Fishbowl

Fishbowl

A hundred years ago prospective London cab drivers looked forward to a career involving a horse, and a bale of hay for fuel. Apart from a switch to the combustion engine not a lot else has happened in the trade’s 350 year history. Most of the changes have happened in the past three years: things such as mandatory credit card acceptance, and widespread road “Modernisation” schemes which have edged motor vehicles out of key roads in favour of cycles.

The London cab trade is now actually quite green. The then Mayor, Boris Johnson, stipulated over two years ago that all new taxis used in London must be capable of running on electricity. Despite concerns over vehicle costs and a lack of charging structure, the take up of electric cabs has been surprisingly high. With more London streets being closed off to non-electric vehicles  I speak, the take-up of electric taxis is sure to continue. This means the “traditional” TX model, beloved by tourists and Londoners alike for its beetle-shaped body, is becoming a thing of the past.

TXeThere are now two models of electric cab to choose from: the TXe, which came out over two years ago; and the Nissan Dynamo which is just starting to appear. Many drivers think the TXe is over-priced, but this isn’t necessarily true. The TXe is expensive compared with a car, but it’s not really a car, it’s a purpose-built taxi. It’s specialist vehicle. It’s also cheaper than many so-called SUVs.

The TXe, like the TX, and the FX models preceding it, is more a car than a van, but it’s still a taxi. With the Mercedes Vito we had the first converted taxi van, or if you like, a taxi/van hybrid. It had its supporters. Personally, I think it’s too van-like, and it’s too big. Vitos are sometimes used as minicabs, which also puts me off. It’s also expensive for a van conversion. The Ford Galaxy -used by our Addison Lee minicab friends-is a nicer vehicle; but we’re restricted to what vehicle we can use as all routes lead back to the 25-feet turning circle. A London taxi has to be able to make a U-turn in 25 feet. A London taxi is so expensive to buy because there are no regular off-the-peg models to choose from, they all have to be adapted.

Fishbowl

Fishbowl

Taxi drivers in the provinces aren’t restricted by archaic rules and van conversions dominate in many towns. There are just a handful of TXs in Leighton Buzzard where I live. I use local cabs occasionally, but even holding back at the ranks when I’m on my way home from the pub or train station I’ve never managed to snap up a TX. Some of the van cabs are awful. A ride home is never the occasion it would be in London. It’ll be interesting to see if the TXe or Dynamo makes inroads in the provinces. I’ve yet to see a Central Bedfordshire-licensed electric taxi, possibly because of a lack of electrical charging points. I’m still amazed they’ve sold so many in London.

The new Dynamo taxi is a van conversion, but I think it has enough character to become an acceptable addition to the London taxi family. I don’t it’ll be as loved as the T4, but the TX is on its way out. Despite the high cost of the new vehicles, the end of the diesel-powered taxi is nigh. The Dynamo is fully electric. This is exciting, but buyers need a leap of faith; particularly with the provision of charging points. Still, even if electricity rises in price the cab will be cheaper to run than my old diesel filth-cart.

Nissan Dynamo Fully elexctric

Nissan Dynamo Fully elexctric

I don’t know if the TXe or Dynamo come fitted with all the squeaks and rumbles of the TX, but for the sake of tradition I hope so. The sound adds to its character. Hopefully the water leaks don’t come as standard; nor the gap by the gear shift that sucks bank notes into the gear mechanism. The TX should by rights be confined to the London Transport Museum. It’s old-fashioned and has never been very reliable, but people the world over have a lot of affection for the model: not despite it being old-fashioned, but because it’s old-fashioned. Those of us holding on to a TX should enjoy it while we can and celebrate it as a much-loved icon –  and tourists should consider themselves privileged to enjoy a ride on one of the last examples of a living dinosaur.

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