Thursday, August 1, 2013

The Taxi Industry Overhaul That Never Arrives.

"Saturday night shift is like going into a battlefield...a war zone."  -  A Taxi Driver. 

The often dangerous job of driving taxis (Today Tonight):  

I've been driving cabs for seven years now. During the first few months the NSW Ministry of Transport sent out a long questionnaire to all individual cab drivers, in order to determine what needs to be done to solve the most pressing problems in the industry. Naturally, fare evasion, verbal and physical abuse, and implementing new protective measures featured prominently.

Seven years on, nothing has changed.  

So I recently decided to make some changes of my own - I stopped working Friday and Saturday nights. Obviously this means less money, but it also means significantly means less stress. While the quieter early weeknights pose less challenges, they too are not always incident-free.  Barely two weeks into my new-found "stress free" working schedule, I encountered a drunk and mentally deranged customer at around 2am, outside a local hotel which had closed about six hours earlier. It was a rainy night, and the pub seemed empty. So I slowly drove back and forth a couple of times, then saw a shadowy figure approaching from the back of the cab. I stopped. He opened the door, and the first sign of abuse began. I was castigated for stopping "in a puddle". Hell, I could hardly see behind me for the rain and darkness, I countered, but in spite of this early warning signal, I decided to give the man a go. Sometimes a bad start can come good. Not this time.

I swear that the stench of alcohol coming from his breath could have put me over the 0.2 limit for cab drivers.  Only seconds into the journey, which he said was the Emergency department of the hospital, the tirade of verbal abuse began.  About a minute into the journey, he raised his threatening voice to announce that he was angry, angry at life and angry at taxi drivers too as he'd been abused by a couple (no wonder?). That was followed by a loud "but tonight is MY night, the night I GET REVENGE!" Followed by two hands banging on the passenger side dash.  Good start, I thought; he didn't damage the fare meter or any instruments on the dash. After years of doing this job, this is how you think after a while. A new driver would have freaked out. I mentally laid down my two Cardinal No-Nos:  1) Don't threaten to harm or kill me. 2) Don't lay a single finger on me. He managed to observe those two Cardinal Rules for the whole $16.80 fare. Lucky for him.

I decided that in spite of the aggression, I was in Dalai Lama mood, and would use some psychology and play peacemaker - this time.   "Not all cab drivers are the same, mate", I replied.  He actually agreed, but that didn't stop the aggression. He said he was mentally ill, and was going to kill himself, and had pills in his bag. "And what will that accomplish?" I asked.  "It will mean the end of all worries, no more hassles, so you don't know what the fuck you're saying", he replied. "Don't be stupid", sums up my remarks about his threatened suicide.

Nearing the hospital he announced that he only had three dollars and couldn't pay the fare. Well at least he's honest, I thought, and I had to come back into town this way anyhow.  When we got to Emergency he said he actually wanted to go a bit farther. Although a Seven Eleven was right next door to the hospital, and I could have pulled in under CCTV and requested police assistance, I decided against using the panic button, or doing that. He still hadn't broken my Cardinal Rules (have I really got to the point where I have to be hit before I act?). He asked me to stop in a nearby street, still very agitated. I stopped the meter at $16.80. He said he had to go get some money from a friend inside, and "would be back" (which actually means something like, "pigs fly"). "Don't worry, mate, forget it", I said. I told him that although I'd brought him this far, and although I wasn't going to charge him for the fare, I'm not going any farther. His attitude suddenly changed. I became "the best cab driver ever"; a "good man", and "God bless you and your family".  His countenance visibly changed from anger to wonder, with well-wishes on his part all the way out of the cab.

Are cab drivers taught to deal with situations like this in induction? No. Are they taught very basic psychology? No. Are they taught how to handle drunk and aggressive people? No. I learned all this during seven years at The School of Hard Knocks, and became "street wise", so to speak. Each situation is different, and a driver has to learn what is real danger, and only "potential danger".  Did he have a knife or gun in his bag? Would he have used them if I'd reacted "the wrong way"? Possibly, but I'll never know because I decided early on that I was going to stay calm and not over-react. It didn't pay off monetarily, but it paid off in that I came away unscathed.

That's just one sample of hundreds that could be given which cab drivers have to endure every day across the nation. So here are my recommendations for the Overhaul-That-Will-Never-Arrive:

  • Pre-paid fares after 10pm (with driver discretion allowed before 10pm).
  • Driver safety enclosure similar to what the London Black Cabs have.
  • Extensive driver training to be able to handle dangerous or potentially dangerous situations.
  • Club security issued cards to every patron leaving a "night spot", to be handed to the driver for recognition purposes should bad behaviour and/or fare evasion occur.
  • Lock outs and earlier closing times for pubs and clubs across ALL of New South Wales (as per the successful Newcastle trial). 

Talk is cheap, but so far that's all we've heard from the New South Wales Government and the Ministry of Transport in regard to the "overhaul" that is coming - but never arrives.

You've had seven years to do it since the first "universal" questionnaire, and in seven years nothing has been done. 

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