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We Teach Driving Like Your Life Depends On It

Taking a taxi is a two-way street

July 8, 2011

By Steve Wallace, Times Colonist July 8, 2011

A taxi driver’s job is not simply a matter of following instructions from a GPS device.

Given the business I am in, I do not take many taxis. The last time I was in Ottawa, I took a cab to Stornoway, the residence of the leader of Her Majesty’s Loyal Opposition. I had been warned by my sister just how bad some cab companies were in the capital city. I should probably have been more prepared for the drive by having the exact address of the house in hand. As I got into the taxi with two other colleagues, it became immediately apparent that the driver had no idea where he was about to go. The vehicle was already on the move by the time we all realized our situation. It went from the odd to the ridiculous when I asked, “Do you know about Stornoway?” The driver replied in a rather thick accent, “That is how I came to Canada, as a stowaway.”

Things went downhill from there on, and it had nothing to do with the terrain. We eventually got to our location when another cab, going to the same meeting, led the way. In retrospect, I am glad we were not going to visit the prime minister’s residence at 24 Sussex Dr.

Mispronouncing the address would be a disaster: Who knows where we would have ended up?

All my cab rides lately have been excellent. The drivers have been neat and tidy with all sorts of additional information to make a trip successful.

A taxi driver’s job is not easy. They have to know the street configuration: It is not simply a matter of getting a GPS for direction and destination information.

There are efficient ways to get from A to B and there are also routes which are safer, as well. The driving skill of the vast majority of cab drivers is without question. Nobody can spend that much time behind the wheel without being very skilful indeed. The safety factor is another matter altogether. Most cab companies have a training program that includes a safety component. It not only addresses the driving task, but also the pickup and drop-off procedures. When drivers have crashes or multiple infractions, there is often an additional mandatory training component involved. I have personally supervised this type of retraining at the request of a few company general managers.

Sometimes the job is frustrating, and short cuts are very tempting for stressed-out cab drivers. Everyone has seen an unsafe or illegal manoeuvre made by a cab driver. These offenders do not last very long in the business. Passengers want to arrive safely at their destination and will most certainly complain if a ride turns into an Indy 500 exercise.

Passengers can help drivers by knowing exactly where they wish to go. They can be on time and should ask approximately how much the ride will cost. Passengers expect the taxi to arrive on time, why not reciprocate? Passengers should have the right change or a credit card at the ready. Time is money, and having to wait while a customer roots through their purse or wallet for the right credit card is not fair to the driver.

Reserve ahead if the appointment is very important and you cannot afford to be late. Identify yourself and the reason for your trip. This will put the taxi driver at ease.

The job of a cabbie can be very dangerous. Many cab drivers will not work at night because of security concerns. Certain municipal jurisdictions have isolated drivers from passengers, with a physical barrier between the front and back seats, for the safety of drivers.

Treat taxi drivers as professionals, and you will probably see a reciprocal relationship developed.

They have a wealth of information, everything from the best places to stay, eat and be entertained, to special event opportunities.

Above all, enjoy the ride.

Steve Wallace is a member of the College of Teachers and the owner of Wallace Driving School on Vancouver Island and the Interior of B.C.
stevedwallace@shaw.ca
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