18 December 2008


I wrote about last Friday’s sad queues of passengers waiting after midnight in rain-soaked lines for rare taxis. I worked long and hard that night, but eventually the stress, difficulty and danger of driving on wet roads got to me. I like getting people home safely, but one of those people is myself, and at some stage fatigue is going to end my shift one way or another. I prefer ending the night flat out in bed, not laid out on a slab.

A letter to the editor in The Canberra Times begins by asking, “Why aren’t holders of taxi licences fined heavily any time taxi queues of more than 100 people form?” In what is becoming a bad habit of mine, I responded:

Fran Emerson (letters, 17 December) speaks from the heart against taxi drivers for not being available when needed, and the government for not making more licences available, citing the long queues in Civic on a very wet Friday night. She calls for heavy fines to be levied against taxi owners whenever queues form beyond 100 people.

Well, okay, if she likewise comes out in support of taxi drivers being compensated whenever the numbers of cabs waiting at empty ranks builds up. The fact is that most of the time, there are cabs standing idle at ranks. Even on a busy drinking night, there will often be dozens of cabs lined up after midnight on the main Civic rank. Likewise at the airport: the cabyard is usually choked with taxis waiting to pass through the boomgates.

The reality of a cabbie’s life is that most of the long work days and nights are spent lining up for the chance of a passenger. We cabbies read books, fill out the puzzles in the paper, drink coffee, listen to the radio and dream of the rare times when we don’t have to wait.

During the busy periods, we cabbies are flat out. We live for such times. We’re not parked around a corner asleep, we’re on the road earning a living. We’re doing our very best to supply a service, and calls for cabbies to be heavily fined for doing their best aren’t helping.

And the paper published it, slightly modified.

I guess I shouldn’t really complain about people being unable to see things from a cabbie’s perspective. They see dozens of taxis around, a natural part of the urban landscape during slack times, and then at other times there are long queues for the cabs which have mysteriously vanished. Why aren’t all those cabs busy servicing the people who need them? Would it help if they were forced into line?

The answer is that mostly, we’re busy doing our jobs and carrying as many passengers as we can. Once we pick up a passenger, it’s an average of half an hour before we can return to the main cab rank to pick up the next, and we are as constrained by speed and distance as any other driver. We simply cannot be everywhere at once, If there are more people in the queue than cabs on the road, then there is naturally going to be a delay.

All the fines in the world aren’t going to create more cabs and cab drivers out of empty air. More likely, the sort of punitive fines envisaged by the original letter writer would push some operators out of business, and the situation would become worse, not better.

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