An accountant friend told me this year she couldn’t understand why for the best part of a decade I had been working so hard, for such long hours, all night until the early hours of the morning, but never making any money.
I should have paid more attention to this conversation, as in effect it was free advice. “Well,” I said, “despite being self employed and bearing the consequent financial responsibility for the vehicle, I don’t control the supply of the work.”
That is controlled by a taxi company, to whom a percentage is paid, for each job undertaken. Most provincial small town taxi companies will operate on a similar business model, although there are a plethora of different charging schemes, for those drivers who are in the position of having to rent, or even buy a car from them.
Some make a charge of up to 50 pence per mile for the hire of the taxi, some charge a flat rate of between £100 and £140 per week, which has to be paid regardless of whether they actually give you enough work to cover it. Yet more schemes exist, where the income and the expenditure is split on a 60% / 40% basis, or even a 50% / 50% split.
Almost all these arrangements require the driver to pay for the cost of fuel, which is the single biggest expense. And some agreements require the driver to additionally pay for the costs of servicing and maintaining somebody else’s vehicle.
It is a win win situation for the taxi companies and leaves drivers in a position where they earn just enough money to keep afloat - but never any more - and end up stuck in the job until retirement forces them off the road. It is a sort of modern form of indentured labour.
The goal of the taxi company is is to get as many drivers as possible on the road, waiting around for as long as possible, for those occasions when it is busy and they need vehicles to cover large bookings or school runs. The taxi driver ends up doing one job an hour, driving people to and from medical centres and supermarkets.
When you first become a taxi driver, one of the first questions you need the answer to is how much you can earn. The response is deliberately evasive. When you first start, you are given quite a bit of work, to keep you busy, perhaps even the odd airport run now and again. Then that falls away and slowly, the inexorable hours of waiting in between morning and afternoon school runs begin.
It sounds an attractive idea, to get paid for driving people around, when you already have a driving licence. But working for a taxi company is not a job for those who like the security of a regular monthly pay packet, nor even for those who want to make any kind of progress with their lives beyond simply existing to work.