Driverless cars do not mean the end for taxis

Sometimes on Twitter, as with other forms of social media, it can be hard to discern when people are trolling - that is, people who think that they are anonymous saying deliberately provocative things in order to get a reaction – or whether they are just passionate about something they care about. Mostly, I tend to take everyone at face value, until they prove themselves otherwise. My experience of their conversation has been that they have a habit of petering out, once they have been responded to with informed and persistent argument, though rarely on social media does anyone admit that they are wrong. 

In May this year, the first pictures of a technology company testing driverless cars on the roads of Pittsburgh emerged. A stranger popped up on Twitter, with the unsubstantiated assertion that 99% of taxis would be out of business as a result and the helpful suggestion that I could reinvent myself as a "taxi helper”, a somewhat patronising turn of phrase.   

In reality, helping people is second nature for the professional taxi driver, who actually cares about the people and the community they work in.  Moreover, since the seemingly endless years of recession, the days are long gone when taxi driving was an easy option for the feckless, semi dysfunctional and elsewhere unemployable. 

At its simplest level, people buy from you because they like you.  This can be seen any day on the taxi rank, as people walk up and down, to look for someone they know.  Some will even wait in the pouring rain, with no shelter and a rank full of taxis which could leave right away, while they telephone their favourite driver and wait for her to arrive.  

In Abingdon, the majority of the daytime customers are elderly with reduced mobility and they especially are instinctively distrustful of modern technology and prefer someone they know and trust to drive them. 

It is entirely possible that I could be wrong about the advent of driverless taxis on the roads of Oxfordshire, but my instinct says you may get them in large cities, even just seven miles away in Oxford with its large student population. However, the economics of running a taxi in a small provincial town and the instinctive distrust of the elderly for modern technology would not see them on the roads of rural Oxfordshire for some years to come, perhaps even a generation. Certainly, it would be hard to envisage a situation where driverless cars were being used to transport vulnerable passengers for the local authority. 

A vicar friend on Twitter recently described my work as "a real ministry." That's what I strive for every day of my working life, “to live and work to your praise and glory”, as we say at the end of a Holy Communion service. Sometimes I might achieve it and sometimes not, but by the time driverless cars eventually arrive, it is entirely probable I will no longer be plying for hire on the roads of Oxfordshire.

As published in the Herald Series on Wednesday, 31 August 2016

  1. Toronto Star, Uber launches driverless car service in Pittsburgh, 14 September 2016, retrieved 13 February 2018