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Feel free to ask me anything, if you'd like to know more or something specific occurs to you. :D Especially if there's a particular topic you'd like to see covered in this intermittant series.

Black Cabs

I'm glad in the DVD commentary tracks they do talk about how unrealistic it is for people in a flat share situation to keep getting black cabs. Unlike minicabs - which charge by the mile - black cabs charge by the *minute*. In London traffic. It's possible for a mile and a half journey - I'm disabled, so sometimes it has been necessary - to cost £12, let alone traipsing all over London. (I have never got a *black* cab unless I could reclaim the fare as a work/benefits expense, or someone else was paying; even when I was working full time on a good salary. I know people on six-figure salaries who use the Tube/Docklands Light Railway where possible, or walk, rather than get a cab!) The metre is usually clearly visible from the back seat, so you don’t often get a nasty surprise. Instead you sit there and watch it ticking over.

I want to see a cabbie – in either the next Season, or someone’s fic - say "I'm not going South of the River / that far East at this time of night!" and drive off leaving John and/or Sherlock to find another one.

As seen in TBB when John asks the cab to take him to Scotland Yard, after hailing a cab, when it stops you ask/tell the driver (through the front window) where you want to go *before* he unlocks/opens the back door and lets you in, accepting your fare. Cabbies will refuse to take fares (i.e. passengers) if the drop-off will leave them too far off the beaten track - and the chance to get another fare BACK to the centre; or if it's too near to their clocking off time to get there; or if it’s near the end of shift and too far in the wrong direction from their home. Cabs that won't take you where you want to go are a common London experience. When I was doing teacher training, I had a cab refuse to take me to the estate (i.e. block/zone) where my placement school was, because of the bad nature/reputation of the estate.

Every cab driver I've ever had has been friendly, chatty but courteous (even the flirty/cheeky ones) and helpful. Of course that doesn't go for the cabs which haven't picked me up! "That far East?! At this time of day?! You've gotta be jokin'!" :D

Cab drivers can - and will - also refuse to take fares who look like trouble and/or seem to be visibly drunk (especially they think there's a danger of puking). The surcharge for getting mud, vomit etc on the cab seats/floor, requiring special cleaning, can be as high as £50.

It’s a stereotype (that pretty much every cab-driver I’ve ever met has in some way, shape or form conformed to!) that all cab and mini-cab drivers are pretty far Right-wing. I’ve even had immigrant drivers complain to me about the state and rate (as in it’s far too high!) of immigration in this country. Most cab-drivers – well, probably most *people*, but if you’re alone in a cab with the driver, they tend to tell you their opinions, at length – believe they can do a far better job than the government of running the country.

Many of them are willing to tell you exactly what they would do, too, including bringing back hanging and “the birch” – corporal punishment could be sentenced by a magistrate and delivered by the police until the 1960s in some parts of the country (and I have to say, it would probably be more effective as a deterrent than ASBOs, which are a badge of pride/honour among some sections of our youth) and was legal in private/public schools until some time in the 1990s. *I* remember getting – legally – slapped on my thigh, through my dress, in Junior School, on occasion. In earlier days, my elder brother (born 1966) got “the slipper” – actually slaps with a rubber-soled gym shoe/plimsoll – and my Dad got the cane and “Made a member of the Red-Hand Gang” (if you were too slow getting changed for/after PE or Games, the Games Master would slap you on the thigh hard enough to leave a handprint). Many, many people feel that, faced with our current “crisis” in youth bad behaviour, corporal punishment should make a return.

As far as the law is concerned, Black Cabs can drive in bus lanes – and thus pass snarled up traffic jams! - and are the only cabs in London that can be hailed (at least legally) – i.e. flagged down with an arm, a whistle, or a shout of “Cab!/Taxi!” when you see one with his orange “TAXI” light lit - rather than pre-booked. Because of this, you almost never see a cab rank in Central London (though you do find them in Outer London).

As seen in ASiP when Sherlock bangs on the bonnet of the cab and tells the driver, “Police! Open her up!”, the driver can lock/unlock the back doors from the front - hence it is a very trusted position. Black cabs are licensed and registered and drivers have to take "The Knowledge" - an exam about routes and their memory of the A-to-Z, so that, like Sherlock, they know (or are at least supposed to know) every road in London. (Both the drivers and the cabs have to clearly display their licences, so identification if anything untoward should happen should/would be easy. The only thing to look out for are *unlicensed* black cabs, as although legally the door locking mechanism is supposed to be disengaged if the cab is sold for private use, you can find mechanics willing and able to re-engage it. If you cannot see the license plates of both cab and cabbie - do NOT get in.)

