Taxi driver’s tips
By Barry Hill
I don’t understand why taxi drivers like to blow their chance of a tip with me.  I’m usually quite a generous tipper, but they will insist on doing stupid things that leave me no choice.
I’ll give you a classic instance.  When I first started at university, I used to catch a taxi from the train station to the university.  It wasn’t far, but, being blind, ya know, I’m lazy.  One morning, one of the drivers tried charging me an extra pound for my guide dog.  Now, I would probably have given him a pound tip but, because it is in contravention of the law to charge for assistance dogs and both of us knew it, he blew his tip.  Still, I bet that his only mistake was to tell me that I had to pay an extra quid for the dog; it’s likely that many other drivers have just put that extra on my fair without telling me.
A few years ago, I went to visit a friend (Yes, I have a friend) called Dawn who has a guide dog.  At the time, I didn’t have one, a dog, not a friend.  Dawn ordered me a taxi to pick me up at her local train station but, fifteen minutes later, I was still stood whistling Dixie.  I rang the taxi company and was told that one had been and couldn’t find me so left again.  That likely story comes straight from the taxi driver’s manual of excuses.  After half an hour, a taxi finally turned up.  Of course, because they were used to picking up and taking a person with a guide dog to the house I was going to, and had been told to watch out for me as I am blind, they assumed that I had a guide dog.  None of the drivers wanted to pick up a dog.  When the taxi eventually came, I insisted on a pizza ride, a freebee because I had been kept waiting for more than half an hour.  I didn’t get it, but he didn’t get a tip either.
Here's some more tips from the taxi driver’s manual of excuses that I’ve had:
·         When a blind person with a guide dog comes to your rank taxi (and that’s not necessarily rank because it smells like Beelzebub’s bum), drive forward a foot or two so that they can’t find the door handle.  If they are persistent and find the door handle despite your trick, lock the doors. Fingers crossed that they are not recording you on a bodycam.
·         When you arrive at a pick up to find that the person who has ordered the taxi has a guide dog, simply drive away and don’t think about the fact that you’ve just left a vulnerable person stranded with no idea that you’ve done so. You can always tell control back at base that I wasn’t in. That’ll work right up to the point when I ring up and ask where my taxi is.
·         When arriving at a person’s house to find that they have a guide dog, tell them that you have the wrong address, drive a few doors down the road then, after a minute or two, drive away.  Still, I think the guide dog might even figure out that this one is as lame as a wonky (that’s a three-legged donkey).
·         When you turn up at a pub to pick up a fare and you find that they have a guide dog, tell them that you are waiting for someone else.  A word of caution, however, don’t try this last one when the blind person is with his extended family who have been drinking for several hours.  On this occasion, three taxis were called, one of them for me.  They all came at about the same time, but mine flatly refused to take me with my dog.  “Interesting,” I thought, “We haven’t had a good old-fashioned drunken family lynching in generations.”  As it happens, the driver was only mildly threatened and did begrudgingly take me in the end.  Lucky that he changed his mind before my uncle Roy got out of the pub.  A lovely man, my uncle Roy, but once a Royal Marine, always a hard bastard.
The most popular course of action for a driver who sees me with dog is to simply drive off.  Ok, no unconvincing interaction, but if I don’t see that a taxi has been and gone, well, I don’t know that it’s been and gone.   How long do you leave it before calling back to ask where it is?  On more than one occasion, I have rung for the absent taxi only to be told that it’s been, couldn’t find me, and went… as if it’s my fault!  Hmmm…. If the driver can’t see me stood outside my own house, then I think he needs my guide dog as much as I do.
Irritating as these true accounts may be, they are not as bad as one that happened to a friend of mine.  We’ll call her Millicent, mostly because I heard the name yesterday and like it.  Millicent is a guide dog user and had taken out a friend of hers for the first time since also losing her eyesight.  When it came to home time, they rang for a taxi and, as you have probably guessed, it turned up but refused to take the pair with a dog.  The driver drove off despite Millicent’s insistence that it was against the law to discriminate against guide dog owners.  Worse than that, he wouldn’t even radio through for a replacement driver.  Luckily for Millicent, a bystander saw what happened and gave the distraught pair a lift home.  She also got the drivers number and he was taken to court.  In court, he argued that there had been a misunderstanding due to his lack of English, but this excuse was thrown out and the driver rightly fined.  He also lost his licence.  I’ve got to say, I’m not happy that he lost his licence, but it was really his own fault.
Guide dog owners have the Hamlet choice when it comes to ringing for a taxi: To be or not to be.  That is, they can choose to let the control know that they be guide dog owner or not to be. Yeah, sorry about mangling such a classic bit of literature, but I wanted to shoe-horn it in somehow.   The bottom line is, do we let them know about the dog when we book?  Well, there is always the third choice that leaves the dog looking mournfully at you from the upstairs window when you leave him behind.  You can’t see him/her doing it, but you can certainly feel that stare right in the back of your head.  But what’s the point in having a guide dog if it’s not used?  It would be like having legs and shuffling to the taxi on your arse.  
