Friday, March 4, 2011

Taxi Driver and Customer Disputes about Fares.

"The customer is always right."

The above quote is attributed to Harry Gordon Selfridge. In an explanation of the origin of the quote, this qualifier is added:

Of course, these entrepreneurs didn't intend to be taken literally. What they were attempting to do was to make the customer feel special by inculcating into their staff the disposition to behave as if the customer was right, even when they weren't.

I think I’ve lost count of how many times customers have overcharged themselves by insisting on taking a longer route, most of the time believing it’s the shorter route. I did have one case where a customer knew he was taking the longer way, to the tune of $20 more, but he believed it was the faster way. I didn’t argue with his decision, and while I’ll occasionally and gently inform customers of a potentially shorter route, I never argue with their final decision. The person who pays the piper calls the tune.

Fare disputes are common, and in some cases have led to physical violence, but this isn’t usually about routes (unless the driver ignored a customer request and took the longer route), but customers insisting on discounts; not paying the full fare; not stopping the fare meter while they buy grog, or even arguing about the steep cost of the flag-fall and booking fee (drivers don’t set them, the government does) are usually the causes of serious disputes.

Customer complaint: “You didn’t know the way; I had to direct you, so I want a discount.”

One driver told me how he deals with this: “If I could remember every street in the region I’d be a brain surgeon, not a taxi driver.” So what about a GPS? Well informed people will know that even a GPS can occasionally get it wrong. They don’t always direct you to the shortest route (even when set to do so). This is why I mainly work in areas that I know. Taxing an abusive drunk when you don’t know where you’re going is not a pleasant experience. Knowing the area in which you work gives you the upper hand, which is why I’ll never work in Sydney again.

Customer complaint: “Why are the flag-fall and booking fee so much?”

How in hell would I know? Write your local member of parliament and put the question to him.

Customer complaint: “Why did it cost so much? Last time I caught a cab it was $5.00 less. I’ve never paid more than $20.00 for this.”

Most of the time they’re lying; it’s just a ploy to pay less. When last did you catch a cab? Before the recent fare rise? To be fair, there are some renegades in the industry who will double or triple booking fees on fare meters which allow them to do so, and most customers don’t know how to read a fare meter, unless they catch cabs regularly. I am frankly surprised at customer ignorance in this department. Being blind drunk doesn’t help the customer either. Take the time to learn how to read a fare meter. I doubt any driver would turn down such a request. Knowledge is power.

Customer complaint: “You didn’t stop the meter when I asked you to so I could buy my grog (or groceries), so I’m not paying the full fare.”

I actually had an experience with this a few months ago when a drunk customer became abusive because I kept the meter running while going through a McDonalds drive through. “Why is the meter still going; you’re supposed to stop it in cases like this”, he demanded. “That’s not how it works”, I informed him. He then threatened to bash me. Fortunately there were several police enjoying their Big Macs at the time, and I told the female attendant that I needed police help. He was detained and ordered to pay the fare up to that point, and I told the police I didn’t want the scumbag back in my cab. Here’s a hint: If you plan to go through a drive through, or stop to buy anything, you pay for waiting time. The driver could be earning money, especially on a busy night, while you leisurely browse a store or wait 10 minutes for your Happy Meal. Time is money. Don’t expect a taxi driver to waste his valuable time and money on VIP you. There are some situations when I will stop the meter, for example when I know the person is paying a big fare, and they need to get money from an ATM, or stop for “nature’s call”. I’m reasonable in that way. Unlike many drivers, I will also stop the meter at railway crossings, simply because I don’t think a customer should have to pay an extra five minutes while a 30 carriage freight train crosses. That’s not their fault, and it’s not the same as choosing to go through McDonalds. Traffic lights, on the other hand, are part and parcel of road travel, and it’s not very often that a cab gets stuck for five minutes or more at a railway crossing. I don’t mind sacrificing a couple of dollars for such rare occasions.

Most taxi drivers I know are honest, and will not deliberately try to siphon more money out of you. The taxi laws state that a driver must take the shortest and cheapest route, and in my experience most drivers are conscientious in this way. Those who aren’t bring a bad name to all of us, and that’s unfortunate. We also have to deal with drunks and abusive people, but fortunately they are also in a minority, so it would be equally wrong to judge all people by the behaviour of a few. When the abusive ones outnumber the civil ones, I’ll be visiting the “positions vacant” columns in newspapers. Physically it’s an easy job, but I have heard people tell me that they wouldn’t do my job for $200,000 a year, yet there are slow days and nights when we earn less than $10 an hour.

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