Nine years into driving a taxi in all the familiar places around Abingdon, Didcot, Wantage and Oxford, and all the recurrent night time themes of drunkenness and concerns about being ripped off, are just as prevalent.
Approaching closing time late on Saturday night, I was outside a town centre pub, at the back of a queue of 26 cars, trying to get on to a taxi rank which has only five spaces on it.
Next to me, a man who was weaving around as if he was a little worse for wear, had just dropped his pizza on the rain-soaked pavement and was shovelling it back into the large cardboard box, before carrying it off.
While I was queueing, an enquiry came via Twitter as to how common it was for a taxi driver to ask for payment in advance. Taxi driving must be one of the only forms of transportation for which the fare is not fixed and collected in advance - although it is possible for it to be - but instead it is metered primarily by distance and paid afterwards.
Someone had been asked to pay £20 upfront, for what should have been an £8 fare, without the meter being switched on. If you do not know the customer, it is not unreasonable, per se, to ask for payment in advance, especially when late at night and travelling out of town to say Oxford or Wantage, which might involve a forty minutes round trip, only for them to make off without payment at all.
In this case, the driver should have asked for enough to cover the estimated fare, put the meter on and then given the customer back his change.
We have an extensive set of regulations – more than one hundred pages in Vale of White Horse district – and three tariffs, changing from one to the other at 11pm, 2am and 6am.. Anyone who drives a taxi in these early hours knows that these can be when the most problematic customers manifest themselves.
We edged up the long queue, one fare every 45 minutes, due the ridiculously high number of taxis licensed for the district council’s area.
A few hours later, in the early hours of Sunday, I saw in my wing mirror a man approaching. He swerved past my taxi, heading a few cars up for his favourite driver and fell into the gutter.
Moaning it was not in his job description, the taxi driver got out and with the assistance of a passing member of the public, helped his passenger into the back seat. They then drove off into the night.
Such incidents, which occur pretty much every weekend night on the Abingdon rank can make a driver cynical and world weary.
Grudgingly offered and delivered in a grumpy manner it may have been, but it was nonetheless help and it was kind.
For helping people is the essence of proper taxi driving.
As published in the Herald Series on Wednesday, 07 February 2018
- Vale of White Horse District Council, Joint Taxi Licensing Policy (PDF, 195.8 Kb), updated 26 February 2015, retrieved 08 February 2018