If you were a wheelchair user, you would tell the taxi company about your assistive aid - the wheelchair. If you didn't and the driver refused to take you, that would still be discrimination against the person because of their wheelchair, for which the driver would get their arse kicked.  But what if they had a genuine reason for not being able to take the wheelchair?  Maybe it’s a small car with a boot just big enough to take two bags of granny’s shopping and/or the driver has a bad back and a dicky ticker?  This isn’t stretching credibility much at all, so the wheelchair user would be best to tell the control that they have a wheelchair.  
What is so different about a guide dog owner doing likewise?  The dog is a vi persons assistive aid.  Well, if all things were honest and equal, telling the controller that I am indeed with dog is probably going to save some agro down the line.  At the very least, I mitigate the risk of a frosty driver who, on finding that I can’t see where we are going, might be tempted to go the scenic route regardless.
However, all things are not honest and equal.  If they were, some of those MPs wouldn’t have gone into politics -  Altruism my arse – and creepy Daryl would not have copped off with the girl I fancied at the youth club.
Yes, it’s polite to let the driver know that there’s a guide dog, but when I called for two taxis for me and a friend who did not have a guide dog, there’s turned up straight away and mine took half an hour.  Could it be that telling the controller just allows the discrimination to happen behind the scenes?  
It’s not just this sort of direct discrimination that irks me.  Drivers should learn that blind does not mean daft and that we have other senses that we trust, even if they don’t.  I’ll give you a ‘for instance’.  
Late one evening, I wanted to go to a mate’s house who was also a night bird like me.  I gave the driver the right address and, when we got there, he kindly helped me to the door.  However, as we walked up the garden path, I brushed some privets on my left.  Now, unless my mate had stolen these fully-grown privets or invented super-fast-growing ones, I was at the wrong house and asked the driver to check.  He insisted that it was right, so I got him to knock on the door whilst I stood back.  I’d like to say that the fella who had to get out of bed to tell us that we had the wrong address invited us in for a warm Horlicks and a toasted current t-cake.  I’d like to, but it wouldn’t be true.  Instead, he made reference to fornication and assertions about the driver’s intelligence and the legitimacy of his father.
On another occasion, I caught a taxi home after a drink or three with my mates.  I gave my address and asked if the driver knew where it was as it can be a little confusing with names.  He insisted that he knew it, so I settled back, closed my eyes and enjoyed the usual white-knuckle nighttime taxi ride.  Now, there are several routes from town to my house, but I can pretty well follow each of them in my head by the bends in the road, even if they are taken on two wheels.  When the car didn’t lurch round a bend, I knew it should have, I let the driver know that he’d gone the wrong way.
Thing is, as usual for taxi drivers, he had within thirty nanoseconds of me getting in asked me if I could see anything.  It’s an odd question if you think about it.  I mean, you wouldn’t ask a person in a wheelchair if they could walk at all and how long they’d been in a wheelchair.  Still, I’d had a few shandys so I foolishly, perhaps, told him that I couldn’t see anything.  I think this set his mind to not believing me when I told him that he’d missed the turn.  He took me to where he thought I lived only to find that where he thought was Terrace was actually Road, about half a mile away.  Credit to the guy – He did turn off his clock when he realised, but he blew his tip that night.
Although not very pleasant for all concerned, most of these events were pretty harmless.  However, there was another occasion that had repercussions.  
I do have a little sympathy for some drivers who are arsy with me and my dog. They know the law so cannot refuse and they are the next up for the job so cannot refuse the controller dishing it up. I got in one last week like this.  He was scared of dogs.  Yup, even guide dogs.  Yup, even though I said that they had been bred to be placid.  To tell me that he’s scared of dogs every 30 seconds did start to jar on my understanding.  I hit him with, “Do you think Guide Dogs would have dogs that bite?” Didn’t help. Oh, by the way, can anyone tell me how I’m supposed to keep my dog away from him, as he kept telling me to do, when it’s sat in the foot well behind his bloody seat?  Shoulda sent a hatchback or a driver that doesn’t think that Guide Dogs breed violent, rabid dogs out to owners.
Still, not all taxi and private hire drivers are like this.  I am happy to say that many are at least civil, and some are even helpful with my dog.  As usual, it’s the bad apples that give the rest a bad rep.  Still, there does seem to be quite a few bad apples.
I’ve been trying to resist because I think they are undercutting the honest drivers, but I think the only answer is going to be Uber.  Let them try telling me that they have the wrong address when I have enough details of the driver on my iPhone to apply for a passport in their name.
The thing is, though, that as a result of the constant overt and low-level discrimination over the years, guide dog owners are expecting discrimination of some sort whenever they need a taxi or private hire.  It’s like an abused dog.  When the abuse becomes habitual, the dog cringes even when it’s not getting abused.  I cringe whenever I call for a taxi.  The result is that I am reluctant to do so, which means that my life is curtailed.  Instead of going about my business and leisure on a whim, I score the gain against the possible shitty feeling that even the possibility of discrimination brings.  I doubt that there is any other discrimination that has such a pandemic effect


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