31 December 2008

Melbourne cabs

Love him or not, Jeff Kennett left a lasting legacy from his time as Victorian Premier. He reorganised Melbourne’s taxi system, directing that cabs be painted yellow, that drivers wear uniforms, and a number of other things. The drivers themselves might be as mixed a bunch as in any other city, but there are some proudly carrying the torch:

FAITH is central to Mohammed Jama's life. In keeping with his Muslim beliefs, he prays five times a day, often driving his taxi to a mosque in King Street mid-shift to carry out his spiritual obligations.

Jama, as he is known, keeps a tiny copy of the Koran discreetly on his dashboard, but don't ask him to discuss religion while he's driving; he has nothing to say on the matter since such conversation between Melbourne taxi drivers and their passengers was banned by the Victorian Taxi Directorate.

Likewise, don't expect a lively debate about the state of Australian or global politics; that's also a no-go under VTD guidelines.

Full story here in an article from The Age.

Driving to Melbourne and back, I didn’t need a cab, but I was impressed with the look of those I saw. They look clean and bright.

I relied upon my own Navman GPS, now nearly three years old, for directions. I didn’t have a copy of Melways, Melbourne’s excellent street directory, and although I have a rough idea of the layout of the city from living and working there twenty years back, there are a whole stack of new tollways and tunnels. Some of them aren’t in my Navman at all.

Driving down, with Ken beside me, I had his helpful guidance. Even so, the Navman directed us far too close to the CBD for my liking. In fact we drove along beside the Melbourne Cricket Ground, where the first of the crowd were beginning to straggle out from the stands. Another half hour and it would have been rush hour on what was all but a holiday.

Coming back from Frankston, I ignored the GPS advice for the most part. It seemed bent on steering me into the city before letting me out again. Instead I peeled off the freeway well east of the city centre and headed north. For the next half hour I tried to angle my way across a relentless grid, rapidly losing all but a rough idea of direction under the overcast sky, through a series of unhelpful signs bearing names of unfamiliar suburbs. I’d hit a junction: left would be Bungey, right Page, and Gullett ahead. Which way to go?

Eventually I found my way through Bundeela and saw a sign for the Hume Freeway, heading north. But without a street directory and under the guidance of a machine which reckoned the congestion of the CBD to be part of the swiftest route, it had been an uncertain trip.

Smart yellow cabs or no, I’m very glad that I’m not a Melbourne cabbie. Melbourne is too big to know well. No cabbie can be intimate with every street in every suburb. Not to mention the traffic. Canberra’s peak hour lasts an hour, and only along a handful of streets. In Melbourne, you can get gridlock lasting for hours.

Canberra has a well laid out system of arterial roads. Traffic flows smoothly along wide roads through dedicated reserves. Suburbs are clearly defined and grouped into town clusters. It’s just a joy to drive in Canberra.

Eventually I left Melbourne’s grid of trams and traffic lights behind, seven hours of freeway driving ahead. Melbourne’s a nice place to visit, but I wouldn’t want to work there.


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