A recent Saturday night saw me off the road early at about half past midnight, after I had to go home, to have one of the seats thoroughly cleaned multiple times, over the course of the following two days, before the next customer was due in my taxi on Monday morning.
These incidents are quite rare. I can't remember the last time it happened during the daytime, but if I am working at night, there will be an incident perhaps once or twice a year. It is always a significant risk during the Christmas office party season, when many night time customers appear to have partaken of significant amounts of alcohol.
A customer who is likely to be sick will invariably provide some kind of warning. Typical warning flags include the opening salutation "I don't usually drink this much, mate," to which I will respond that they should let me know if they want me to stop, so they can get out at the side of the road, if they need to.
There is, in the Vale of White Horse, what is delicately termed a “soiling charge” set at the optimistic level of £75 – one of the highest rates, in all of England and Wales. This charge is supposed to not only cover the cost of cleaning the taxi, but to cover the loss of income from being off the road, which, dependent on the severity and nature of the cleaning required, is invariably the rest of the night. Setting it at £75 and actually getting it off a customer who has invoked it are two different things.
As with many of these issues, the most practical levels of support and advice come from within the taxi trade itself. Practical cleaning advice can be searched for elsewhere on the internet, but one Twitter conversation in 2015 revealed to me the new information that half a small tub of bicarbonate crystals in 2 litres of water "works like magic" on cleaning up after someone has been sick.
Under the Town Police Clauses Act 1847, a customer can be refused travel with "reasonable excuse" and just such excuses in Abingdon these last seven years have been that a potential customer is clearly too intoxicated, or has been abusive, or has made racist or homophobic remarks, or is a threat to safety. In 2010, one customer even approached my taxi with a request for travel after I had seen him in my wing mirror knelt on a soaking wet pavement, bashing a woman's head on the ground after an argument.
Since the demise of Abingdon's only remaining night club in 2012, when several hundred people would be disgorged onto the pavements of central Abingdon right next to the taxi rank at 0300, these incidents have mercifully declined. However, any taxi driver working at night on their own has always to be on their guard against the worst excesses of the travelling British public.