Tuesday, 24 April 2012

Addison Lee: mini-cab heroes or bike-hating villains?

Leaving the underground taxi rank of Euston station in a black cab recently, I spied a hand-written sign attached to the wall urging 'Addy Lee' drivers to 'defy the ban and use bus lanes'.  Whilst London cabs can use bus lanes across the city, their mini-cab rivals are not permitted the same luxury.  I have waxed lyrical about London's black cabs more than once on this blog.  For me, there is no finer way to travel through the city than in the back of a London taxi, usually with a running commentary from the driver.  Cabbies are some of the most knowledgeable Londoners - they've seen it all in this city.  But over the last few years their role in the city has been challenged by a worthy competitor: mini-cab firm par excellence, Addison Lee.  Granted, Addison Lee drivers lack 'the knowledge' of London cabbies, and are heavily reliant on the SatNav systems that are affixed to their windscreens, but this firm now completes over 20,000 jobs a day across the city; Addison Lee is a significant challenger to the throne of the London taxi kingdom.

Addison Lee runs a fleet of black vehicles, the same hue as the original Hackney cabs, although unlike London cabs Addison Lee's motors come in all shapes and sizes; from Mercedes saloons to executive mini-buses.  And size does matter, as I discovered two years ago when I had my first encounter with the firm.  Having purchased a lovely new clothes rail (yes, I was too poor for a wardrobe!) for my new flat at John Lewis on Oxford Street I was aghast to learn that it came packed in an unwieldy two metre long box.  How the hell was I going to get that home on a bus or the Tube?  Would it even fit in a cab?!  A kind woman in the pick-up queue behind me heard my dilemma unfolding (I may have been being a little tetchy with the sales-person) and suggested I ring Addison Lee and order a people-carrier.  So I did, and a short while later I and my enormous package made it safely home, escorted by a charming driver, smartly attired in a suit and tie (Addison Lee's standard uniform), who even helped me wrestle my enormous box into his spotless car.
Now, love them though I do, London cabbies rarely have helped me with luggage.  Besides keeping a cautious eye on their mirrors to check I'm not scratching their paintwork with my man-size suitcase, they offer little help to a fare getting in and out of their cabs.  From time to time I have need of a taxi when travelling with what is usually a very angry cat and all its acoutrements.  Addison Lee has become my taxi of choice for such journeys after another mini-cab company in the North London area refused to transport a cat, claiming that all its drivers had allergies and thus would not be able to chauffeur me and my feline friend.  Fancy that! A cab firm staffed entirely by people allergic to cats; how niche!  Numerous Addison Lee drivers, when faced with a traumatised cat and a stressed-looking girl, have been nothing but delightful.  (One driver even offered me a 15 minute thesis - delivered with a broad Jamaican accent at ear-splitting volume - on how cats were just like women.  I sensed he'd not been particularly lucky in love...)

Last week however, Addison Lee, once universally beloved, was hit by a scandal of its own creation.  Writing in 'Add Lib', the company magazine, the firm's chairman - echoing the sign I saw at Euston station - has urged his drivers to illegally use the city's bus lanes, alongside the traditional black cabs.  He promised that the firm would compensate any driver fined for thus breaking the law.  More controversially however, John Griffin's comments have outraged the city's cyclists, another group of legitimate bus-lane user, as he called for them to 'get trained and pay up' like the rest of those on the roads.  He also made rather a blatant suggestion that road accidents involving cyclists and motorised vehicles were more likely to be the fault of the cyclists than the drivers.

These words have whipped up numerous calls for boycotts of the company by outraged cycling groups and the anti-congestion campaigners.  Whilst Griffin has acknowledged that his article was intentionally inflammatory and meant to spark debate, the recent Addison Lee backlash has been surprisingly brutal.  Alongside the individuals and companies vowing to boycott the firm, a petition has begun gathering thousands of signatures, calling for the revoking of Addison Lee's taxi licence.  Even the tech geeks have taken to iTunes to rubbish the firm's smartphone application, awarding it one star as a middle-finger to the company.  I must admit that this particular app is installed on my own iPhone (and very handy it is too), and that I will probably still continue to patronise Addison Lee, despite the current furore.  Whilst the firm's leadership may take a dim view of cyclists (and certainly cycling has its dangers in the city), on average its drivers, and the telephonists who man its ever-busy switchboards, are polite, helpful and professional.  And they make challenging jobs like lugging a cumbersome parcel across London a little less stressful.  So should the 3,500 hard-working drivers and numerous support staff suffer for the foolish words of their boss?  Or will John Griffin's words encourage his drivers to break the law and conduct their vehicles through the streets with less care?  Where should a Londoner's cab-riding loyalties lie?

