15 June 2012

A Tale of Two Taxis

It was an ordered time, it was a chaotic time, it was an age of isolation, it was an age of interaction, it was the season of politeness, it was the season of aggressiveness, it was the sweet smell of honesty, it was the pungent odour of corruption.

Yes, I have been travelling, and I've had the occasion to take taxis on either end of my voyages. Surprisingly, I have some comments about my experiences that I just have to share. Let's pick apart my takeoff on Charles Dickens from above…

Order and Chaos. I've written about this before in another forum, but I just have to repeat it here. Taking a taxi from the train station to home or to a hotel is such a very different experience in Montréal and Toronto. In Montréal, we have a taxi stand, admittedly maintained by a single company — I'm sure they pay some kind of premium for that, where the taxis take on their passengers in an orderly way and most of the fares line up to wait their turn for the next taxi in line. In Toronto, even leaving aside the current roadwork that is making the experience hellish, the scene is chaotic, with taxis leaping in front of others, people calling out to entice you into their cab, and lots of disputes between drivers in which I just don't want to be involved.

Isolation and Interaction. I am capable of criticizing my own city! It might be because of greater exposure to cabs here, but I have had more of those experiences of the driver talking and my thinking he is talking to me (and — horrors — responding!) when he is actually having an extended conversation with someone else by hands-free phone. Of course I have ranted about that before, too. In Toronto, I have yet to experience that, and have had more drivers actually converse with me…well, proportionately more, again owing to the fact that I have had a lot more taxi experiences in Montréal.

Politeness and Aggressiveness. This is really a mixed bag between the cities, both having their share of good and crazy drivers. It made my list because my driver this morning (in the T-Dot!) managed to almost run over a cyclist and a pedestrian and to gesture angrily at them. I have, of course, had way more very professional drivers who know the rules of the road and respect them.

Honesty and Corruption. Many of my travels, though certainly not the majority of my taxi experiences, are subject to reimbursement of expenses, so I find myself asking for receipts on those occasions. I absolutely refuse to accept a blank receipt, insisting that the driver make it out fully before giving it to me, especially including the amount. On my trip this week, I had a driver to whom I had paid $12, including the tip, give me a receipt for $15. Now I can't really use that, so I will swallow that trip on my own, but it pisses me off to think that there are many who are inflating their expenses by using those blank receipts or gratefully accepting over-reimbursement of their expenses. What I really like is the new printed out receipt from the meter in an increasing number of Montréal taxis: no illegibility problems and you know there is a machine-based trace of the amount that you have paid on the other side, too.

Extra corruption. I have had a taxi driver in Toronto at a particular hotel complain that the hotel staff charged with procuring taxis for departing guests ask for kickbacks to channel the more lucrative fares to drivers. Drivers not paying get the shorter trips. To be fair, this is also something that I have heard about in Montréal, as there have been public allegations and an investigation that made the news a couple of years back.

And we wonder from where the culture of believing you will get away with cheating comes from. Those who participate are as guilty as the people passing brown envelopes of the politicians accepting them. We really need to be consistent in practising the honesty we expect from others.