Straying off my usual subject matter of food and drink I thought I’d share a few thoughts about London taxis which have undergone similar seismic changes to my own world of print journalism.
Since the arrival of Uber, black cabs are struggling to maintain their market share fighting a vigorous rearguard action against the arrivistes. Being a regular user of both I thought I’d pass on the tips I’ve picked up for getting the best out of them.
First Uber. It’s basically a minicab service which relies on satnav rather than the fabled Knowledge, the extensive training that black cab drivers have to acquire (so make sure you know your destination postcode). Their advantage is that they’re generally around 40% cheaper than cabs and that you don’t have to pay cash. (You enter your credit card details when you sign up and they take payment from your card). Against that they’re not 100% reliable (I’ve had a couple of cabs cancel on me at the last minute), that their fares are variable (like Ryanair you pay extra during busy times - referred to as the surge) and that both the company and their drivers have been accused of sexist attitudes and even assault though I can't say I've had experience of either. (And this week (19.3.15) its low cost UberPop service has been banned in Germany.)
Black cabs by contrast know the streets of London like the back of their hand but they’re quite a bit more expensive and there are parts of London where it’s hard to pick up a cab. There is a black cab-based service called Get Taxi which I haven’t tried which might make that easier.
I had an interesting conversation with an Uber driver the other day which shed some light on the cancellation issue which black cab drivers refer to as being ‘ubered’. Apparently they’re reluctant to pick up on main roads in the red zone because they could get fined for stopping so if they discover you're waiting somewhere they can't pick you up they may well cancel on you (not that I'm condoning that at all. They shouldn't take the fare in the first place.) Your best bet if you want to order an Uber in a restricted zone is to go down a side road to book it.
You might also want to try and avoid times when there are more likely to be ‘surges’ - the morning and evening rush hour, late at night and on a Sunday morning, which is when drivers who have done late night shifts are having a lie-in. That said I took a 7 mile 30 minute journey from Hackney to Highgate the other evening at about 6.30pm which cost only £15.34. A journey in a black cab would have cost at least £25-30
The other accusation is that Uber drivers are unqualified but like any other taxi driver they apparently have to have a private hire licence and commercial insurance and give evidence of security and medical checks. You can see on your app who your driver is, what their registration number is and their star ranking, Tripadvisor-style.
The other option is Addison Lee, an upmarket cab firm that does a lot of corporate work which I’ve always found super-reliable. They’re about 10% cheaper than black cabs and unlike Uber you can book them ahead.
I’ve come to the conclusion it depends what your journey is. If it’s a short hop in central London and you’re pressed for time I’d always hail a black cab. They know all the back routes and can get you there on time. If it’s a longer journey or from a starting off point where it’s hard to find a cab I’d call an Uber so long as it wasn’t a peak period - but given the advice above choose your pick-up point carefully. And if I was going to an airport or a meeting where time was off the essence I’d call Addison Lee.
Black cab drivers may not want to hear this but the world changes. The fact that we as customers have options keeps everyone on their toes.
What’s been your experience of online cab companies? Any other recommendations?
image © Isis Ixworth - Fotolia.com