Over the years, I have driven a succession of different types of taxis.
In an old London taxi, you sit behind a clear, rigid plastic barrier, which would give me time to call for help, should anything go wrong. Every time my foot was on the brake, the doors were locked. If a driver chose, she could keep her foot on the brake, until the customer had paid. In the saloon car, you are much more vulnerable to the vicissitudes of the great British public.
Night time taxi driving – especially between the hours of 0100, after which most of the sensible drinkers have gone home, and 0600 – carries a greater risk of harm than daytime taxi driving, which although physically doing the same thing, is a wholly different job.
Amongst these is the crime of bilking – making off without payment for a service provided. The Police advice is to call 999 if the crime is in progress, but much of the time that bilking happens, it’s not worth calling the Police, due to the time it will take them to come out, interview the driver, interview the perpetrators and then try to draw the matter to some kind of resolution. That's well over an hour's worth of earning time, off the road. Often, you just have to let it go.
On one occasion, four young men came to The Rank and hired me to go to a house near Abingdon, which was being rebuilt and which they were house sitting on the building site for one of their parents. They failed to pay their £23 fare, by going inside the property coming back out a few times, saying "my mate'll be out in a minute to pay you", then eventually denying all knowledge, by which time it had racked up to more than £40.
As it was four in the morning and my last job of the night, I waited it out and called the Police. There was then a sort of impromptu identity parade, the officers were willing to arrest the offenders, but I could not say for sure which one had stolen from me and I was not prepared to lie, so I let it go.
Ever since then, I turn around and look them in the face – they are much less likely to steal from you, if you have both seen each other. I also try to engage them in some kind of conversation and if the fare is out of town, to ask for payment in advance, unless I know them.
I loathe what night time taxi driving has turned me into – it induces a sort of innate cynicism about people and in the small hours of the night, requires prejudging every person getting into my taxi, but I do what I have to in order to protect myself as best I can and to continue to keep a roof over my head and food on my table.
As published in the Herald Series Wednesday, 04 May 2016
- Staffordshire Police, Making Off Without Payment, as consulted 16 May 2017