Wednesday, July 28, 2010

People take cabs when they think they're important

Half a year in, haven't lost the shiver of pleasure that comes with telling cab driver, "Conde Nast building, please."
It would be unkind to mention the name of the person who tweeted this yesterday. There's nothing wrong with a young person being really excited that they've got a job on a New York fashion magazine. What's interesting is the reference to the cab, which the tweeter probably didn't even notice.

There are many legitimate reasons for taking a cab: to complete a journey difficult to make by public transport, to transport heavy packages or for safety late at night, for instance. (Obviously it can't be for convenience because in London cabs spend most of their times in traffic jams.) However the impulse that causes people to raise their arms to the noonday traffic and take a cab is the heart-pounding, almost erotic feeling that they are far too important to be transported any other way. The fact that their employers are happy to refund cab expenses in certain jobs confirms them in this feeling that their work is of an order that demands they be moved about separately from the rest of us, that they be not impeded in any way and that, wherever possible, they be given the solitude to think about their next move. They're about status, not transport.

During economic boom nobody bats an eyelid. It's different right now. If I took cabs for work I would be keeping pretty quiet about it at the moment. Spotlights are being shone hard on the running expenses of public bodies and the amount of money being splashed on cabs does rather stand out. If you've got a moment, just Google "taxi expenses" for a selection of eye openers. This is just one.


  1. Up until a couple of weeks ago the Pathology department of the hospital where I work was spending an average of £600 a week on cabs to send blood tests that require specialist analysis up to London. This happened because doctors were unwilling to cordinate the taking of the samples for these tests with the timing of established courier runs.

    Rather than continue to pay for the taxis out of the pathology department's budget we now send the bill for the cabs to the doctors who requested them. It will be interesting to see if we use less taxis as a result.

  2. As a New York resident on a very modest income, I take cabs a lot, and pay for them with my own money. They are about half the price of a London black cab and often the most efficient way to get where you want to go. Since the MTA cuts, buses are now unreliable and overcrowded, and the subway is geared to getting you into and out of Manhattan, not around it. Since the tweeter in question lives in Washington DC, would arrive in NY at Penn Station, and said edifice is at 4 Times Square, a cab is not an unreasonable way of making the short journey given our current excessive heat and humidity.

  3. Compared to the cost of a Zone 1 Travelcard, I guess you London boys do consider it an extravagance. I only come down to the capital 4 or 5 times a year and am always in a rush - the cab, therefore, is my preferred mode of transport. At home in Nottingham we are spoilt with a brilliant bus service so I hardly ever defer to the car or taxi (that's what we call them up here, you know).

  4. John, they only use 'taxi' in London when they have to hail one...

    I remember Ben Elton gushing on some talk show about how he always used public transport for the sake of the environment - and then detailed that he used the underground during the day and taxis at night.

    My guess is that you are polluting the atmosphere just as much by getting into a taxi as you would be by getting into your own car. Object defeated.

  5. A taxi does score over most other forms of public transport if you fancy a relatively discreet shag.

  6. Fornication at the back of bendy buses all the time.

  7. Not the first time a reek of tooth-sucking Yorkshire parsimony is evident here. It's just a cab, it's not being borne aloft through the streets on a gilded litter. There are all sorts of reasons people get cabs, and they're not "illegitimate". Anyone on a miserable £33k* is probably costing their employer £25 an hour to run. If they're in the back of a cab checking emails and making a few calls which they couldn't do with someone's head in their armpit on the bus, it's cost effective. If you're not at work, getting a cab is just one of those quality of life vs. cost decisions we all make every day.

    I read the BBC post earlier in the week. Thought it was spot on, and that I'd look a bit petty by pointing out that the queue of vehicles outside Wood Lane are minicabs, not taxis. But there's a difference, and you're blurring it again here.

    *Ironic London reference.

  8. For the comparatively brief time (3 years) when I lived in the capital, getting a black cab on the odd occasion made me feel like a "proper Londoner", especially when showing visitors around.

  9. I must admit to feeling let down on getting into a NY cab for the first time. It seemed to be a badly coverted normal saloon car but with a partition down the middle which blocked off all the leg room. Being over 6 ft it was a really cramped an uncomfortable journey. I couldn't even look out of the window that well. Most of the others seemed to be the same.

    At least in a black cab you get a good seat , a good view and the reassuring surging chug of the diesel engine. That being said an oyster card and a top deck is just as good most of the time.

  10. …and another thing: the tweeter may contribute to one of Condé Nast's appearance-obsessed titles but she doesn't 'work for them' in the sense of being an employee there every day. She's a well-respected, very sharp political journalist with a string of successes to her name, and contributes great insight to various media including The Rachel Maddox show, probably the best-informed, most outspoken left-leaning politics show on US network TV.

    [apologies if this is egg-sucking lessons]

  11. I'll never forget the gasp of amazement from a PR at Virgin when I offered to walk over from Wood Lane to their office in Holland Park to pick up a promotional CD.