LONDON must hang on to its TAXIS


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London: the world’s most visited city. Home to the red double-decker bus, Big Ben, Tower Bridge, Changing the Guard and the black taxi.

That “most visited city” tag, which caused a recent flurry, is a little dubious. It is based on the International Passenger Survey, which is based on a sample of interviews with passengers coming and going from the UK. The Office for National Statistics candidly describes it as an “estimate”.

Still, London draws millions of tourists and has become a global capital while maintaining its traditional symbols – except for that boxy black taxi, which is now the whatever-colour-you-like whatever-shape-you-can-think-of taxi. No city competing for tourists would throw away something as distinctive – except for London, which has.

This week BYD, the Warren Buffett-backed Chinese carmaker, announced it would introduce “minicabs” into London, with the intention of eventually selling proper London taxis that are available not just for private hire but can ply the capital’s streets for fares.

It is the latest of a slew of potential competitors to the London Taxi Company, builder of the TX4, the classy, roomy traditional-style cab that says “London” to potential visitors from all over the world.

BYD follows Nissan and Metrocab – part of the Frazer-Nash group – which plan to sell taxis in London, and Mercedes-Benz, whose Vito people carriers are already ploughing through the capital as licensed taxis.

The Vito taxis remind me of the Monty Python sketch in which John Cleese claims to have a cat licence and a post office clerk says: “That is a dog licence with the word ‘dog’ crossed out and ‘cat’ written in, in crayon.”

The Vito vehicles are not London taxis. They are vans with yellow lighted “taxi” signs jammed on their roofs. They are infuriating proof that London has lost its way.

There are mitigating factors. While the traditional London taxi is a design beauty, its manufacturer has had one financial prang after another. Once a consortium of manufacturers and dealers, it became a division of engineer Manganese Bronze, which went into administration and was taken over last year by China’s Geely. So the London Taxi Company cannot claim to be a reliable monopoly.

Second, Boris Johnson, London’s mayor, is trying to cut the capital’s air pollution by insisting that its taxis produce zero emissions by 2018.

The offerings of BYD, Nissan and Metrocab will be electric, but then Geely says it plans to produce electric cabs too.

So what is wrong with the new cabs? London has not achieved its international pre-eminence by standing still but its genius, indeed the British genius, is to build on what went before. The London Underground’s logo, trains and map have modernised without losing the look that made them so recognisable.

The same is true of London’s buses. The new Routemaster bus, one of Mr Johnson’s pet projects, updates previous models while, in design terms, quoting from them. Mr Johnson has banished the dreadful single-decker “bendy buses” from London’s streets.

Nissan seems to understand London’s way of doing things. Pictures of its NV200 taxi, which it plans to build in Coventry, home of the London taxi, suggest it will pay homage to the traditional design while giving its cab a modernised, but still recognisable, look.

Metrocab’s design appears to be based on similar principles, but BYD’s e6 looks set to follow the Mercedes “cat licence” route.

This could have been avoided if Transport for London, which licenses taxis, had insisted on a recognisably London design for new entrants. That would not be over-intrusive for an authority that already specifies the distance between seats and the maximum tint of the windows.

Failing that, it could have insisted that all London taxis be black. The traditional cabs have been allowed other colours for years now, but if taxis are permitted to be different shapes, they should all be London’s traditional colour. (Black Mercedes Vitos are marginally less ghastly than the blue or grey ones.)

New York’s taxi rules state that “the exterior of the vehicle must be painted taxi yellow” – and who could imagine the Big Apple agreeing to anything else?

We can still win London’s battle. If you approach a taxi rank or hail a cab in the street and an interloper offers you a ride, say: “Sorry, mate, I want a real London taxi.”

Source: FT

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7 thoughts on “LONDON must hang on to its TAXIS

  1. Thank you for this posting. Finally somebody is highlighting this frightening slide to vehicle mediocrity and blurred lines between us and Private Hire. Things were a lot sinpler with the PCO under the Met at Penton St but that’s for another time. The introduction of the Vito taxi which, really, is just a van with a yellow light on the rof and impractical for London’s medieval streets, has further confused the distinction between us and PH. The NV200 looks far too small for a taxi. With other makers knocking on the TPH door, it is indeed essential to go back to uniform black of even a yellow top and black sides as were on a fleet back in the Fifties. Coloured FX4s and Fairways were not a problem when they were practically the only model used save for the odd Beardmore and, later, Metrocab. So now is the time for a Back To Black campaign. Too many of our comrades won’t give much support for such a campaign and so it is for us who are proud enough of our trade to create a window sticker and media campaign to bring this about.

    • Great post!
      Another intelligent cabbie!
      We need like minded cabbies that DO CARE about our future to stand up and have a voice!

  2. METROCAB ARTICLE: SHARED SPACE
    (this article I wrote might interest some drivers wanting to support a black bespoke black cab)

    British Frazer-Nash is set to reinstate Metrocab’s status as a bespoke London taxi, this time around as the first alternative to the LTI and Merc’ diesel guzzlers; and not a minute too soon. The road to cleaner PSV’s that will benefit London’s tourism status, wealth and health, is decades late.

    Both inside and out the Metrocab is impressive, albeit reminiscent of a utility vehicle around the front wheel arches. A suggestion in 2012 to soften the hard line from wing mirror to fog light has been ignored and sadly the Metrocab looks set to be sold in every colour under the rainbow. This is a lost opportunity for Frazer-Nash to take the lead in regaining the iconic status and USP of the black cab. Merc’ drivers will be familiar with customer refusals, is the public ever going to believe a white Metrocab is a taxi? It looks like something off Santa Monica Boulevard, glitzy but not a London cab, perhaps it’s the Saudi model. Since London’s static cab trade can’t support more than one or two bespoke vehicles this sudden explosion of choice (soon to be five) is based on the hope of breaking into other markets.

    A common misconception is that low-emission vehicles have limited range, that might be the case for some but the Metrocab can be driven all day in engine-charging mode. However the cost and environmental benefits are from running the vehicle purely on batteries. The trailblazers of electric taxis are likely to be drivers happy to keep their vehicle within the A205/406 to minimise commuting miles, working from ranks will also save battery power. TfL need to proliferate the concept of solo ranks where cabs can stand without the need to move forward, minimising diesel pollution, and offering charge points to this new generation. It’s amazing how hundreds of acres of scarce roadside space were found for Boris bikes, out of the blue.
    Reliability will be of major concern to drivers since this is new technology. The rear pair of independent electric drive motors are apparently well proven and just one motor will get you out of trouble. Should the front petrol charging-engine fail then it’s a matter of hitching up to any 13amp plug for a recharged. The vehicle is software reliant so Fraser-Nash must ensure a fail-safe default mode at all costs, time will tell if that’s its Achilles heel, like the Prius. Unlike the Merc’s laughable rear steer the Metrocab has proper front U-turn capability and even better, a built-in ramp. Let’s hope the disgraceful practice of brooming wheelchair users ends right here.
    Other innovations, of which there are many, include a panoramic glass roof, but there is no sign of a spare wheel. Prudent safety features could include (but not confirmed for the Metrocab) rear people sensors and Exit Select©, a lamentable omission by TfL and LTI to reduce the ever increasing danger from door swipes. Exit Select© is a feature that allows drivers to ensure passengers alight or enter on the safest side by keeping the other door deadlocked.

    Shared Space, like Exhibition Road, are the town planners’ current buzz words. Is there a better incentive for cabbies to go green than to have access to Leicester Square, how about it Boris? In the meantime working trials are in conjunction with ComCab, a strange choice of partners since that agency is allied to private hire services under the City Fleet and Comfort Executive brands.

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