I don't usually work till very late into the night. Eight or nine pm is usually my whack. However, I had to collect one of our sons from his work in the early hours, so decided to stay on till 2am.
Bloody hell, I was shocked ! Even within 18 months or so, illegal touting must have increased by 1000% !
There were touts absolutely everywhere, but worse still, they don't even try to be cunning about it now, they just work their crime with impunity !
I am not accusing The Safer Transport Command Cab Enforcement Unit of not being out there, just merely saying that irrespective of whether they were or weren't, there simply isn't enough of them ! I certainly didn't see any.
Why is this happening ? After all, it is the responsible of the people taking the money for licences, to ensure that the licence holders are adhering to the rules and regulations of the said granted licence. That could be a fishing licence, a shotgun licence, a driving licence, a Hackney Carriage licence, a mini cab licence.......etc, etc.
Part of any licence fee, is to provide funding to ensure that enforcement is included, to monitor, observe and check that the terms and conditions of any licence, is strictly complied with. Without enforcement, having a licence would be a mockery.
So, with circa 80,000 mini cab licences and 26000 hackney licenses being paid for to TFL, you don't have to be a wizard from the London School of Economics, to realise that this is a staggering amount. Sure, there are admin costs involved, postal costs, staff wages etc, but considering that just one Hackney Licence is £250, this is still an awful large amount of dosh, going into the TFL coffers.
And yet................Genuine, effective and honest enforcement out there on our streets........ain't worth a toss !
Although TFL boast of nearly 8,000 arrests have been made for touting since 2003, I wonder how many of that number ended up in court and actually convicted ?
I would be shocked if it were as many as a few hundred.
Furthermore, even though the Police have powers to seize and crush the vehicles of persistent offenders, I doubt whether the true figure of crushed mini cabs would be enough to recycle and make a rickshaw with !
In my mind, this issue is much more than TFL failing to enforce their licence holders. I view this as much more serious than just a failure of compliance.
This is an inexcusable lack of care and responsibility to National Security. A wilful lack of strategic protection to London, Londoners and the people who are in it.
Checking our National Security Threat both yesterday and today, I note that it is deemed to be SEVERE by the appointed Joint Terrorism Analysis Centre .
National Intelligence therefore in our country, have decided that an attack on the UK, probably London, is HIGHLY LIKELY.
I repeat....AN ATTACK IS HIGHLY LIKELY !!!!.
So, it is fair to say then, that our Intelligence Officers, our Security Services and our Police Services are expecting it ?
I am assuming that I am being fair enough so far ? I'm not trying to be tricky, arrogant or cocky, just saying that the people paid and chosen to protect us, are expecting an attack ?
I can forgive there being a low profile example of Police Officers with machine guns in a side road in the New Forest. I can understand a lack of visible protection for the public to witness in a town like Haworth in North Yorkshire too.
BUT..................The unchallenged illegal activity right under my nose in London's West End last night was a National Disgrace ! We are expecting an attack !
In fairness to our Police, I know for a fact that there are many undercover, armed officers out there at the moment. All with covert ear pieces and ready to deploy. In fairness, I wouldn't expect those officers to tie themselves up with mini cab issues.
But without sounding racist, the fact is, there are many many mini cab drivers, both legal and illegal, who are from Syria, Iraq, Iran and other countries whom MI5 regard as a threat.
Indeed, the biggest principle threat that MI5 are currently concerned with, is from the Islamic State of Iraq and Levant.
Not only are they threatening our safety from their lairs in Syria, but brainwashing their UK home grown cousins in London to blow us up and kill us on their behalf !
However, this presents our Security Agencies with a very difficult brief, and an operational tinder box.
It goes without saying, that there are many subjects from the countries I mention, who are professional lawyers, surgeons, academics etc, who have absolutely no intention of doing the UK any harm.
For our Police and Security Agencies to constantly harass them by virtue of their birth place, would understandably be seen to be more sinister.
However, the main priority here, is to protect our people in our country, and sadly, that may upset a few radicals along the way.
If every single min cab driver in the West End last night was apprehended and put in a warehouse, I guarantee you there would be terrorists among them.
Obviously, in the real world that couldn't be done. BUT, surely the next best thing would be to pay closer attention to a favourite career option of all foreign nationals........The Mini Cab Driver.
Once again, I do not generalise unrealistically either. Of course, not all mini cab drivers are foreign nationals. And not all Iranians, Syrians or Iraqis are mini cab drivers either. I bet some are bakers, jewellers, undertakers and florists, but don't try to tell me that driving a mini cab appears not to be the job of choice by a greater percentage by far. Because it is.
Only a few weeks ago, Officers from the Met's SO15 Unit apprehended and charged three men for plotting another beheading atrocity on our streets.
How many of us expected one of these to be a 25 year old white cockney son of a Docker, working in the local pie and mash shop in Bermondsey ?
Me neither. Funny that, isn't it ? And by the way, it wasn't !
The good news is that we managed to prevent that one. I was always taught in the army that we had to thwart every chance that the terrorist had. But the terrorist only needed ONE chance !
These are precarious, dangerous and worrying times that us London Taxi Drivers, Londoners and our Security Services face all over the UK today.
Our dreams of a multi culture melting pot and the reputation as one of the most tolerant countries in the world, may well have brought us more popularity. But its also brought us many multi cultural differences, and concerns Our existence and future well being therefore, depends entirely on the strength, expertise and deployment of our National Security Agencies.
It is no easy task, make no mistake about it. Senior National Security Officers and indeed our own Units such as SO15, Special Branch and Border Control have a critically important role to play, and we should be proud to pay our taxes for them.
However, driving round the West End last night honestly frightened the shit out of me. The perfect infrastructure for not only the terrorist, but also the sexual predator. They were having an absolute field day ! Unworried, Uncaring but most importantly UNCHALLENGED !
In my opinion, this needs to be addressed urgently as London nears to the Christmas festivities.
I am unaware of exactly how much TFL set aside from their licensees fees to pay for Enforcement and Compliance. One thing is for sure though, stone cold sober and driving amongst the drunken revellers in the early hours this morning, I didn't feel safe out there.
TFL seriously need to increase their Enforcement & Compliance Squad as a matter of urgency.
My offer still stands that I made 5 years ago. If they want me to do it for no salary, I would be only too pleased.
There are dozens of places in the world whereby my personal safety was compromised, but it was all in a day's work and part of the job.
Not once did I think that it would be a Friday night in Shaftesbury Avenue, London which would concern me most. I'm just glad my two daughters weren't out there as well.
Perhaps it's me. Perhaps I'm getting too old !
Be lucky and stay safe.