When I first started plying for hire on the roads of Oxfordshire, in a taxi which I hired from a company with a goodly number of vehicles on the road two of the clichés which were trotted out by way of rudimentary induction were "time is money" and "there's no such thing as a free ride".
There are, of course, those individuals who attempt to elicit a free ride for reason of too much drink, or who with nefarious intent will attempt to steal from you. There are also the less morally problematic customers who are well aware of the situation most taxi drivers are in and try to negotiate a cheaper fare, often successfully.
In my time, I have worked every possible taxi shift over twenty-four hours: every hour of the day or night and every possible combination of hours, to try to make a living. On a few rare occasions, it has been possible to provide a free taxi ride for a few people, in exceptional circumstances.
One Remembrance Sunday, a fellow and his wife approached my taxi on the rank in Abingdon, the man resplendent in naval blazer and with unmistakable military bearing. As is often the case with those souls who have served in the military, he looked an interesting character. Going through rudimentary greetings, he was not responding. At the end of the journey, he proffered his money, to pay the fare. His wife said to me "'e was on the torpedo boats, during The War, love - ’e can’t ‘ ear you, 'e's been deaf, ever since then.” Telling them that the journey was on me, they argued for a while.
Free taxi rides are not something which are in any way to be encouraged of course, but there are occasions when it can be justified. In the Vale of White Horse, the taxi meter ticks over at 23 pence every 176 yards. Distance and time are quite literally money, in the taxi business, but it is not always about the money.
This year, there was the story of Sam, a D-Day veteran from Didcot, who more than seventy years after the war, was to be awarded the Légion d'honneur, in a ceremony at Oxford Town Hall and who I took there free of charge, after learning of his story from an Oxford Mail reporter. The father of a regular customer of mine had read of Sam's story in the paper and unexpectedly, the week after, he gave me the money to cover the cost of the fuel for that journey.
Moved by his act of kindness, I nonetheless tried to refuse. We argued good naturedly for a while, but he insisted. Learning to accept the gifts of others, given graciously is something we could all do more of. That is especially the case for someone like me, who is doggedly, some might say stubbornly, independent. It is good for the soul.
As published in the Herald Series on Wednesday, 24 August 2016
- Oxford Mail, Abingdon taxi comes to rescue of D-Day veteran Sam Langford, 29 February 2016, as consulted 08 February 2018