As it gets harder year by year in provincial small town Oxfordshire to make a living in the taxi business, it often seems that the natural state of the taxi driver is to be "an inveterate moaner," as one Abingdon taxi driver used to describe himself on one of his social media profiles.
An ingrained habit of moaning makes it difficult, of course, in any kind of negotiations with the licensing authority, who used to run these meetings called a 'Taxi Forum', in which council officers would meet with taxi licence holders once or twice a year, to discuss issues of current concern and upcoming developments.
These meetings would be predominantly attended by Abingdon based taxi drivers, because they were held in Abingdon, where the council offices were then located. Occasionally, you might see a driver from further afield in the Vale of White Horse, like Wantage or even from Shrivenham, near the district’s boundary with Swindon.
They used to become one sided, a sort of theatre of consultation, where drivers would have a moan and council officers would push their comments back at them. Ultimately frustrating, because licence holders would make suggestions based on the day to day reality of how the taxi business operates in the Vale and council officers, who regulate the business, would rarely, if ever, actually take them up. There would never be any follow up, from one meeting to the next and eventually, the council stopped holding them altogether. The pretence of consultation is not even kept up any longer.
On several previous occasions, I’ve offered to transport council officers in my taxi, free of charge, on a Friday or Saturday night, so they can see for themselves what the issues are. Not once has this offer been taken up by those with direct responsibility, although two county councillors have travelled with me - one of them even staying up the entirety of a Saturday night shift!
Licensing would appear to be the ideal job for the experienced local government bureaucrat, who can pick and choose which of more than one hundred pages of regulations they want to enforce - or more likely, not - as they exercise their discretion.
We must be one of the most regulated of all small businesses operating in Abingdon and the surrounding area. Nobody could argue with the three compliance tests – like an MoT – per year, plus random spot checks. Nor with most of the other requirements, which are necessary for the protection of the travelling public, who at night and especially after one o'clock in the morning, are often in a vulnerable situation, due to excessive consumption of alcohol.
However, issues on which we could and should be working together - like the paucity of taxi rank space in Abingdon for the number of taxis the Vale has now licensed - and its contribution to the town centre offer as a whole, remain festering away, with those responsible seemingly unable to grasp the issue.