Taxi for Mr Baker! Minister for Cycling attracts wrath of London's cabbies

"Light-hearted comment" causes taxi drivers' spokesman to suffer sense of humour failure and irony bypass

by Simon_MacMichael   June 24, 2011  

Norman Baker on Blackfriars Bridge courtesy Carlton Reid.jpg

We have to say we’re warming to Transport Minister Norman Baker. Last week, he promised to raise the issue of the scrapping of the 20mph speed limit on Blackfriars Bridge with Transport for London, and now he’s under fire from the city’s black cab drivers after light-heartedly suggesting they might go slowly on purpose to try and rack up the fare. As the saying goes, the enemy of my enemy is my friend.

Appearing before the House of Commons Transport Committee, Mr Baker was making a point about the need for his department to dispense with unnecessary and outdated legislation. "I think there is an offence of furious driving which only applies to taxi drivers because they used to be Hackney Carriage drivers, from about 1847,” he said, by means of illustration.

It was his next comment however that raised the hackles of the taxi-driving community. "I must admit I have not seen any taxi drivers driving furiously; they drive rather slowly in my experience, to keep the clock ticking over."

As he later told the London Evening Standard, "It was a light-hearted comment which I think some people will see a grain of truth in," adding that traffic jams often made it difficult for taxis to travel faster. At speeds of below 10.4mph, the metered fare is based on time rather than distance.

That explanation came to late to prevent an indignant response from Steve McNamara, spokesman for the Licensed Taxi Drivers' Association, which counts 10,000 London cabbies among its members.

In a remark apparently made without irony, Mr McNamara said: "Sometimes they say it's best to keep your mouth shut in case people think you are stupid rather than open it and confirm their belief.”

That’s a view that will doubtless be shared by anyone who has ever been subject to a driver’s unsolicited views while riding in a cab on immigration, the social security system,  the return of capital punishment and, yes, cyclists.

Indignantly, he added: “It's not just scandalous, it's slanderous.”

While being spokesperson for a stereotypically outspoken section of the workforce is a role few cyclists would wish to trade with Mr McNamara, he himself made it clear that he wasn’t looking for a job swap with Mr Baker any time soon.

"I might only be a taxi driver but I'd be embarrassed to have to tell people, 'I'm the minister for cycling,'” he thundered.

“He will be riding everywhere in future because no cab driver will pick him up," he added – although given the congestion in Central London, that would mean that the Minister would most likely get to his destination quicker and more cheaply by having to use his bike.

Of course, we’re not suggesting that all of London’s cabbies are anti-cyclist. Far from it. On Wednesday, while sat in the Look Mum No Hands cycling café on Old Street, we were briefly transfixed by the sight of a female cyclist hailing a cab then loading her bike into the back with the driver’s approval before being whisked away.
 

12 user comments

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In my experience many taxi drivers are at their most reckless when they are on their way to pick up a fare. All road laws and speed limits seemingly don't apply. An empty car ain't earning them a penny. How ironic that the cabbie man is claiming it's 'slanderous'. Has he ever talked to him members at length??

arrieredupeleton

posted by arrieredupeleton [519 posts]
24th June 2011 - 14:28

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"No cab driver will pick him up"? That might just slightly be a flagrant breach of the rules, of course - cabbies aren't meant to beauty parade their fares based on their own lazy prejudices.

(I should add that I've been helped home by a cabbie when I buggered up my wheel. Cabbies, like every other road group have their good'uns and bad'uns ...)

timlennon's picture

posted by timlennon [226 posts]
24th June 2011 - 14:45

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Taxi drivers are funny.

posted by BigDummy [265 posts]
24th June 2011 - 15:04

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Taxi drivers' spokesman suffers "sense of humour failure and irony bypass."

Aren't we too in the cycling community guilty of this from time to when similar "light-hearted comments" are aimed our way? Wink

cavasta's picture

posted by cavasta [189 posts]
24th June 2011 - 16:33

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While I see my fair share of dodgy cab maneuvers (mostly, as has been mentioned, when they swerve or u-turn to try and pick up a fair), in my experience they are also by far the most likely group of road users to wave me through when I'm turning right across traffic or let me out from a junction.

posted by Matt_S [177 posts]
24th June 2011 - 16:34

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As a Cab Driver I can confirm that I avoid picking up Tory MPs. This has nothing to do with Mr Baker's views on the cab trade or cycling but everything to do with the party he represents. Nick Clegg is wasting his time too...

posted by jmaccyd [2 posts]
24th June 2011 - 17:05

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jmaccyd wrote:
As a Cab Driver I can confirm that I avoid picking up Tory MPs. This has nothing to do with Mr Baker's views on the cab trade or cycling but everything to do with the party he represents. Nick Clegg is wasting his time too...

Isn't Norman Baker a Lib Dem though?

posted by londonplayer [671 posts]
24th June 2011 - 17:33

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The same thing these days.

posted by jmaccyd [2 posts]
24th June 2011 - 18:57

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Being able to identify 305 different conservative faces and ban them from your cab is some talent! I thought Fred Housego had retired.

I don't normally pick up cabbies to be honest - but as the only cabby in our road club is fitter than me I'm normally on his wheel... Big Grin

MercuryOne

Silly me. You're probably right....

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posted by MercuryOne [927 posts]
25th June 2011 - 9:28

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My workmate's ex is a taxi driver. He freely admits to driving slowly to drive up the fare. McNamara is being a vociferous tool with no sense of humour.

downfader's picture

posted by downfader [184 posts]
25th June 2011 - 15:30

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Shame, isn't it? We complain when we can't get a straight answer from an MP but then jump up and down when they give one... he's as entitled to an opinion as much as anyone - prejudiced, stereotypical or whatever. At least if any bias is clear his constituents can make a proper judgement about whether to vote for him or not.

Ticktock

posted by Michael5 [121 posts]
26th June 2011 - 7:02

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we may laugh, but 9/10 times you can tell if a london cabbie behind you has a fare or not by how fast he approaches and overtakes you!

roadie come mountain biker come single speeder and back again

posted by cborrman [84 posts]
27th June 2011 - 16:53

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