UPDATE: David D'Arcy of Cabbieblog left a fascinating comment on this post which I'm reproducing below - it's worth a read and comes from someone inside the London taxi industry, hence is far more reliable than my ramblings on the matter above!

'You ask where should a Londoner's cab-riding loyalties lie. Well as any service industry, it should be with one that provides the service you require at a price you are willing to pay, and in this John Griffin has a good business model.

By taking on low skilled drivers, with many who are recent arrivals to our shores, and providing a complete package: vehicle, uniform, SatNav and phone, he has no shortage of takers. But many find working the long hours needed to make a decent living too much and leave after the first year.

Their enthusiasm sometimes stems from the novelty of having a job. A lady once told me of an African Addison Lee driver carrying her suitcase full of books up six flights of stairs balanced on his head.

Griffin has form when encouraging his gullible drivers to break the law. He declared that they should drive up the M4 bus lane. As traffic enforcement on motorways is the responsibility of the police, quite naturally they had more important things to do than catch Griffin's miscreants. Eventually the bus lane was scrapped and Addison Lee got their way. The same seems to apply to Paddington Station's new entrance. The signage clearly states no vehicles except taxis - and yes you've guessed it - Addison Lee seem to be exempt while all other private hire vehicles are excluded.

As a London Black Cab driver of 16 years I've seen our customer base diminish year on year.

When our only competition was a rusty Datsun with an aerial affixed to the roof by means of a magnet, drivers would frequently decline jobs. "It's not on my way home", "I'm not going South of The River", "Sorry Luv, I'm not going there", "That suitcase looks heavy". The excuses were endless.

It's hardly surprising then that London Cab usage has declined when some of my colleagues felt their wishes came before their customer's reasonable requests.

The younger London cabbies are more professional, with newer vehicles on the road and with a plethora of apps available from established radio circuits as well as independent developers we are starting to take back work.

You might not want John Griffin to run TfL but it has taken a maverick like him to shake the cab trade out of its complacency.

Where should a Londoner's cab-riding loyalties lie? I would suggest dear punter that it's you who is in the driving seat and not the other way round.'

Thanks, David!

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15 comments:

  1. With the cyclists, no question. I'd say this even if I wasn't a cyclist (and after all I often need cabs too). My reason is the simple fact that breaking the law is WRONG. It is wrong to encourage employees to behave illegally, and if that is the company culture, then what else is being done that we don't yet know about?

    As it happens a close relative was living till last week in the same street as Addison lee's main depot. Their cars were always parked everywhere, in defiance of parking regulations it seemed to me. What reason do I have now to think that it is not in fact illegal? Perhaps they have a racket going with the wardens. Where does it end? If illegality is condoned, and workers are encouraged to break the law, then let's take a look at their books too.

    Jesus, this boss must be barking!!!

    Which doesn't mean that they don't have good drivers and all the rest of it, just a pity they are apparently being let down by a kamikaze artist :).

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    Replies
    1. Wow, the parking thing is pretty shocking, Jenny. Although I reckon that people try their luck with parking restrictions and wardens across the city. It doesn't give the greatest impression of the company's respect for the law though, which I think is what has shocked a lot of people. Sad that the actions or words of one are changing our impressions of an entire firm though...I wonder what the individual drivers make of it all.

      Delete
  2. I must admit that I use Addison Lee a lot too. I find them very professional and always on time. That being said, did you know that the black cabs are fighting back? You should try the Hailo app to hail a black cab with your phone. I just love it...

    As for bus lanes and cyclists, I think that it is important to be careful. Although I believe that Addison lee boss went too far, he does have a point: I am still struggling to understand when I can park somewhere and despite being extra careful, I get a couple of fines a year because you probably must have some special training to understand how it all works. As for bus lanes, apparently you can use them in some boroughs at certain times. Again, I never figured out how it worked. It is simply too complicated.

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    Replies
    1. This is very true, Muriel; there is of course the Hailo app for smartphones which should make London cabs even better than they already are in terms of convenience. And the battle for road surface in the city is furious...both for bus lanes and regular lanes - I wouldn't want to drive or cycle here. I'll just keep sitting on my bus and leave the hard work to someone else!

      Delete
  3. Good to see a reasoned response to the current fuss. I doubt if many of the cab drivers will really risk their licences by taking the boss's advice seriously. A touch of Clarksonitis? My guess is this will blow over without anything changing.

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    Replies
    1. Thanks Duncan, would be good to hear from a driver or two, wouldn't it? To hear their thoughts on the matter...I think you're right though, and I don't really think much will change. We shall see, eh?

