London. 11 June 2014. The black cab strike
London is a great city if you choose to walk. Well, there are buses, trams, trains, and cabs too but if you’re in central London, you really don’t want to pay for a transport miss out on stopping every few seconds to unsling your DSLR and go click…click…click…
This is the kind of logic I was talking about with Specky as we walked away from our distasteful experience at the Godiva outlet in Covent Garden (will talk about it in a different post) and towards the river. Thames is where we head to always to find our bearings and decide which direction to explore. Well, as we emerged from one of the smaller roads and onto one which we recognized as going towards Trafalgar Square if we head right, I noticed the black cabs. There were other cars and buses too… but the road had surprisingly too many black cabs.
‘Massive jam,’ I said.
Specky was more intuitive in her conclusion when she said, ‘Seems to be some sort of a strike.’
Strike! In London! Now this seemed exciting enough for me to unsling my D5100 again and click a few shots before letting my brain process any other information or conclusion. This is precisely why I love the photographer inside me… I execute a shot and then think. My mind always asks me not to let the crucial moment go by uncaptured. Just then the mobile in my pocket vibrated and it was Pushkin, my son, telling me to go towards Trafalgar Square as there was a demonstration by the black cab drivers there.
I looked at Specky and said, ‘You were right. This is a protest. And Pushkin is asking us to go towards Trafalgar Square if we want to see their demonstration.’ So we walked slowly, crossing the Royal Society of Arts and Charing Cross station and reached the national museum and the place from where we could see the unending lines of cabs in every radial visible. There were tourists, locals, and journalists rushing to capture the protest from all possible angles. The London police stood there trying to lessen the density of the jam by asking the cabs to keep moving.
The placards and the slogans told me that a strike here in London was a colourful and a creative affair. After all, they were protesting against the menace of Uber cabs and the TFL which they called ‘Totally Failing London’ instead of its original ‘Transport for London’. Well, even the cabbies were clicking pictures… and so were the policemen. Such a massive strike was probably a unique event for them all… and I said, ‘This is so usual in Delhi.’
The Telegraph explains the reason for this taxi strike in an article: ‘The secret of the San Franciscan company’s jaw-dropping success – it has already spread to more than 100 cities around the world – is the fact that it allows you to order a mini cab directly from your smartphone, and be automatically served up the nearest driver.’ This is precisely what the RMT guys or ‘the democratic union for transport workers on the roads, the highways, seas and railways’ told me. One of them added, ‘We don’t want the black cabs to die. They are a part of London’s heritage. We are there when a commuter wants us and we know the way like no one else and understand the traffic more than any satnav ever will.’
Death knell for the black cabs… is it? Well, I wondered if technology would ever want any other older technology to wither and die. Not really… my sensibilities told me that older technology simply needs to upgrade itself and remain in the race. Boris Johnson, the Mayor, has also said, ‘What we would be mad to do is to dis-invent technology.’
Some of the union people there argued that ‘Uber used an app to calculate time & distance and this can be unpredictable. Anyone can be charged more because of incorrect positioning calculations done by the app. Moreover, Uber does charge more during peak hours and during Tube strikes. London Taxis never do this.’ All this did sound good enough. However, I must add here that our personal experience with Uber in Delhi was fairly good. In Delhi if I have to go from the New Delhi railway station to my home which is less than two kilometres, I am simply out-casted and left alone by all sorts of cab services and even the ubiquitous Autos unless I am ready to pay an amount as exorbitant as Rs 500. However, I can call an Uber cab and I’m never asked where I want to go until I am I sitting inside. It is then that the driver asks, ‘Where do you want to go?’
The Uber cab service is a boon in a city like Delhi… and might actually transform the other cab and taxi services there to be more user-friendly. I am, therefore, wondering why even the black cab drivers in London aren’t ready to adopt a few good things that Uber might be doing and give them a better competition? Any service and anyone becomes only better when the competition increases.
If this is a battle between black cabs and mobile apps, then it is easiest to adopt a new technology and remain ahead.
16 June 2014