have searched on line for information regarding the Olympic Transport Committee and their plans and I must say that there is very little out there but during my search I have come across various articles and reports of the transport plan being criticised by numerous local councils, TfL and the Select Transport Committee who all seem to have serious reservations about the Olympic Delivery Authorities predictions for traffic during the games. If you go to the 2012 website and look for their transport document you will find that Taxis are being totally discouraged from going anywhere near the Olympic village, their document states “Taxis and private hire vehicles provide a significant link to other accessible modes of public transport and London 2012 will encourage and promote interchange between these modes” in other words do not come to the Olympic Village but we would rather you drop passengers to another form of Public Transport link! There is also no mention of any Taxi ranks being situated in or even near the Olympic Village or any of the other locations being used for the games, the ODA are, it seems, basically trying to discourage people people travelling to the games from using Taxis at all and this is confirmed by the following statement from their leaflet ”We will work closely with operators of the Taxicard and Capital Call schemes to ensure that members are aware of the full range of accessible travel opportunities during the Games and to encourage members to use the schemes to interchange with accessible public transport modes”. So here it is in black and white, Taxis are not welcome at the Olympic Village, quite ironic that during the promotion and bid to get the Olympics to London the London Taxi featured heavily in their campaign and promotional material and we all watched the taxis being driven around the Olympic Stadium promoting the games in London!
One of the last bits of information regarding Taxis in the 2012 propaganda is the following statements, “London 2012 is establishing a Taxi and Private Hire Working Group which will act as the forum at which to discuss these issues and promote improved standards of service”. So what has happened about this so called forum? Has the ODA bothered to contact anyone within the Taxi Trade? “It is also proposed that bespoke training will be developed in conjunction with the Go Skills Taxi and Private Hire Vehicles (PHV) Group to deliver improvements!” So now the ODA are going to teach us how to do our job during the Olympics great!
One thing that has come to mind is that their planes for transport during the main part of the games may well work for those travelling to the locations where the events will take place but obviously not for the rest of us who normally live and work in London, we will be left to suffer the consequences of their decisions but what of the Para Olympics? the vast majority of the people travelling to these games will have some form of disability and a great proportion will be wheelchair users. Now we know that the only fully wheelchair accessible form of transport in London is the London Taxi as the not all buses can accept wheelchairs, many trains cannot accept wheelchairs and the tube network falls well short of being able to accept wheelchairs, so how will all of thee wheelchair users be getting to the games? It seems that the Olympic Transport Committee seem to have overlooked this fact as there is very little mention of it in the literature. Maybe they should have involved the taxi trade? What do you think?
So in conclusion it seems that the Taxi trade are being excluded from the games so where does that leave us? Should we work or should we all go away on Holiday? Well I will leave you to make up your own minds but I am still intending to get out of London for the main 2 weeks of the games.
When out and about talking to Taxi drivers I hear all the different cries about the Taxi trade charities, “some of the kids don’t deserve it”, “I don’t take my own kids out so why should I take someone else’s kids out for the day”, “most of those kids look perfectly normal and there’s nothing wrong with them why should I lose a days money to take them out”. The excuses and cries go on, well lets see if we can address some of these issues by relaying some of the children’s stories to you and from my own perspective being on the committee of the Albany.
I can honestly say that from my own experience attending various outings with different charities that the men and women on these committee’s work extremely hard giving their time completely free. I have heard all the stories of fiddling and the like, but from my experience most of these individuals would put their hands in their own pockets rather than take money from within the charities funds, and this I have seen happen on many occasions. I must say that my hat goes off to all the people involved with these outings.
The children that are taken on these outings are all very special in some way or another, I am sure that we all consider our own children to be very special, but I hope that most of you are blessed with perfectly healthy children with stable and happy home lives and we all hope that our children live a long and fruitful life as most of them do. With some of the children (that these charities try to help) the illness or disability is easily visible with them being in wheelchairs or their mental state makes it obvious as to what sort of illness they have. Unfortunately many illnesses and problems are not as visible to the onlooker and many of these children never reach adulthood.
