Not a single day goes by without hundreds and hundreds of tourists and locals thronging our Main Street during these summer months. Visitors from many countries filling our bars and restaurants and scrutinising the many retail outlets on our main shopping street – some shop managers claim many are just window shopping with no purchasing power, so it’s not as money-spinning for them as the scene may depict!
Amongst the hustle and bustle, taxi stands look busy too with their `chauffeurs’ plying their trade… I go by every day hearing them informing their potential passengers what a Rock tour is all about, but yes, particularly during these months, business is on the up for them and they need to make the most of it.
Taxi drivers have to work their socks off during the summer influx.
I’m reminded of squirrels who gather food to see them through the wintery months when they tend to stay ‘indoors’. Likewise, taxi drivers have to work their socks off during the summer influx of tourists to see them through the colder months when there are no cruise ships, fewer coaches and drastically reduced visitor numbers coming through the frontier.
“That’s correct, we have to do our best at this time and take on as many tours as we can. We have strong competition from the cruise ships’ agents on the Rock who sell tours in their own coaches whilst passengers are still on board. They’re also offered, Dolphin Safaris, Walking and Tunnel tours and not forgetting the Cable Car trips, which is a big attraction for tourists also, so we really have to do our best,” 57-year-old John Charles Guy, who’s been at the wheel for close on two decades, tells me. “Our Rock tours take about one and a half hours to complete, visiting all the major sites on the Rock and unlike in other countries, we inform our passengers they don’t have to pay till the end of the tour and if they’re not happy, they don’t pay us.” Well that’s very brave of them to suggest that, but I know they do.
There is a mistaken belief taxi drivers are rolling in it! “Again, not true”, John Charles quickly jumps in, “The first thing is, if you want to really make it worthwhile you have to put in many hours from very early morning picking up frontier workers, then onto to tours and staying on till late in the evening or night doing what you can.” But there’s more: 40 or 50% of taxi drivers are non-owners, which means you rent from the owner who holds the taxi licence – which in some cases has been handed down from a former taxi driver relative – and that runs into hundreds of pounds a week which you have to make before you can spend a fiver on a coffee and sandwich when you have a break.
“And that’s just one big expense,” John Charles says, “You, are responsible for everything to do with the vehicle, petrol, punctures or change of tyres, mechanical faults and keeping the car clean at all times even if the taxi is not yours. If you take a holiday, you’re sick or on City Service – where income drops drastically – the weekly payment has to be provided!” Not unlike a mortgage then!
John Charles tells me it’s also very competitive to rent because there are always those who will offer substantially more than you so you’re in danger of losing ‘your taxi’, as it were. They are willing to work all the hours God sends, even through the night, to meet that high payment. I understand some work to targets and just keep going till they meet them. City Service must also be adhered to these days and that’s not very popular with some drivers because their income drops as they can’t do tours or certainly not as many.
Another complaint from some members of the public – apart from lack of taxis at the airport – is the cost of fares from say, frontier into town or further on… “Well, that depends on how many passengers, bags or suitcases you’re carrying, whether you’ve pre-booked or not. In some instances there are extra charges. Also to bear in mind, when coming from the frontier or airport, the inconvenience of aircraft arrivals and departures when the barriers are down for long periods and unfortunately the metres keep running!” John Charles tells me there is a number of unwritten rules the majority of the around 200 drivers stick to, like when you’re allowed to sort of ‘jump the queue’ and take on a fare. On the lighter side, certain characters in the taxi trade are awarded nicknames. There’s Lord Carrington, Superglue, El 9 to 9 and Tomatito, to mention a few.
“If they’re not happy, they don’t pay us.”
The impression I get, as I constantly go by a certain taxi stand every day, is that tourists are largely content with their tours and how they have been treated. “That’s true, there is always going to be odd passenger not happy with the service provided but by and large most of us give them the information they seek about how Gib is developing and of course the Rock’s history and so on. It may sound like a cliché but we really are ambassadors for the Rock and we really do our best in that regard.”
“I must mention we too are human”
As a sideline, taxi man John Charles is very much into performing, and has a theatrical leaning (he was given a small part as an SAS Captain in the Bond film, The Living Daylights ) and has chauffeured personalities here like Rowan Atkinson, Maureen Lipman, Nicolas Parsons and others and as a treat, will even burst into a good old Frank Sinatra tune as they travel along!
“I must mention we too are human and do good deeds like not charging fares in certain situations, helping the elderly and in other circumstances.” This is true and from time to time you see letters in the Chronicle thanking a taxi driver for his caring attention as was the case just a few weeks ago when a cruise liner passenger lost all of his credit and ID cards and pass to get back on board. The local taxi driver followed it up and whilst at sea, the cards were found in town and sent off, thanks to our taxi man’s efforts! “Yes and there have been many other instances. Word of mouth is very important but sometimes comments on social media can be negative. The bottom line is, most of us go about our work in a decent way and 90% of passengers go away happy.”
And the macaques enjoy the publicity too!