The driver's section of a black cab can be sealed off from the passenger, by the passenger shutting the (reinforced) glass window (when you’re bored of discussing politics for example). The cabs usually seat 5 - two with their backs to the driver. The door locks are there to ensure that people don't just get in without permission, or out without paying.

In an unlicensed cab that window may have been tampered with so the driver can have access to the passenger section.

Minicabs can be obtained from special cab ranks or the minicab office (in person or by phone). Again, minicab firms are licensed and you should only use a firm you know. (With my disablity I used my local firm so often I used to request a specific driver by name.)

And Public Transport (please note, we never call it “Transit”) since I've seen some people use it in fics

There are seats next to the double-doors which bear signs above them requesting that you give them up for “The elderly or disabled, pregnant women and those carrying children” or simply (depending on the “Line” i.e. route) “Those less able to stand”, but my experience as a woman with a walking stick is that you have to *ask* if anyone is willing to let you sit down.

In Central London, there tends to only be about two minutes train-travel between stations/stops and in peak hours (morning and evening) trains come (depending on Line) every two to ten minutes. Even off-peak, unless it is very early in the morning, or after 11pm, on most Lines trains come every five to fifteen minutes. On many Lines, at least at most times of day, even the station timetables do not list set times for train arrival – it’s actually listed as “Every five to ten minutes” etc.

Most Tube stops have only steps and/or escalators between platform and ticket office/street (some deep stations have so many steps that there’s a warning notice advising you only to use the stairs in the event of an emergency). They are gradually putting lifts in where they can, in accordance with the Disability Discrimination Act, which states that public services/places ought to be wheelchair accessible, but because many of the stations are Victorian, the structure often does not allow for it.

In spite of the depth and the concordant signal weaknesses and difficulties, I have often seen people using Blackberries (but not most mobile phones) on Tube trains. Signal strength differs pretty much from station to station as depth and the locations of phone masts varies.

As an FYI - in London you have to buy your ticket (or charge your Oystercard) *before* getting on the bus or train (Tube trains are still called trains). Off-peak One Day Travel cards – offering unlimited travel after 9.30am – are relatively inexpensive and tend to be a good move.

NB TRIGGER WARNING – mention of assault and sexual assault below

Regarding safety, women have been sexually assaulted in crowded Tube carriages due to the wonderful London custom of not ever looking at or interfering with other people on the Tube. On a slightly different note - I think it was a stag night (bachelor party) - I was once witness on the Tube to a party of drunk young men stripping another young man completely starkers (naked) and then bodily pushing him out of the carriage at a station. The carriage was pretty full (it was a Friday evening) but no one said a word, and while it LOOKED like a hazing/prank (which should have been stopped anyway) it *could* have been an actual assault for all we knew.

(As a 5'2", disabled, woman, travelling alone, I was NOT about to try to intervene with a gang of drunken and rowdy young men... but I still felt rather guilty. Also, it might be worth noting that at 5'2" my *height* is no bar to "strap-hanging" - as it is still often called in spite of most Lines using poles rather than straps - so John is hardly going to struggle to reach!)

I’ve seen people get on the Tube with visible – and new looking - injuries or in tears – or *both* – or have obviously apparent difficulties due to disabilities (walking sticks, white sticks, Guide Dogs etc) or be taken ill, while 99% of their fellow passengers do their best to ignore the situation. Sex and violence count as “none of my business” so the famous English reserve engages and most of us do our best not to become involved. Some medical professionals, even, will not give impromptu aid in case something goes wrong and they get sued. A very sad state of affairs.

Consequently, John and Sherlock could probably (at least if they were vaguely subtle with coats etc) fuck in a Tube carriage (it’s never called a “car” btw) without getting more than a couple of raised eyebrows. The more sexual/physical a couple get, the harder the average Londoner will work at ignoring them. Heh.

On the other hand, a crowd of teenagers visibly excited and chatting very loudly will receive much more disapprobation. Someone (usually someone over 50) may even come over and tell them off – “The whole carriage doesn’t need to hear your conversation you know! You ought to be more considerate!” It’s a funny old world. :(


( 11 comments — Leave a comment )
Oct. 19th, 2011 11:44 am (UTC)
or be taken ill

Though this isn't necessarily a universal experience. When I was a "person taken ill on a train" half the carriage leapt forwards with offers of water bottles, cooling wipes etc and two people carted me off at Warren St and stayed on the platform with me while the train left.

