Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Some Notes on Taxis

When you step out your front door, there is an inherent level of trust and power that you give to those around you. Away from the safety of home, anything can, and does, happen. Not only are you dependent on your own skills for survival, but you are also at the mercy of the skills and sobriety of others.

On a normal day, we might get in our car and trust that the other drivers have equivalent or better skills than ourselves so that they might stay on their side of the line and keep us all safe. An acquaintance of mine once told me that driving was nothing more than getting into a ball of metal which hurtles, at speed, toward other balls of metal coming, more or less, straight toward you and that the only thing between you and death was a thin strip of yellow paint.

While the above description is certainly vivid and frighening, it doesn’t keep me from driving. Random accidents do happen, but there is too much wonderful stuff to experience out there in the world for me to stay home. Missing out what the world has to offer would be a real shame. We all have to go sometime, be it in our beds or on a road trip.

When we travel, there are many people who you are required to trust in order to get through the day: people to get us from place to place, feed us and clean our rooms.

When thinking of high levels of trust granted to individuals, flight attendants and pilots come immediately to mind. Our lives are in their hands, yet we rarely think about it. The ground crew is responsible for making sure the equipment is functioning and safe. If people are working in the airline industry, they are generally highly trained professionals who take their jobs, and safety, seriously.

Unfortunately, not all parts of the travel industry have as good a reputation for keeping safety as the highest priority. Taxis are a good example of this. There are several reasons why taxis scare me.

Taxis that are owned and operated by an individual seem to be in the best shape as the cars are the livelihood of that particular driver. If the owner lets the car go into disrepair, his business could be at risk. However, cars that are owned and maintained by a taxi company tend have a greater likelihood of needing work.

I recently got into a taxi in which the rubber molding on the car was coming off, and it prevented the car door from closing properly. While normally I wouldn’t mind so much (the door did close after a little finessing), the driver informed me that the taxi company wasn’t in the habit of fixing problems that weren’t directly related to safety. Aside from the rubber molding, I didn’t notice any glaring problems with the car.

For some unknown reason a few days later, I got into another taxi from the same company. When we took off, it sounded like there was a monkey underneath the car, banging on the undercarriage with a hammer. This concerned me slightly, but we appeared to be moving so I didn’t inquire as to what kind of monkey it was or what kind of hammer it was wielding.

I’ve been in taxis where the trunk doesn’t function correctly, and I’ve been in taxis that left much to be desired in the areas of odor and cleanliness. Fortunately, I’ve never experienced any delays due to equipment problems in taxis. More fortunate than that, I’ve never been in an accident while riding a taxi.

Not being in an accident is impressive considering that I’ve seen some pretty wild driving while in taxis. Most common is the driver talking on a cell phone while operating their vehicle. I do occasionally talk on the phone while driving; I’m not proud of it, but I always keep it short. Some drivers with whom I’ve ridden carry on long personal conversations while driving.

While in Toronto, Ontario I observed one driver negotiating rush hour traffic while carrying on a 15 minute conversation with his wife about what they were going to have for dinner that night. The conversation was in Spanish, so I guess he figured that I wouldn’t know that he wasn’t having a discussion with his dispatcher. My Spanish isn’t that good, but I know when someone is talking about dinner rather than about something work related.

Aggressive driving is also common with most taxi drivers who I have encountered, but the problem is compounded when I’m not familiar with the local traffic rules. I’ve seen seemingly common behavior abroad that would surely win you a day in court in the United States. Oddly enough, I have never driven outside of North America, and based on these experiences, I don’t intend to seek out the opportunity any time soon.

The aggressive behavior of taxi drivers can erupt in a cursing match if drivers from two rival taxi companies are vying for the same spot on the asphalt. While this may seem as novel as two competing pizza delivery cars racing down the road, it’s a lot less fun when you are the passenger in one of the taxis.

I have a coworker that was rushed to an airport in Brazil by a driver who was quite motivated to get him out of the car for some reason. The driver did not seem to take traffic into account as part of the itinerary, and he used the shoulder of the main road to his advantage. When the shoulder became unavailable, he left the road and used the grass-covered embankment. I’m really glad I wasn’t riding with my coworker that day.

Beyond the anxiety/terror induced by their driving skills, I’ve had some pretty interesting drivers. Most cab drivers are pleasant and enjoyable to speak with, but there are some that haven’t figured out the delicate balance between being personable and being inappropriate. I had one taxi driver go on at length about his sexual exploits and how many girlfriends he currently had (3). While this may be appropriate talk for hanging out with your buddies at a strip club, there is no need for it in a cab.

I prefer to take public transportation when I can because it is more environmentally friendly, but I still find myself using taxis from time to time. I keep thinking that one of these days I’ll be in an accident in a taxi, but I haven’t seen a mangled taxi by the side of the road in years. The last one that I can vividly recall was in Laughlin, Nevada some 15 years ago. The name on the side of the car read ”Lucky Cab”, and we would later discover that the company had a reputation for getting into frequent accidents.

If you have any great taxi stories, I’d love to see them in the comments below.

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1 comment:

  1. A friend of mine and myself rode in the back of those big yellow cabs in NYC. The driver drove like a maniac while she and I slid from one side of the back seat to the other, it was quite comical!

    I once drove in a taxi in Korea and everytime my friend and I would ask something the driver would call the dispatcher for a translation! He was so nice and all he wanted to do was understand us and make sure we were having a good experience.