News Ian O'Doherty

Saturday 23 August 2014

Why we should still hail taxi drivers – the legit ones

Published 01/07/2014 | 02:30

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Fare play: Cabbies now want rigorous police checks
Fare play: Cabbies now want rigorous police checks
Takeoff: For blankets?
Takeoff: For blankets?

There was a time when getting a taxi was a bit like winning the urban Lotto. There were too few of them and too many of us, and that was the way the industry liked it.

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A completely artificial and profoundly unfair regulatory process meant that the price of a taxi plate ran to about a hundred grand and it was seen by many drivers as a veritable licence to print money. In a country which was still held in a sort of MMA death grip by the unions and vested interests, taxis were simply another example of a privileged minority who thought the world, or more accurately, the rest of us, owed them a living. So it was no surprise that, in the run-up to deregulation in 2000, there was a caustic fault line between professional taxi drivers and passengers.

Cosseted by the fact that they were members of a closed shop, the taxi industry was appalled and furious, but mostly furious, that the market was about to open up and introduce them to the cold, hard glare of competition.

In one way, you couldn't blame them. After all, their plate was their pension and the "S" from their PSV licence, the bit that put the "Service" into "Public Service Vehicle" was seen as some sort of bothersome, grudging concession to the taxi drivers' least favourite person – their own passenger. The sense of entitled stupidity reached thoroughly heroic levels of hyperbole when professional cabbies started a series of public protests, which featured some drivers using words like "Holocaust" to describe the introduction of a free market. But such behaviour at the time simply convinced the public that this was a group of people who needed a radical overhaul of their cash cow.

Fast-forward 14 years and the landscape is immeasurably better. Freeing up the market not only improved the quality of the service for the customer, but also gave the industry a much-needed injection of fresh blood – the days of the professional cabbie, the kind of madman who referred to non-taxi drivers as "civilians" were over.

Now most of those driving saw it as a job, not some selfless vocation that must be expounded upon every time a punter sat in their car.

But too many drivers are driving too many cars, and too many of these drivers shouldn't be allowed anywhere near the public. So the news that a blitz on dodgy drivers over the weekend, which saw an estimated, and frankly, incredible 2,700 drivers stay at home rather than run a gauntlet of traffic cops, should come as no surprise. And it should be welcomed.

Driving a cab in Dublin is now one of the hardest and most thankless tasks any worker can do. There are fewer punters than before, there are more cabs on the street and there has been an influx of non-nationals, many, but not all, of whom seem to have no idea where they are going. And let's not forget the recent spate of taxi-jackings.

But the interesting thing about last weekend's developments?

Well, any taxi driver I've spoken to is genuinely delighted that the authorities are finally taking steps to improve the business they work in.

Taxi drivers happy to see the cops checking on them?

Now that's something few of us ever thought we'd ever see.

WHAT COULD POSSIBLY GO RIGHT?

We've all come to accept that flying is trying. Cash-strapped airlines shovel more of us into their planes, while ridiculous and ineffective security checks make even the most mild-mannered traveller yearn for their own bomb. And whoever came up with the old adage that "it's not the destination, it's the getting there", should be taken out and shot.

Or at least made to stand in a queue for eight hours while being hassled by jumped-up security types who shouldn't be allowed to operate a lollipop outside a school, let alone trusted to spot a potential terrorist.

But you know what? Airlines care about you. They want you to be happy. They want to be your best friend.

In fact, they are introducing new "happiness blankets" which use fibre-optic cables to judge a person's mood while they are on a long-haul flight.

The blankets change colour according to how happy a passenger is and flight attendants will keep an extra-special eye out for passengers with angry-looking blankets. Or something. Frankly, the whole thing is so absurd that only an airline could have come up with it.

But you know what would really make travellers happy?

A bit more leg room, a bit of basic courtesy and respect from cabin crew, and a way of stopping children crying and kicking the back of your seat.

Is that too much to ask?

Well, going on my experiences, the answer to that would be . . . yes. It is far too much to ask.

Still, good luck with the blankies on Ryanair . . .

TO OUR AMERICAN FRIENDS

As the World Cup continues to enthral millions of American newbies, the American Right has gone on the offensive, and their fury is as amusing as it is symbolic of a cultural mistrust of foreign games that makes the most stalwart GAA traditionalists look like a bunch of effete metropolitan homosexuals.

In fact, one American news item saw the host become increasingly angry and confused by the fact that "the umpire decides how long the game lasts" and he angrily wondered how the Americans could be defeated by Germany and still progress.

Well, if they're that pissed off about injury time and the vagaries of the group stage, Christ knows how they'll react when someone tries to explain the offside rule.

Ian O'Doherty

Irish Independent

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