Taxi Noir: Cab Passengers
This week I’m going to talk about relations with the passengers I get in my taxi. I’ve talked a fair bit about the Knowledge of London and the part that geography plays in the cab game, but what about the people who we exist to serve – the folk who pay our wages?
In an ideal scenario, smiley happy people get into your cab, and you convey them swiftly to their destination. Kids are always enthralled with a ride in an iconic London taxi because it’s nothing like the car their parents have. A once-a-year family can barely contain their excitement in December when you become Santa Claus himself.
Customers, we are on your side. We do everything we can to get to your destination as quickly and as safely as possible. In London, there are many ways to run the same route, and the skill of the driver is in deciding which way might be best on any given occasion. Some passengers tell you what way they want to go. This is good because it removes the responsibility from the driver.
It instils confidence in your customer if you show you are at the top of your game and you know what you are doing. We are victims of our reputation. The moment a passenger sits down we are expected to move off immediately. There is no time to consult maps or sat nav.
Although customers sometimes teach the driver something, it’s more frequently the other way round. Many people don’t realise that the River Thames doesn’t run straight as it flows through London, and that not all of the bridges run in a north/south direction. The shortest route from a point in the Chelsea area to the City is by way of two bridges. I rarely use two bridges because it makes people suspicious. One man knew the score when I picked him up in Holborn bound for Dolphin Square, Pimlico. I’d normally head towards Trafalgar Square, then down past Parliament. My man asked me to use two bridges. He didn’t specify which two bridges, so he was possibly testing me. I went over Waterloo Bridge, then back across the river at Lambeth Bridge. It was a quick, though slightly longer, route than the one I would have taken. My customer was pleased, and that pleased me. Sometimes there’s real job satisfaction in this game.
Many customers take the same journey regularly, and some expect every taxi driver to choose their preferred route automatically. But, just because they’re taken the same way every day, it doesn’t mean it’s the best way; it might just be the way they are used to. Often a driver can show the customer a new way, but taking a new route is always risky. In a city where new road closures happen every day, the fear is that your favourite streets will be coned off once you’ve committed to a particular route.
It’s best to talk over the options with your passengers. Usually, they’ll leave the final decision to you. This can make you uncomfortable, as you’re going to be held responsible if you get to the top of Euston Road and there’s a giant crane blocking the last few hundred yards to King’s Cross.
Our customers generally fit into two categories: commuters and tourists.
Thousands of workers come into London every weekday – and a few at the weekends. Only the bravest souls drive here: those with enough income to be able to pay extortionate parking charges; or the privileged few with access to private parking. The rest swarm out of train stations and continue their journeys by foot, or by tube, bus, or taxi. Walking is slow, buses are slow. The tube is OK at off-peak times, but it’s a living hell when busy. It’s hot, crowded, and everyone is getting into everyone else’s way. Commuting is a miserable experience. I know what it’s like, I’ve done it. I know the tension as your train is called and hundreds of you rush down the ramp at Euston in order to secure a seat fit only for an arse smaller than that of a super-model.
We all love tourists: they’re so jolly and easy to deal with. Well would you rather drive a frustrated commuter to Waterloo Station to catch a train that went five minutes’ ago, or drive some giggly Chinese girls to Selfridges?
Foreign visitors love the Changing of the Guards ceremony, Harrods, Selfridges, Tower Bridge, &c, &c… You need to be careful with Tower Bridge. Apart from the 20mph speed limit, visitors sometimes confuse it with London Bridge. You get a good view of Tower Bridge and the Shard, but London Bridge is otherwise a rather uninteresting strip of concrete and tarmac. Didn’t the Americans buy London Bridge thinking it was Tower Bridge one time? I’m not sure if that’s strictly true, but it’s a nice story.
Bargain-conscious tourists are easily pleased with a trip to Primark, or to watch street entertainers. I often see a gaggle of tourists watching a bloke bang a drum kit on a busy West End street. No other musical instruments, just a drum kit. I don’t know about you, but I don’t see the attraction.
Tourists are usually in a good mood as they’re on holiday. They’re not usually rushed, and they enjoy watching the freaks as we drive through the West End. I’m happy to pose for a photo at the end of the ride too. Tourists are sometimes derided for being naïve and amused by the humdrum things that the locals take for granted. I don’t. I can see London through their eyes. I’ve taken photos of checker cabs in New York myself. And if I earnt £1 every time a tourist photographed my cab on the St. Paul’s Cathedral rank I’d be a rich man.