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The tricks of the taxi trade
Not many people pay them a second glance as they glide silently through the night. But Oxford’s 107 black cabs are a key part of the city’s nightlife and are a big part of helping it run smoothly. Reporter Damian Fantato spent a Saturday night with one of the city’s cabbies to find out exactly what it is like on the frontline of a night out.......
City councillor Saj Malik, who represents Cowley Marsh, has been a taxi driver for more than 20 years.
On an evening which saw him carry passengers who were mostly the worse for wear to Wolvercote, Cholsey, Greater Leys and Risinghurst, he said: “You pick up all sorts of people in the back of your cab.
“I have picked up George Galloway and Douglas Hurd, but it is the youngsters you have got to watch out for – the ones aged between 17 and 21 – because when they are on a night out, they don’t know when to stop.”
Mr Malik said: “On Saturday nights us cabbies are the eyes and ears of the police.
“Neighbourhood police officers in Oxford are brilliant and we will report things to them if we see anything.”
Over the course of the evening he found himself comforting a group of women in tears, escorting a man to a cash machine after he found he didn’t have the money to pay and having to air the back of his cab out to remove the smell of kebab.
He also picked up a group of girls who confessed to not knowing where they lived.
Part of the trick of having an easy night, Mr Malik said, is being able to assess each customer very quickly.
“You find out when you speak to them through the window whether you want to pick him or her up,” he said.
One of the big issues facing Oxford’s cabbies, Mr Malik said, was the number of private hire vehicles which ply for trade at night.
He said: “If a private hire car is sat there for 10 minutes or more, he clearly hasn’t got a job booked. The main concerns are in New Road and Park End Street.”
Mr Malik, who lives in Greater Leys, starts at 6pm and then works “until no-one needs a taxi anymore”.
Towards the end of the evening he makes his way to Park End Street, where the volume of taxis, revellers, police cars and ambulances has clogged the road.
He said: “At this time of night you have to be very careful, because people just walk out into the street without looking.
“If people are very drunk then they will just carry on talking at you as you take them home.
“Thankfully it has been a while since I’ve had any trouble.”