A forty minute drive to work to the city tires most of us; imagine if you had to drive for twelve hours every day in Sydney traffic writes Perin Sairs.
In these hours of driving I assure you that you would be insulted, yelled at for your driving skills and encounter impatient demanding people sitting in the back of your car.
All this is routine for a Sydney taxi driver.
Curious about Australian lives, I’ve been chatting to café owners, little old ladies and the taxi drivers of Sydney. Cabbie life on city roads is not easy and the money doesn’t compensate either.
Cabbies say they often get robbed of fares by passengers who leave the cab without paying, especially on weekend party nights. On these nights they expect to do great business but drunken passengers often don’t remember their addresses or simply pass out.
Then the cabbie has to turn them out having wasted his time and lost a fare. On occasion the drunks get violent and aggressive and rob them of their daily earnings.
“That’s why there are no women drivers anymore, it’s too rough a job,” one of the cabbies said.
Cabbies tells me that the city is full of “no stopping” zones and there are no alternative stopping areas, so when they stop to drop off passengers they regularly get fined by the council.
“People struggle to have the right change ready and hop out just as the taxi stops,” one cabbie said.
Taxi drivers are fined while trying to drop off older people conveniently, in front of their destinations. Considering taxis are a public convenience and huge amounts of taxes are paid by people, it seems incredible that city planning doesn’t have adequate taxi stopping zones.
Cabbies who do want to buy their own cabs and licence plates find it difficult since it costs around AUD$ 400,000 and most of them don’t save enough to buy one. They have to hire a taxi from the owner and pay a daily fee for it, since they do not own their own taxi licence plate. By the time they pay nearly half of their daily earnings to the cab owner, discount fines, lost fares and tolls, and pay $10 for a meal, they take home $180 for a 12-hour gruelling shift.
Despite this, they are an incredibly cheerful lot and I found that cabbies in Sydney love to talk! Most cabbies are immigrants and are grateful to have a future in this country, which makes one wonder what they’ve been through.
All of them are driving cabs for different reasons. Some are looking for alternative occupations. Others are resigned to it as a means to an end and are focused on their children’s futures in this “good country Australia”.
A Lebanese driver in his mid-fifties proudly told me that his children were the first generation to be educated beyond class 10, and in English. His son was studying at TAFE to be an electrician, but he was even more proud of his daughter who is studying microbiology and wants to do medicine.
‘’In the old country,” he said, ‘’she would not have been allowed to study. We could not have afforded it and we would have been pressured to marry her off by age 18.”
A Jamaican cabbie who came here six years ago does not want to return to his own country as he would face unemployment. He loves Australia for the opportunity it has given him to earn his living and take care of his family, both here and back home.
But interestingly, he finds it very “boring after 5 pm”.
“Everything closes,” he said, “and all the people go home early here. There is no excitement or life in the evenings.”
He said it is different in Jamaica.
“Fun starts at 4 pm after siesta and every day after work people go to enjoy shops, night markets, pavement stalls, malls, music and dinner.”
He dreams of developing a shopping palace that would stay open after 5pm attracting the crowd that doesn’t want to go home every day and “be boring”.
A young Indian cabbie is saving capital for a business opportunity and told me that food franchises were safe options here. He hopes that he will be able to buy an Oporto or Nando’s franchise in the next four years.
Meanwhile he just wants to pay his bills with his cabbie job and wants no trouble. The inside of his cab is plastered with sticker messages to ward off problems, from the mundane “no eating in this cab” and “please give change” to the indicative “I no harm you, you no harm me”.
On a nasty day as you slide thankfully into a warm taxi having being frozen wet for 15 minutes on the pavement, chances are that as you get in, the cabbie will half turn around to say hello and ask you how you’re doing.
In your reply he will sense if you’re inclined to talk or not; if you are, he is off. I’ve had them detail their life stories and they certainly want to know mine. They usually want to know my future plans too.
I’ve been the recipient of all sorts of information from how to find accommodation to which areas “a leetle ladiee” like me should not venture into on her own. Apart from the standard Kings Cross, this usually includes our very own unavoidable university train station, Redfern.
Further wisdom was dished out by a Chinese cabbie I grumbled at who said to me, “Oh Madame whatever problem you have, you look healthy.” I stopped staring blankly out of the window and turned to face the front, thinking, ‘now what?’
He was grinning at me in the rearview mirror. “If you have health you have everything,” he said.
I’ve find this boundless inquisitiveness and the genuine human interest taxi drivers in Sydney display in their passengers quite unique.
It leads me to think that maybe, if all of us took a bit of time out of our iPhones and our self-absorption, had an interest in people, or even actually talked to just a few people around us every day, we just might see this world in a different light, and appreciate what we have in this beautiful city.
Who knows, perhaps even learn a thing or two.