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Julz's World: Taxi Driver!

Julz's World with Julie Symons

Taxi Driver!


Last night I caught a taxi home from the pub.

Not exactly the most thrilling event to happen in one’s life, but for me the mere fact it was an uneventful journey was a huge relief.

On the danger and excitement scale, catching a taxi in Geneva is right up there with scaling cliffs without safety ropes and juggling razor sharp knives. You never quite know what to expect.

A few weeks ago an American friend had the unfortunate experience of trying to reach my house by taxi. “Trying” being the operative word.

Sensing his foreign passenger might not be familiar with the area, the taxi driver decided it was a brilliant opportunity to drive a few dozen additional kilometres and make a bit of extra cash. After leaving the city limits and travelling to the far reaches of the canton (Swiss-speak for district), my friend finally managed to reach me by cell phone to share the news of her kidnapping dilemma.

We immediately told her to leave the taxi and we’d come and get her, but it wasn’t as simple as that.

“I keep asking the driver where we are but he refuses to tell me!”

Several minutes and about NZ$75 later, the driver turned up outside my house. My friend demanded to know his name, and suddenly he realised he might not get away with his little detour after all. He dropped the price, but she still paid about twice the amount a direct trip would have cost.

A couple of weeks later - and cautiously armed with meticulous directions to my house - I entered another taxi after missing the last bus. Alarm bells rang before I even sat down, since the driver refused to drive the man standing in the front of the queue and insisted on taking me instead.

For a while the journey went happily, the two of us conversing in a weird mixture of English and French. The dramas began about three blocks from my house when the driver, who was old enough to be my father, announced that he was single. I decided to ignore him and just stared stubbornly out the window in silence. When he pulled up outside my house he asked in French what I was doing for the rest of the evening. I replied that I didn’t understand so he repeated himself in English to make the message clear. I quickly vacated the taxi then walked down the street in the dark until he disappeared. I did not want him to know which was my house.

Another time when walking to a friend’s house, I encountered a number of aggressive-looking drunks on the dark street. Sensing imminent danger I doubled back and caught a taxi. The two minute trip down one street cost about NZ$12. Which is nothing compared with the $130 half-hour ride one of my friends took a couple of years ago to the outskirts of town. Neither trip was daylight robbery, as the drivers took the most direct routes. It’s just generally extortionately expensive to catch a taxi in Switzerland. This fact doesn’t really encourage young girls venturing out on their own at night to keep safe.

Unfortunately sleazy and greedy taxi drivers are becoming all too common in Europe. In England, where it’s relatively easy to masquerade as a taxi driver, there are often police reports of taxi-rape. But it’s a risk that many women take, seeing as late night tubes and buses can also be notoriously dangerous, with deranged passengers assaulting or intimidating innocent women while the other passengers studiously look out of windows and ignore what’s happening. I caught a night bus five years ago and was astonished to see a group of extremely intoxicated 10-year-olds start a brawl after provoking an Indian passenger by calling him “curry face” and other insulting names.

Another time I caught a taxi from Heathrow to the other side of London. Not realising I already knew the route, the driver drove in circles around the city, backtracking down the same streets and missing obvious turn-offs. When he was finally so blazon as to drive down a street, do a U-turn at the end and drive back again, I told him that perhaps he could take a more direct route. He was furious and started yelling that I was accusing him of being a liar and a cheat. He was adamant he was driving in circles around London to avoid getting stuck in road-works that would cost me more money, and when I was finally scared into apologising to him, he drove me home and charged about $40 more than the taxi company had quoted me.

Personally I’m horrified that taxi drivers are allowed to get away with such behaviour. I can’t comment on New Zealand taxis because my experience of them is limited. But I can only warn women who are travelling overseas to beware. You may think taking a taxi is safer than walking, but that is not necessarily the case.

© Copyright 2002 Julie Symons, First Published on Spectator.co.nz

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