Perils of the night

When starting out, most taxi drivers appear to be so confident that it is going to be easy to make money, that not much training is offered at all, beyond that for mandatory disability awareness.

What could be a more easy route into self employment than paying a privatised licensing service for a taxi licence, putting a car on the road and waiting for people to come to you, to give you cash, in exchange for a service provided?

Located just outside Abingdon is Dalton Barracks, home to three Royal Logistic Corps regiments, where a lot of transport specialists work. Occasionally in my taxi, I am asked by those who work there about life after the Army and the prospects of a career in taxi driving. Just such a conversation took place this last weekend.

The first thing I tell them is that it is not a career. It is the ultimate manifestation of the gig economy and not in any way comparable to receiving a monthly salary within a disciplined workplace environment.

It is only a little while after starting, that a sort of innate cynicism sets in, most likely after you have had your first drunken person attempt to steal from you, run off without paying – a crime known as bilking - be sick, or worse, in your taxi.

The randomness of the great British public can be a glorious thing, but it can also be the complete opposite and has the potential to ruin your earning capacity for the entire evening. “Always trust your instincts, mate” is one of the pieces of advice offered in any discussion about night taxi driving.

"more than five times over subscribed" taxi rank in Abingdon at night

"more than five times over subscribed" taxi rank in Abingdon at night

In the early hours of Sunday morning, a well dressed woman approached my taxi about half way up the queue of cars, a kebab in one hand and a dog on the end of a lead. She got into the back, sitting there not saying anything, while her dog sniffed my hand.

After two minutes and again after five minutes, I asked if she was alright, but still she said nothing. After seven minutes, I said to her “you just got in my taxi with your dog and you aren’t saying anything. Do you need a taxi? Are you ok?”

Still saying nothing, she got out, stumbled over her dog’s lead, whereupon the dog ran off and was only saved from being run over by the intervention of a passing member of the public. The dog was handed back to her and she walked off, away from the taxi rank, without a word to anyone who had helped her.

Most of all, though, my advice is not to become a taxi driver, because it is an inherently unstable occupation. But also because there are too many taxis on the road and no existing licensed Hackney Carriage driver, if she or he is honest, wants to see any more cars join the more than five times over subscribed Abingdon taxi rank on a Friday or Saturday night.

As published in the Herald Series on Wednesday, 27 September 2017

  1. United Kingdom Government, Ministry of Defence, Hive Information Centres, Location Overview Abingdon Station  (pdf), retrieved 26 September 2017