      Delete
    2. The facts of this matter are simple. The current bus lane regulations, which allow London black cabs to use the bus lanes but prohibit private hire from doing so are illegal as they discriminate against private hire operators and drivers who offer, in the eyes of the customer, a competing taxi service.

      It denies the public freedom of choice as journey times in the bus lanes are much quicker than those outside the lanes.

      Bus lanes are currently being misinterpreted by TfL to exclude PHV’s. Such misinterpretation is unlawful because it is in breach of European rules relating to the freedom of establishment and freedom to supply services.

      It infringes the general EU principal of equal treatment.

      It infringes the English common law principles of equality before the law and it denies free and fair competition in providing an unfair advantage to one group of commercial operators over others.

      A lawful interpretation of the bus lane regulations allows all licensed London minicab drivers with private hire identifiers to use all bus lanes in the same way as taxis.

      The BBC, who really should have known better, suggested that Addison Lee “… instructed its drivers to use the marked lanes until the case is heard”.

      Addison Lee drivers are self employed and each made their own choice as to whether they used the bus lanes or not.

      For my part, I was on holiday when the offer was made. Many drivers were indemnified for the the fines when using the bus lane at the time you refer to.

      In respect of cyclists they should be carry 3rd party insurance as a minimum and be required to carry identification.

      In 2011 a cyclist crashed in to the rear of my vehicle when I had been stationery for more than a minute. He gave me a false name, address and telephone number.

      If a cyclist crashes in to me again who is not carrying ID I will detain the cyclist until such time as the polica arrive to establish his identity.

      More on my experience with Addison Lee is at http://Cab4Now.com/Addison-Lee

      Ps. Nice post BTW. And if you still use AddLee next year you might get me:-)

      Delete
    3. Wow, a heartfelt reply there, John Smith! I still use Addison Lee, and recommend them to people in need of a hassle-free service...who knows, I may end up in your cab one day!

      Delete
  4. You ask where should a Londoner's cab-riding loyalties lie. Well as any service industry, it should be with one that provides the service you require at a price you are willing to pay, and in this John Griffin has a good business model.

    By taking on low skilled drivers, with many who are recent arrivals to our shores, and providing a complete package: vehicle, uniform, SatNav and phone, he has no shortage of takers. But many find working the long hours needed to make a decent living too much and leave after the first year.

    Their enthusiasm sometimes stems from the novelty of having a job. A lady once told me of an African Addison Lee driver carrying her suitcase full of books up six flights of stairs balanced on his head.

    Griffin has form when encouraging his gullible drivers to break the law. He declared that they should drive up the M4 bus lane. As traffic enforcement on motorways is the responsibility of the police, quite naturally they had more important things to do than catch Griffin's miscreants. Eventually the bus lane was scrapped and Addison Lee got their way. The same seems to apply to Paddington Station's new entrance. The signage clearly states no vehicles except taxis - and yes you've guessed it - Addison Lee seem to be exempt while all other private hire vehicles are excluded.

    As a London Black Cab driver of 16 years I've seen our customer base diminish year on year.

    When our only competition was a rusty Datsun with an aerial affixed to the roof by means of a magnet, drivers would frequently decline jobs. "It's not on my way home", "I'm not going South of The River", "Sorry Luv, I'm not going there", "That suitcase looks heavy". The excuses were endless.

    It's hardly surprising then that London Cab usage has declined when some of my colleagues felt their wishes came before their customer's reasonable requests.

    The younger London cabbies are more professional, with newer vehicles on the road and with a plethora of apps available from established radio circuits as well as independent developers we are starting to take back work.

    You might not want John Griffin to run TfL but it has taken a maverick like him to shake the cab trade out of its complacency.

    Where should a Londoner's cab-riding loyalties lie? I would suggest dear punter that it's you who is in the driving seat and not the other way round.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Wow, thanks so much for your wonderful reply, Cabbieblog! Your thoughts on the matter are fascinating, coming from one with true insight into this city-wide industry. I hope you won't mind if I a add your comment at the bottom of the post so readers can hear your thoughts on the matter too...

      Delete
  5. This comment has been removed by the author.

    ReplyDelete
  6. There is another option that is to use a local Minicab company who charge a fraction of what Add lee or taxis charge, it's helps local business's survive and also saves you a pretty penny. Oh yes we are such a firm AK Cars in w9 www.ak-cars.co.uk

    ReplyDelete
  7. There is another option that is to use a local Minicab company who charge a fraction of what Add lee or taxis charge, it's helps local business's survive and also saves you a pretty penny. Nice blog. Keep sharing.

    http://majorcarsuk.com

    ReplyDelete
  8. I think it helps a small and local business and it helps a local people a lot not to depend on other service.i think this is wonderful post.

    ReplyDelete
  9. Great post..!!!!
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    ReplyDelete

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