Wednesday, 2 October 2019

Conversations with taxi drivers: Eight

This is the eighth in a series of posts relaying conversations I have had with taxi drivers. The first of these posts appeared on 6 June 2018. 

28 August

Caught a cab from the Royal Prince Alfred Hospital (RPAH) to home. It was late in the afternoon and I had just been discharged from the RPAH so I walked to a street near the reception room. The cab driver wore a white shirt and a tie. I told him where I wanted to go and then, when we had arrived at Parramatta Road and had crossed it, I asked him if where I had got into his car was the cab rank. He said it was. The cab rank used to be on Missenden Road, he said, but it had been moved to a new spot. Where it used to be was now a bus stop. I said Missenden Road is very busy but he said there used to be a lane to pull in, which buses now use.

We drove on Pyrmont Bridge Road in silence after this short discussion. As we were going east I saw ahead of us a 4WD, the driver of which wanted to turn right into a side street. An electrician’s van coming the opposite way flashed its headlights and slowed down, letting the car turn.

When we got closer to my place the driver and I talked again. I pointed to the on-ramp for the Anzac Bridge and had said that once Westconnex (an inner-western Sydney motorway tunnel network the state government is building) is finished the traffic at this point would be less. He said that part of it was complete and I agreed, but added that the last of the three stages wouldn’t be finished until 2023. He said that traffic here had better improve since the government was spending $20 billion on the project. He added later, once we had turned into Harris Street, that the Northconnex (a tunnel linking the M2 motorway to the M1 motorway) would also soon be built. “That’s up my way,” he added. It would be finished early the following year, he said. We talked a bit about how that would improve things for people coming, say, from Brisbane to Canberra.

He had programmed my address into his location finder and I didn’t need to tell him where to turn off Harris Street. When we had stopped on my street I paid using EFTPOS and got out of his cab.

31 August

Caught a cab to Newtown from home. The driver was born in China and he told me a lot about his business. We initially started talking about it because I told him that, while I was waiting for him to arrive, I had downloaded the iPhone app for his company. I asked him if he prefers to get paid using a credit card or using electronic funds transfer-point of sale (EFTPOS) and he said he didn’t care. He added that even though the app allows you to register a credit card, the correct charge might not be validated as soon as the passenger gets to the end of the trip, and so the driver still has to ask the passenger to wait a bit until it is authorised. The process isn’t quite as seamless as Uber, he averred.

But he said that credit cards are better than banknotes. He told me about two fares who had given him fake notes. One he had taken to Campbelltown and the notes turned out to be fake. He had found out the next day because the colour came off a note he tested with his finger. At night, it was impossible to see the quality of the note. He told me about another fare, from Kings Cross to Hoxton Park (which is out past Liverpool). He had taken two guys with hoodies and one of them gave him $150 for a $118 fare and he had given $30 in good currency as change but the notes he received turned out to be forgeries. He said he remembered that the men put up the hoods of their tops to hide their faces from the camera mounted near the windscreen.

He told me that there are two shifts for cab drivers: one from 3pm to 3am (the night shift) and one from 3am to 3pm (the day shift). He said that he lives in Bankstown and that the car owner’s base is at Campsie, so usually on days he works he drives his car to Campsie and parks there so that he has a way to get home at the end of his shift. The man he rents his car from owns about 15 cars. He explained that EFTPOS transactions for each journey go into the owner’s bank account and that the owner gives him the money he, the driver, is owed once the rent for the car is deducted.

He said that you are allowed to be five minutes late at the end of your shift but after that for every minute you are not at the designated spot with the car, you have to pay one dollar to the relieving driver. This is done so you that you don’t earn money off another driver’s time.  On one occasion, he recalled, he had had 55 minutes to get from the city to Mosman with a fare and then get back to Tempe (where the driver for the next shift was waiting) but there was an accident on Military Road that held him up so he lost all the money he earned from his final fare on account of the delay.

Just before getting out of the cab I thanked him for telling me about his business. He said in reply, “Thanks for listening.”

5 September

It was after midnight or thereabouts and I caught a cab from RPAH to home. The driver was a migrant from Europe but I didn’t ask which country he had come from. As we were driving on Missenden Road I pointed to a young man who was walking on the street and said, “That guy’s talking to himself.” I had just walked past the guy and had heard him muttering something in an audible voice. The driver told me that you get lots of strange people at night, especially on the night shift.

He told me one story about what had happened just before Christmas, with a guy he was driving to Epping from the city. They were in the Lane Cove Tunnel when they guy told him to go faster. The cabbie was already at the speed limit – 80km per hour – so he said to the guy that he could not accelerate. The guy got angry and said, “Are you making fun of me? Go faster!” The cabbie again declined to do so, and the guy asked him to stop so he could get out of the cab. The driver told the passenger that in the tunnel you cannot stop and that he would stop for him when they got to the other side of it. The guy said, “You’re still making fun of me!” The guy then started hitting the driver, and got out a $50 note and threw it at him.

Eventually, after the passenger started hitting the driver with his fists, the driver stopped the car in the tunnel and let the guy out. The driver stayed close behind the guy who had thought, in a chemical psychosis, that he could run faster than 80km per hour. The driver worried he might be hit by another car. So the guy started kicking his cab. The driver called the police, who arrived within a few minutes.

The driver told me another story, also involving police. The even happened at Homebush near the concert venue and it was the time of the Fleetwood Mac concert, which had been on recently. The driver was called out there by the company he is associated with, to pick up people waiting at the train station after the music had finished.

When he got there, a police officer flagged him down and said, “We’ve got a fare for you.” The driver looked back and saw the police officer’s colleague, but the police officer said that that wasn’t the person he was referring to and showed the driver a man stretched out on the pavement, apparently unconscious. The driver said that he would not take the man who, in addition to looking completely drunk, was covered in vomit. The policeman said that the driver had to take the man or else he, the policeman, would give him a fine. “What fine?” asked the driver, and showed the policeman the regulations printed on a sticker affixed to his windscreen explaining the situations under which a driver can refuse a fare. The policeman had eventually relented and the driver left the place where the policeman was standing.

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