Wednesday, 5 August 2015

Answer time 2

"How did you end up driving a cab?"
Read Part 1 Here

You asked me questions and I promised answers. So here we go.

1. What is the biggest prejudice/label that you feel that people attribute to you as a cabbie? And do you feel there is some truth to that label. The good old "no smoke without fire" or are they way off?

The biggest prejudice, I'd say, is that we are cheats. And it makes sense, no? After all, we get paid by the kilometer and by the minute. On a very basic level, it is in our interests to take very long and slow detours. The company I work for is blessedly free of this. With our fares being so low, there's really no profit in cheating people. I make far more money getting you to where you need to go, and then picking up another fare.

Is there truth to the prejudice? Sadly, yes. This is a very real problem in the Swedish taxi business, and it all comes back to de-regulation. I've discussed this before.  It is also a matter of supply far outstripping the demand; there are far more cabbies than fares, because driving a cab is in essence unskilled labour. It is a business that holds a large amount of people from the bottom rungs of the pecking order.

There's an unpleasant political aspect to this. Sweden is known for a very liberal immigration policy. And one of the chief questions a society asks itself when it takes in immigrants/asylum-seekers is this: Now they are here. What do we do with them?

A civilised society will attempt to make the integration process smooth; get the immigrants working, and within a generation or two they will have made for themselves a place in society. The trouble is that there is a scarcity of work in this country. Add to the fact that if you come here as a refugee, or from a non-european country, you're doubly screwed because you lack a lot of the skills and knowledge necessary for smooth operation within Swedish society.

You're also in a position where any job seems like a good job. And so, this has given a rise to certain predatory practices among the competition. Representatives for the group that owns, among other companies, Taxi K will go to the local employment office, offer a job which pays "up to 20 000 sek a month, where you can set your own schedule, and then take a vacation to Hawaii if you want" (paraphrase of an actual quote), even giving you the opportunity to take a course and get a license. This is all fine and dandy, right?

Well, what they fail to mention is this: 20 000 sek is possible, if you work 12 hour shifts, six to seven nights a week. Sure, you can set your own schedule, but you won't get paid for any free time you allot yourself. In fact, there will be shifts where you barely will get paid at all. And you will be in constant competition with 300 other people who are in the exact same boat as you.

So what's a socially disadvantaged cabby to do when he manages to get a customer? Why, he must make it count. And the simplest way to make it count is to make sure that you make as much money as possible from the trip. Thus, cheating and off-meter payment become not only an option, but even a necessity.

Furthermore, deregulation has allowed countless of people to register their own cars as independent cabs. And there's no cap on the prices you can set for your own car. In fact, if there was a cap, you'd probably be out of luck, because it is expensive to own a cab and its expensive to drive one. So again, cheating becomes a necessity. In fact, things have gotten so bad that the authorities in Stockholm have laid down the law in order to deal with the problem. That's a step, I suppose, but it's only treating a symptom. The deeper disease remains uncured.

2. My question is how much extra do you charge someone if they soil your taxi? 

I've not yet had anyone truly soil my cab (except a demented old woman I found bleeding in the street. I helped her into my cab, where she peed all over the seat. Since I wasn't raised by wolves, I simply waited with her until the ambulance came and took her away). However, if they do, I demand that they clean up, and then I demand that they pay me at least an entire night's wages, as my shift will effectively be over (you don't clean up vomit or shit or the like: you return the car to HQ for sanitation and then go home). People are usually willing to pay, if my colleagues are to be believed. If they refuse, there's not a lot I can do unless I'm ready to take them to court on vandalism charges.

3. And has there ever been a customer that has tried to rob you? 

Once. Picked up a bunch of rough Yugoslavian bastards out in Seed Grove. They were going to Mount Agnes. During the trip, they demanded that I turn up the music. I realized that they wanted me to turn up the music so I couldn't hear what they were saying. Bad vibes all around. I decided I was being a racist and pushed my bigotted fears aside. As we approached Mount Agnes, the guy next to me started to moan and complain about feeling sick. I asked him if I should stop the car.
"Stop at the parking lot..." he gasped. So I stopped the car.

With a swiftness and coordination that was downright impressive, Sicko grabbed the smartphone we use as an onboard computer, and then dashed out of the car, followed by his three friends. By the time I realized what had happened, they were far far away.

Looking back, I am equal parts impressed, pissed off, and scornful. Impressed, because of how perfectly coordinated they were. They had clearly done this before, and had developed some skill. Pissed off because I was mildly traumatized and without the smartphone I was unable to continue working that night. And scornful, because that smartphone is worthless. The app we use has burned its image into the screen, and it is bound to the company. So off they went with a practically worthless piece of technology. I say they can keep it. Most likely they will never achieve anything greater than that.

4. What's the stupidest thing you've ever been asked?

"What tickles your fine crotch?"

5. What is the kindest thing you've witnessed as a cabbie ? (To balance out all the bad stuff)
I don't really witness a lot of kindness. But as far as kind people go, the saint ranks pretty damn high. Oh, also... There was this one time I was driving through Rose Grove, and a small crowd was gathered around this fallen old guy. I stepped out to see if I could offer any assistance He had gotten a heart attack and fallen over. One the prostitutes had had wrapped a sanitary towel over the gash in his head, and cracked dirty jokes in order to keep him conscious until the ambulance came. Considering what misery she lives in, I find her actions pretty damn noble.

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