06 February 2009

Six in a cab

You get all sorts of bad behaviour at the airport cab rank. We’re not supposed to pick up except from the rank, and then after paying two dollars to go through the boomgate from the cabyard. But sometimes cabbies will slipstream through the boom on the tail of another, or swing in from the airport circuit without going through the yard at all.

One of my mates was livid the other day. He was third on the rank, there were three passengers coming out from the arrivals gate, and he was expecting to get the third one. The first two passengers got into the first two cabs, but just as the first cab in line pulled away, an arriving cab swung onto the cab rank, dropped off his fare, and scored the final passenger. My mate was furious. What’s the point of going around the terminal circuit - five minutes at the best of times, several times that at peak periods - lining up in the cabyard, paying the boomgate fee and waiting on the rank, if some opportunist can swing in, drop off, pick up and move away again in one fluid movement?

And then there’s the blatantly illegal behaviour in the photograph above. Cabs used to have bench seats and a column shift in the old days, so you could squeeze in five passengers. Two in front beside the driver, and three in the back. But they haven’t made special cab models for years, and all the cabs in the fleet have two bucket seats in the front, with the gear lever on the floor in the middle. If a group of five or more want to share a cab, they get into one of the increasingly numerous people-movers or minibuses. Some cabs can seat eleven.

But a normal cab is licenced for four passengers. There’s a sticker on the window to show this, but it doesn’t stop some folk from trying it on, so as to avoid paying for a second cab. Drivers of station wagon cabs get sick of people asking if they can sit or lie in the rear compartment, and sometimes a party of drunks will cram in four abreast in the back seat.

I don’t bother listening to their stories. If there’s four in the back, my cab stays put. I once had five burly soldiers get into my cab at the Royal Military College Sergeants Mess. Big blokes, used to getting their own way, but they weren’t going anywhere with me. Eventually a couple got out and I called another cab for them.

Apart from being illegal to carry five passengers, it’s unsafe, because my cab is fitted with five seatbelts - one for me and four for passengers - and if six people are aboard, then one of them is obviously unrestrained.

Five o’clock on Friday on the airport rank, and I notice that the driver of the cab ahead is having trouble fitting all the luggage into his boot. Then I realise why: there’s five passengers in the party, and they are all squeezing into the cab.

If I hadn’t immediately got a passenger, I’d be upset at having another cabbie steal my fare, but even so, I was angry enough to take a photograph.

Check it out. I’ve tweaked the exposure and contrast a bit to bring out what’s going on. Reading left to right, we have:

1. Silver-haired gent in the back seat.
2. Tallish man in the front passenger seat.
3. Dark-haired lady in the front. She must be sitting on the centre console.
4. Blonde with a ponytail in the centre position in the back seat.
5. Driver. Obviously a driver in this moving cab, but you can see his ear in silhouette.
6. You can just make out the head of the sixth passenger sitting directly behind the driver, partially obscuring the inside of the B-pillar. If you look carefully, you can see that there are two distinct head profiles:

Tweaked heads

The blue-green object on the rear parcel shelf is the first-aid kit, by the way.

Five of the six occupants are correctly positioned and presumably safely belted in, but the young lady sitting on the centre console is not just having an uncomfortable time of it, there is no seatbelt for her, and if the cabbie has to brake suddenly, she will go full-face into the windscreen. Possibly straight through it. That’s when that sun-bleached first aid kit might come in useful.

Later. Time to eat my words. A fellow cabbie doing his Monday morning shift has taken a look at TX 88 and informs me that it is a vintage cab, one of the last few genuine cabbie models on the road, and is, in fact equipped for five passengers. Given the limitations on how old cabs can be, it can't have too long left on the road, but for the time being it's legal.

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