Nice write up though!
Oct. 19th, 2011 05:00 pm (UTC)
:D I'm so glad my own experience isn't universal! London can sometimes make me dispair for our common humanity.
Oct. 19th, 2011 12:06 pm (UTC)
This is great! Should be useful!

I want to see a cabbie – in either the next Season, or someone’s fic - say "I'm not going South of the River / that far East at this time of night!" and drive off

I had a carter say, "I'm not going south of the creek, not at this time of day," in a Medieval AU: does that count?!
Oct. 19th, 2011 05:00 pm (UTC)
lol - I think it counts! Happy to help.
Oct. 19th, 2011 03:18 pm (UTC)
Nice post! The stuff about people ignoring stuff on the Tube - yes. Last year I had to take the tube with a very obviously broken shoulder which I couldn't move without agonising pain, but did that stop people from shoving past me? No! Not even when I involuntarily cried out in pain at one point. The bloke actually just gave me a dirty look like "If it hurts when I push past you, you shouldn't have been in my way."

In terms of black cabs (I don't live in London and have never gotten a taxi there) If you pre-booked a taxi would it definitely not be a black cab? Also, if you were to be 'misbehaving' in the back, could the driver stop and be like "I'm not taking you any further, give me my money and piss off"?
Oct. 23rd, 2011 01:20 pm (UTC)
I've been pushed down the stairs to/from the platform at my local Tube station - I was pulling mysef down them using my walking stick and the railings, slowly and with visible difficulty, but because there were people coming up the other side, a man running for the train (there would have been another in five minutes) decided to shove me out of his way.

People in London often act as though the disabled/injured should just stay home rather than inconveniencing them with our slowness and problems and requirements.

To answer your questions - if you pre-booked a cab, you'd get whatever kind of cab you booked. I believe there are companies in London which let you book a Black Cab (they are not aways black in colour BTW), but you have to use one of them *specifically*. And I don't see why you would, if you had an option, to be honest. (Maybe if you don't have a local mini-cab firm?)

When I was being treated as an out-patient at Bart's I'd get a MINI-cab from my local firm there and pre-book a collection with the same firm for the return journey. Most mini-cab companies around London will collect you from all over (with a booking) and you only have to pay for the journey *you* make - so the cab going *to* the airport/hospital etc to collect you is not part of the charge. And because they charage by the mile, they can quote the journey cost to you in advance.

The driver usually (at least nominally) owns the cab, so really what he thinks is acceptable behaviour is the rule. However, there is also the London rule of ignoring strangers, so unless what you were doing was in danger of damaging the upholstery or the cab itself, or a major distraction/obstruction to the rear-view mirror or rear windscreen etc, I doubt the cab-driver would have a problem. They've probably seen it all.

But technically, yes, s/he has the right to throw you out of the cab at his/her discretion. You'd probably get a polite request or warning first, though.
Oct. 19th, 2011 03:54 pm (UTC)
Thank you so hugely much for this info that we poor Americans have so much trouble discovering. I swear the littlest things when you least expect it are vastly, strangely different between US/UK, it can be so frustrating.

Thanks, again!
Oct. 19th, 2011 04:58 pm (UTC)
And it's the little things that can throw you out of a fic. :) I'm glad to be useful - and I mean what I say about ask me anything.

Given the response to this there will be several factoid posts forthcoming - especially focusing on things that people don't seem to know. (I know sometimes one doesn't even know what to research or what questions to ask.)
Oct. 19th, 2011 06:15 pm (UTC)
That's really true about the little things we don't think to look up.

Just to give an example, I'm a Brit, but I'm old and not necessarily in touch with more modern versions of things.

I once referred to an STD in a fic - that's what they were called back in my day. A reader asked if Mycroft had been hanging out with Americans, as they're called STIs these days.

Plus, if a person rarely/never takes black cabs/minicabs, they've probably forgotten the different tariff systems. So thanks again for helping out an oldie and I look forward to more factoids!
Oct. 20th, 2011 04:48 am (UTC)
I must be pretty old too (see username) b/c as far as I'm concerned while "VD" would raise a flag, STD wouldn't.

I'm kind of amused by the fact that Brits are reading UK factoid posts (I received a message from a British writer about my "moot point" rant) but mostly, I'm just glad to be of use.
Oct. 20th, 2011 10:56 pm (UTC)
London. Black cabs. Jesus. When I was there in April, I was walking everywhere even though my parents were begging me not too (disabled here too) and I'm like "do you know how much a fucking black cab costs in London?!", even though they were the only ones I'd take when I had to due to concerns for my personal safety.

RE tube stations... oh god. Enough said.
( 11 comments — Leave a comment )


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