Fashionably cynical

Taxi driving in a small provincial town like Abingdon, where the night time economy has been dying on its feet for years, has always been cyclical. But the long Easter bank holiday weekend brings its own peculiar seasonal variation to the regular patterns of work in and around one of the pretenders to the title of Britain’s oldest town.

There is an enhanced tariff on a bank holiday, starting at £5.70 for the first mile and then 30 pence for each additional tenth of a mile. The attraction of increased earnings during this period brings out drivers hardly ever seen at any other time, especially on the Saturday and Sunday of a bank holiday weekend.

However, despite this apparent incentive, it is barely ever worth working off the taxi rank, on an actual bank holiday itself, where the customers are few and far between, averaging one fare every one and a half, to two hours, by the time it takes to get from the back of the taxi rank to the front. In the Vale of White Horse, where the numbers of taxis continue to be unregulated, and the now privatised local authority licensing operation continues to take our fees, the Abingdon rank with five places, is more than six times over subscribed.

And those at the back of the queue have to contend with the abysmal standard of parking of the takeaway food delivery drivers, who will park on both the pavement and the night taxi rank with impunity. Nobody at the local authority cares, no doubt because it doesn’t directly impact them, yet there are relatively simple solutions, the majority of which would be financed through the fees income which licence holders pay, ring fenced from council tax.

Recently, it was my pleasure to undertake a booking for a long standing councillor on Vale of White Horse District Council, who issue my licence. These opportunities to drive local community leaders are always interesting, not least for the erudite conversation which usually ensues, but also for the lobbying opportunities about these issues which are inevitably presented.

We chatted about development plans in another part of Vale of White Horse at Botley, on the fringes of Oxford. Nearby, in the newly resurgent West Way development, two taxi rank spaces have been removed. And there has been no signage for years at the bus stop outside Seacourt Bridge pub, still technically a taxi rank.

We are an essential part of the public transport offering, especially for those elderly and disabled passengers who need a door to door service, yet proper provision for picking up and dropping off is often an afterthought, even in developments as large as the Westgate in Oxford.

There is a sort of fashionable cynicism about politicians – comments such as “they’re all in it for themselves, mate” are frequently heard in my taxi. But these journeys do at least show that there are those community leaders living among us who actually care about what they are doing and work very hard, for little or no reward.

 

As published in the Herald Series on Wednesday, 24 April 2019

Vale of White Horse District Council, Maximum fares for hackney carriages from 20 January 2014, retrieved 23 April 2019