I wrote these words some time ago, there was even talk of them being published in Time Out’s Big Smoke section with a few well framed photos (not mine I should add). But events conspired against both me and Big Smoke and I’d sort of forgotten about the words I’d already written. I’ve also found a timeline I kept of my progress through the feeder park one morning, but I’ll inflict that on you another time. But for now here are my own photos from the feeder park to accompany those words. Me hope you like.
Next time you get a black cab from Heathrow and your driver has a slightly haunted look on his face, heightened if he hears the dreaded phrase “Renaissance Hotel please”, please do try and have a bit of sympathy for him. He’s probably just spent several hours waiting to get to the front of the queue of cabs that patiently wait their turn in the Heathrow Feeder Park, and he’s paid £5.50 for the privilege. I’m not a ‘face’ at the Feeder Park, but I’ve been there enough over the last few years to understand the strange allure it can have for a cab driver and equally understand why, sometimes, drivers get frustrated at getting a bit of a rubbish fare when eventually they get to the terminal. That’s not excusing some of the stories of drivers abusing punters but I hope that by giving you all a view of the other world that is the Heathrow Feeder Park, you might all understand what makes us cabbies tick a little bit better.
The Feeder Park occupies quite a large space on the Northern Perimeter Road, just a bit further east from the aforementioned Renaissance Hotel. From the satellite view you can clearly see the lines of cabs in the main section (to the south) and the overflow section slightly to the north. The whole place is like a dysfunctional Village, where the houses are the cabs, the Cab-In (where all the admin is done) the police station and the canteen the community hall. The mechanics of the Feeder Park are fairly straightforward. You get an electronic card & tag that debits your account each time you use the park, you join a line of cabs, either in the overflow car park or the main car park, and then wait your turn to get allocated a terminal to pick up from. Depending on demand at the terminals, this can be anything from half and hour to 4 hours! You do get to claw back £2.00 of the feeder park fee from the punter, and if you get a ‘local’ job you have an hour to get back to any terminal you choose without having to go through the Feeder Park again. But it’s a bit of a lottery as to what sort of job you’ll get and if all the waiting will be worthwhile.
I waited over a month (curses to that new fangled Heathrow Express) after getting my badge to catch my first Flyer (job to the airport) and immediately headed for the infamous feeder park. After signing up for my tag and getting a cup of tea, proper strong tea from a big metal urn you understand, I was told by an old boy that working out of the airport was “like heroin”. Slightly perturbed that my new profession would turn me into a junkie, I’ve since come to understand precisely what he meant. On a high from the previous days Canary Wharf via Brighton & Tunbridge Wells? Next day you pay for your fix and end up with a Renaissance Hotel, followed by a Brunel University and the traffic is against you in your race to be back at a terminal within the hour. Not being an addictive personality, I can take the feeder park or leave it, but I also completely understand how it might actually turn some cabbies onto hard drugs.