As I potter about London on my bike, I often find myself worrying that being a cab driver in the capital can’t be much fun. Stuck behind the wheel of a stuffy London black cab; stuck breathing in the fumes from the cab in front; stuck in traffic and with hundreds of cyclists scooting just inches away from your stationary vehicle can’t be that enjoyable.
I say I find myself worrying – mainly because I’m one of those liberal-progressive-lefties who find themselves worrying about the lives, hopes and ambitions of others. Worrying more than is perhaps advisable.
Truth be told, I don’t particularly find being sat in the back of a black cab that enjoyable either. Partly because they’re hot and slow – when I could be zipping past on a bike, enjoying the cool breeze.
There is another reason though. I always feel the need to engage the person providing me with a service in conversation. How rude it would be – I always think – just to slump in the back and ignore the driver in silence, or worse still chatter away on the phone with them forced to listen in.
So I make polite conversation. Then immediately regret it.
When I was late back from Gatwick a few weeks ago, the tube had already shut for the night so I grabbed a taxi from Victoria station. As we queued along the Embankment the driver started to complain about the roadworks taking place to build a new cycle lane.
“Terrible” he said.
“Bloody cyclists should have insurance. Should pay tax.” he continued.
Now I was tired, and not particularly in the mood to get into a debate.
‘It keeps cyclists out of your way’ I thought.
‘Why wouldn’t drivers be most in favour of it?’ I pondered and shifted forward in my seat getting ready to argue my point.
Then thought, ‘No, I’m not getting into this’. But the rest of the journey resulted in me biting my tongue. I didn’t pay a tip
A few weeks later I was in a rush and carrying some boxes back from a meeting – it was the week before the referendum. With some precarious balancing, I stuck out my hand and hailed a passing cab.
But as it pulled in, just past me, I noticed a big ‘VOTE LEAVE’ sticker in the rear window.
And I thought ‘I’m not in the mood to have to make the liberal case for immigration’.
So I made profuse apologies and the cab driver screeched off, f’ing and blinding. I pulled out my phone and called an Uber.
The third and final straw came when, coming back late from an event, the cab driver who picked me up raised his suspicious that climate change was a myth.
I looked around me suspiciously for hidden cameras, fearing I might have become the subject of a new reality television series where a cab driver tries to see how quickly he can make his passenger flip.
Now I realise that it’s not a particularly progressive thing to tar a whole profession based on three small examples, but it got me thinking.
Cab Drivers do have a reputation for being right-wing populists, not least as satirised by Private Eye’s ‘A Taxi Driver Writes’ column – “String ’em up, I say. It’s the only language they understand.”
Now that Uber is now starting to decimate the cabbie’s business, there must be a better way – a way for the humble black cab to fight back.
So I offer you The Liberal Cab Company – a cab company for a liberal, progressive, openminded metropolis like London. If the London Taxi Drivers Association wants to take my idea they can have it for free.
For The Liberal Cab Co. those old, clunky, smoky diesel cabs would be phased out. In their stead a fleet of electric or hydrogen powered vehicles would be introduced to ease your guilt at C02 and particulate emissions.
The cabin would be nicely airconditioned – perhaps through a particulate filter – to protect the driver’s health as much as yours.
Inside, as you settle into your seat, the driver would be playing Radio 4 – perhaps Woman’s Hour – or Africa Today on the BBC’s World Service, rather than shock-jock reactionary nonsence from Talk Radio or LBC.
As the driver pulls away – carefully avoiding passing cyclists – they’d enquire how the temperature was in the back of the car. Perhaps eluding to their fears that global temperature rises were having a disproportionate effect on the poorest in society.
After an appropriate period of reflective silence, they might say how proud there were to work in the first major western city to have a Muslim mayor. And how amazed they were at the blistering pace of work Sadiq managed during Ramadan.
‘Not a drop of water passed his lips all day!’ they might say with genuine respect.
“That EU referendum! Don’t even get me started guvnor… What an awful job the broadcasters did of interpreting their statutory impartiality duty.”
As you neared your destination, you’d pull out your credit card and you’d be able to pay using a contactless payment reader. The attached screen would show how much tax had been paid to the exchequer as a result of your ride.
‘Thanks for paying your tax – you’ve helped pay the salaries of nurses and doctors in our NHS’ – contrasting nicely to how little Uber was generating to help society.
Each time you hailed a Cab from the Liberal Cab Company, you’d be assured of a comfy ride with a liberal progressive driver.
As you winded your way through the bustling city, as you looked out the window you’ve have and an amazing outlook on one of the greatest cities in the world. And at the same time an assuridely progressive outlook on the world from your liberal cab driver.