In the year 2000, I was lucky enough to attend the Company of Hackney Carriage drivers annual outing to Disneyland Paris. The children who were assigned to my Taxi were a little girl aged 8 years and a boy aged 12 along with their mother. Looking at the children it was very hard to see anything wrong with either of them, in fact I could not decide which of the two was actually ill if either. I eventually plucked up the courage and asked the mum which of the children was ill, she told me that it was the little girl who was suffering from Lymphoblastic Leukaemia and was nearing the end of her 2 years and 3 months of treatment which consisted of chemotherapy and regular lumber punctures. Her brother was perfectly healthy so many of you may ask why should he have been on the trip, well even though it was the girl that was ill he also suffered due to being pushed from pillar to post staying with friends and relatives while his mum stayed in hospital with his sister, basically he has been deprived of a normal upbringing due to his sisters illness. Both children thoroughly enjoyed the journey in the Taxi and the time spent in Disney, they both made so many friends on the trip that they feel it is something that they will never forget and was probably one of the best trips of their lives. Unfortunately the little girl relapsed in August 2001 which means that she will have to undertake a further 2 ½ years or chemotherapy, radiotherapy and regular lumber puncture’s. After the initial upset she asked her mum “does this mean that I can go to Disney with the Taxi’s again?” When I first met these children the little girl looked like any other of her age, happy go lucky and jumping around like a normal 8 year old, the boy was very quiet which I have since learned is typical of children who have a sibling who is seriously ill because it affects them emotionally and psychologically.
My point in the story above, never judge a book by its cover, the child could have all sorts of problems ranging from cancer or some other serious illness to those that are sexually and physically abused by their parents or guardians but this is not always visible to the onlooker.
The Following year in 2001 when attending the trip to Disney the child that was assigned to my Taxi had to pull out at the last minute after becoming very ill the day before we left. I spent the day with another driver and the family that he had assigned to him. The little girl suffered from all sorts of problems, she suffered from Leukaemia, lung problems, kidney problems and heart problems. She really enjoyed the weekend including the Taxi journey and the day spent in Disney. The driver bought her a special princess dress which she wore to the dinner in Disney that evening, she made many friends that weekend and seemed to have an effect on everyone that came into contact with her especially the ambulance men. Unfortunately on her return home she was shortly admitted to hospital with heart and lung problems. I was lucky enough to be able to visit her whilst she was in the Royal Marsden where she spoke of nothing else other than her trip to Disney with the Taxi drivers. This trip had really enhanced this little girl’s life and her mum said that it was the best time that the little girl had ever had. Sadly she passed away in late November. The trip to Disney was the last thing that she was able to actively take part in.
I feel extremely proud to have been involved with the Company of Hackney Carriage drivers outing to Disney and would like to personally congratulate everyone involved with the organisation of this trip, and to have been a small part in making these children happy, if only for a weekend, and see the smile on these children’s faces makes the whole effort and the time spent really worthwhile.
All of these outings organised by the trade charities are extremely worthwhile and rewarding for both the children and the drivers who take part. So if you can spare the time which usually amounts to one day out of your working year or even to help raise the much needed funds to support these charities that make these trips possible then please do. It should be remembered that each child is individual and as I said earlier the problem is not always visible. You can help and really make a difference to one of these unfortunate children’s lives by taking part and supporting the Taxi trade charities.
Well last night was a little bit of a funny night for most evening/night men, this was due top the impending Tariff change that came into effect from midnight on Friday 1st April 2011. Now one of the meter companies always start their tariff change from midnight whereas some of the others do not start to alter meters until after 8:00am on the Saturday morning. Digitax are the company who start their tariff change from Midnight on the Friday and they make use of Millwall football Clubs car park to facilitate the change.
As I was preparing to get in the taxi and make my way into London I sent out Tweet on Twitter saying that I was just about to make my way in, I received a reply to my tweet from a colleague that I should not expect too much, well this surprised me a little as it was effectively the weekend after payday and was usually quite busy and then I remembered about the tariff change and sent a tweet back saying “once all the day men have gone off to have their meters done it should get a bit busier”.
Well on getting into London you could notice a definite increase in the number of taxis around compared to other Friday nights, but as the night progressed the number of taxis around became fewer as they all went off to get their tariff change done.
In the end the night turned out to be quite a good one for me, no fireworks but it was ticking over quite nicely thank you very much.