This month we asked a long-time friend and colleague, Andrew Musk, if he would like to be our driver profilee. He very kindly and willingly agreed, so we take you to the leafy suburb of Welwyn Garden City for a chat and update with a guy who has over 22 years’ experience in the trade there.
In fact, Andy has lived all his life in the area: he was born in Welwyn Garden City Cottage Hospital (now the Cottage pub) 57 years ago. He started his working life as a welder, then as a sheet metal worker; he progressed to become a detail aircraft fitter. Ultimately, he became a factory manager.
However, as with many a licence holder in this diverse industry, Andy started out as a part-time taxi driver whilst he was still involved in his current profession. Nothing unusual about that, except that he enjoyed taxi driving so much he left his job as factory manager to drive full time, much to the astonishment of his boss at the time.
We’ll let Andy take up his story: “When I started taxi work in Welwyn Garden City I was driving the only people carrier on the rank and it was bright green. I had a couple of bad run-ins with townsfolk. [Their behaviour] used to worry me quite a bit and prompted me to start an executive hire company. I built this up over the years to become the largest executive private hire company in Hertfordshire.
“I sold half the company off to an egomaniac (commonly called Dick Turpin by drivers) who believes he has organisational skills. He immediately put all the fares up and the drivers’ prices down. I couldn’t tolerate this and promptly sold the other half. Now the biggest executive private hire company in Hertfordshire has virtually no Hertfordshire licensed drivers.
“The drivers are working stupid hours for little money while customer prices are rising all the time. Now the company takes the larger percentage of the money, even though its drivers are faced with rising car, fuel and insurance costs. That annoys me that someone steals money from my children so his can eat caviar.”
Andy now works for AAA Taxis based in Hatfield. So how has the job changed generally over the time he’s been in the trade? “I believe that the trend toward deregulation and dropping borders has caused mayhem.
“I am licensed by Welwyn Hatfield Council; frankly I believe them to be officious jobsworths obsessed with rules and are sticklers for their application. But some companies just get around this by getting drivers licensed in other districts; then they compete for jobs in older dirty cars that I cannot use.
“As far as technology goes I love the fact that when I arrive at the job I press a button and the customer gets a text with my registration number. Gone are the shouts in a pub, ‘Taxi for Jones’ - it has reduced waiting time and arguments over were the taxi is.
“Reflecting back when I started driving I had pride of place in my car a Greater London A to Z; it covered every street inside the M25. If I had a job outside the M25 I would arrive early and go to a local garage and buy a Red Book guide to that area - I had hundreds. Then along came Google Maps so I could do it from home before leaving... followed by Satnav.
“The only problem was time: it would tell you ten minutes to arrival and it would take an hour because of traffic; then along came Tom Tom Traffic followed by Waze. This has impacted massively on the job and you now get a real time arrival which helps with punctuality.”
We always ask everyone if they’re had any unusual fares or experiences with their passengers. Andy doesn’t disappoint: “I once took a booking from someone who wanted lots of foot room. I said ‘Do you mean legroom?’ She said, ‘No, foot room. It’s for Ronald McDonald.’ So we removed the middle seats of a people carrier and put him in the back seat - it worked a treat.
“I also did an account job once for Wallace Arnold. I had three people from ten miles north of London; I was told to catch up their coach and was given the driver’s number. I phoned the driver and asked where he was; he said, ‘Just passing Lancaster in Cumbria.’ I asked where he was stopping for the night; he said a hotel in Carlisle. When I arrived just after midnight they had a bed waiting and gave me breakfast as well. Not a bad fare, that.”
We couldn’t resist finishing with this recollection from Andy: “Apologies to the WHC licensing officer for this. The reason I know Donna and Karen, and knew Bryan Roland, was that several years ago WHC introduced a couple of dozen ridiculous conditions of licence, including executive private hire vehicles not being allowed to have tinted windows, having to have massive stickers on the doors, having to return to base on double Heathrows and loads of others.
“With the help of the NPHA we took them to court. Donna and Bryan wrote volumes and worked for weeks to produce our points. On the second day the Judge ruled in our favour and found against the council. We thanked Donna and Bryan and our solicitor, Antony Schiller, and left jubilant from Watford magistrates’ court.
“Shortly afterwards I got a phone call from Antony Schiller; he said to me, “What could make today better for you?’ I said, ‘Absolutely nothing, Antony - it has been fantastic.’ He said, ‘If you don’t feel anything could make your day better, drive up to the third floor of the car park.’ When we drove up our hackney carriage officer was standing next to his wheel-clamped car.”
We’ll take this opportunity to thank Andrew Musk not only for being this month’s profiled driver, but also for devoting two days of his busy schedule to assist us on the National Private Hire and Taxi Association stand at last year’s PHTM Expo.
It was a tremendous help, as we could speak with more people especially at busy times – and it was busy. We’re sure it will be so this year as well; that’s why we’ve booked Andy once again to man the stand with us. Come and have a chat! – you’ll find him both knowledgeable and amiable. See you at the show.