Taxis in London

Given various aches and disabilities and a busy schedule, I spent a minor fortune on taxis during my week in London. Most of them were cars booked with the Uber app.

What, you say, you are using Uber?! – cars that are part of that irresponsible, global corporation, managed by bullies, ignoring employment laws and with inadequate driver background checks?  Yes, I suspect that a lot of that is true and that if I were a principled person perhaps I should stick to (unaffordable) black cabs when in London. I have friends who refuse to download the Uber app out of principle. That would certainly be the position of my sister, Deb, if she owned a smartphone.

Ironically I was in London when the furore broke out when TFL (Transport For London) said it was not going to renew Uber’s licence, which expires on Saturday. They are probably right, that Uber has been consistently ignoring or not complying with rules. That seems to be generally the view of Labour leaders such as Sadiq Khan and Corbyn. Oh dear, am I going to be on the side of Conservatives? I am hoping that TFL and Uber will talk and that Uber quickly reforms rather than lose its licence.

That was the view of the Uber drivers I used this week, including one who had been a manager in TFL for 20 years before taking early retirement three months ago and starting work as an Uber driver. They all said they valued their independence – the ability to choose when and where to drive. What about the lack of sickness pay or paid holidays, I asked. Well, that is the same for all self-employed people, was the reply. One driver added that uber had a reasonable scheme you could pay into to get cash if sick for more than a few days. They all acknowledged that the Uber corporation could do better, but were confident that concessions, such as better security checks by an organisation authenticated by TFL, could be made and that the licence would not be terminated.

I see no problem about forcing Uber to reform its security checks but I do not understand enough to know whether they are right in saying that drivers are employees rather than self-employed.

The fact of the matter is, with lots to do between grandchildren going to school in the morning and coming back in the afternoon, and a painful left foot and ankle, I needed to use cars to get around. Black cabs are not plentiful south of the river and are prohibitively expensive. To get a Uber car using the app on my phone is so simple. There was always one available a few minutes away, even in south London and, rather childishly, I enjoy watching the icon of the car on map gratifyingly approaching (well, with some exceptions!). The drivers were all polite, pleasant and usually sociable. It is so handy not having to find money; provided you have already have set up an uber account you simply click on confirm. Above all, it is so very much cheaper!

Being me, I chatted with the drivers. Yes, I know you are not surprised, son-in-law 🙂  There was a Sinhalese, several West Africans, and from Europe a Bulgarian, Greek and Pole.

I had a particularly aimable conversation with the Bulgarian about food.  He had taken a family group for a long weekend to Avignon and enthused about the way the French savoured what they were eating over leisurely meals, and loved the use of fresh ingredients.  He likened this to eating in Bulgaria. He then went on to talk about the history of Bulgaria, with some pride and affection.  When we reached my daughter’s house, he leapt out to help me from the car, shook my hand and thanked me for such an entertaining ride!

When the drivers heard I live in France the subject of Brexit invariably came up.  I was quite surprised that they had all voted Remain, unlike the Black Cab driver who dredged up all the usual accounts of immigrants wasting resources, telling me that 75% of births in an Essex hospital had been Polish births. No point telling him that other EU countries account for about 5% of births in NHS hospitals, though granted this figure may be higher in Essex.

The Sinhalese driver, for example, said quite calmly that it was his humble view that Europe contributed much in the way of human rights and social protection. Others talked with some horror of the potentially disastrous effect on the economy.

The Sierra Leonean driver came first to Europe as a political refugee in the nineties and was placed in Holland.  He spoke with admiration about the way the Dutch government set about integrating refugees and putting them on a fast track to learning the language.  He took out Dutch nationality with gratitude. Then he met and married an English woman.  They had one child but then moved to England to be nearer her family.  The two subsequent children already have British nationality, but now he is going to have to apply for it for himself and the first child.  I had not realised the cost has gone up to £1700.  I took a look at the online forms but they are so complex it is hard to establish without detailed study what the exact figures are, but I can imagine that whatever the exact figure this will hit hard for friends of the driver where all five members need to get dual nationality.

Now I am back in France and currently dealing with the fact that once again my English card has been blocked.  Not because of all these Uber trips, it turns out, but because I took a £45 black cab trip (using their app, mytaxi) from my daughter’s house to Gatwick Airport.



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