It is axiomatic of driving a taxi in a small provincial town like Abingdon that each driver believes there are far too many taxis on the road and that if only there were less, then she would have more work and earn more money.
More than half of the time spent working is not actually driving at all, but waiting around for the periods of frenetic activity around the morning and afternoon rush hours. It’s been a good day if more than half the time has been spent driving, rather than waiting. One recent Saturday night shift, I was stopped for seven hours and moving for only five hours.
In Abingdon, the principal place for waiting around is the taxi rank on Ock Street. It operates twenty four hours a day, but only has space for five vehicles and there are regularly at least fifteen cars waiting to get on it. The licensing authority argues that there is sufficient provision, but alternative taxi rank locations are in the service area for The Precinct, on Queen Street - wholly impractical in the day and unsafe at night, as access is via narrow dark alleys, off the Market Place.
All the taxis waiting to get on a rank designed to hold five inevitably causes problems in the local area, as taxis wait – legally – in an area designed for shoppers to park for half an hour, at a time. There's resentment from some business people in the area, which periodically manifests itself in the Comments sections of web sites covering local issues in Abingdon and in the real world, on the streets next to the queue for the rank.
Talking with people doesn't solve the problem. It always ends up in abuse, when you point out to them the signs next to the rank and they realise that they are in the wrong. There's nothing quite like the outrage of someone caught out for a minor misdemeanour. A couple of years ago, a local doctor ended up shouting at me that I was "stupid and dim" for politely pointing out to him he was not legally parked on the night rank. More recently, a local builder asked to move off a working taxi rank threatened to “send the boys round to sort you out”, adding further instances of homophobic abuse, to emphasise his point.
Representations were made by a number of Abingdon taxi drivers when the present unsatisfactory system of taxi ranks in Abingdon was instituted some years ago – under a different licensing authority arrangement than presently exists, but were ignored, in favour of the present shambolic arrangement. Moreover, the only functioning taxi rank is not only situated at a busy junction with traffic lights, but is an offside rank.
It is a situation which could be resolved with minimum level of expenditure, by a proper business like review of taxi rank provision in Abingdon, based upon real world usage. Whether the civic leadership in the Vale of White Horse has the political will to do this of course, remains open to question.