These days you can’t walk long in London without spotting one of the the famous not-necessarily-black cabs painted with the Union flag made of up street names, an advert (ad) for Vodafone, a mobile (cell) phone provider. Usually these specially marked taxis whisk by too fast for me to get my camera out, but I saw one sitting in the taxi rank at Waterloo Station, snapped its picture, and asked the driver how many taxis were painted like his. The answer? 1000.
They painted one out of every 22 taxis in London? I’m a Vodafone customer, and I’ve long suspected I’m paying too much; if they go around painting 1000 taxis it looks like I’m probably right.
A while back I rode in a taxi with a much more exclusive livery: a Golden Jubilee taxi. For the queen’s Silver Jubilee in 1977—that is, the 25th anniversary of her accession to the throne—a single taxi was painted silver. If you’d spotted that one cab among the 22,000 in London, it really would have been an event. For her Golden Jubilee—the 50th anniversary—taxi-spotters got better odds; in 2002 London Taxis International built 50 gold-painted taxis, one for each year Elizabeth II had reigned at that time.
I hailed a taxi a while back and found myself in Golden Jubilee taxi number 2002. I sorry I didn’t get the driver’s name. He told me that he’d just gotten (got) lucky, that drivers didn’t have to put in special orders or anything; the orders had been placed long before and if your name was at the top of the list when a Jubilee taxi rolled off the line, you could have it. He didn’t even have to pay extra. And he got number 2002, the last one they made.
The next Jubilee (assuming Elizabeth II is, as expected, still queen next year) coincides nicely with the London Olympics: 2012 should be her Diamond Jubilee, her 60th anniversary. I have no clue how they’ll manage to celebrate that in taxi colours.
Most of the Golden Jubilee taxis should still be on the road then, and probably most of the Vodafone taxis as well, as long as they don’t change their ad campaign. So it strikes me that I’ve left out of my equation (the equation that runs something like VodafoneTaxiAdvertMoney x 1000 = VodafoneIsRippingMeOff) the length of time the ads stay on the taxis. Maybe you paint it once and it lasts a the useful life of the vehicle. Maybe it’s a really good deal.
But there’s something else here that doesn’t add up. News reports at the time of the Golden Jubilee said that London Taxi International would build 50 Golden Jubilee taxis, one for each year of the queen’s reign, 1952-2002. See the problem? It’s what we used to call a fencepost error when I was writing software (because for a fence with 10 panels, you need 11 fenceposts). If they started numbering at 1952 and ended with 2002, then they built 51 taxis. The newspapers (or possible the taxi manufacturer) need to check the math (or as the British say, the maths).
I ought to check the math(s) on my Vodafone bill, but such bills aren’t itemized, not unless you pay extra (which is a major irritation and a subject for another post). But every time I see one of those Vodafone cabs, I wonder what it’s costing me…