From booking to boarding and tipping drivers
A useful primer on the joys of using minicabs and taxis for people with Autism Spectrum Conditions
If you’re the proud owner of a concessionary pass of some description, there’s every chance you’ll find it useful for accessing local services or your nearest shop. As part of any holiday or day trip, a boon for meeting people or seeing new attractions.
Sadly the English National Concessionary Travel Scheme (and its equivalents in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland) does have some limitations. Firstly it cannot guarantee the prompt running of any bus service. Secondly, some pass holders may be in a bus dessert; for example rural areas without a service at all, or urban areas cut off at night time.
In some cases this leaves you with two options. Either a lift to and from your destination from a relative or carer. Or a taxi. This piece concentrates on the latter example.
Taxi, Minicab, Hackney Carriage… what’s in a name?
Many people lazily refer to minicabs as ‘taxis’. There is a difference between what is a taxi and what is a minicab. Not only in name but also in the way we book for a cab. Hence:
- Taxis are usually seen in black, yellow or white denoting a ‘For Hire’ sign on the kerbside;
- A taxi that can be hailed in the street or on a public rank is also known as a Hackney Carriage;
- Minicabs can be any passenger carrying vehicle with a minimum of five doors. This can include minibuses;
- If the For Hire sign is lit, taxis can be booked from the kerbside by ‘hailing’ the vehicle (raising your arm in a horizontal position);
- Taxis can also be booked from a public taxi rank, again if the ‘For Hire’ sign is lit;
- Minicabs can only be booked in advance, from your home telephone or your mobile phone;
- Taxi fares are set by local authorities: fare information is displayed on the vehicle. When taxi fares are changed this is also noted on the local authority’s website or in the Public Notices section of your local newspaper;
- Minicab fares may be a similar price to local authority fare rates. In some cases they may be cheaper;
- Both taxi and minicab fares include a set price for the first 750 to 1,000 yards, followed by an extra amount per 80 to 120 yards;
- Both taxi and minicab fares vary according to time of day with three different types of tariffs;
- Both taxi and minicab fares vary according to traffic conditions: if a cab is stuck at a set of traffic lights, being stuck for a minute or two means your fare may be a bit dearer.
For the purpose of this piece, I shall use ‘cab’ in the generic form if characteristics are common to both taxis and minicabs.
Cab fares explained
A cab fare consists of:
- A tariff, depending on the time you travel;
- A set fare for the first 750 to 1,000 yards;
- An extra amount for the next 80 to 120 yards and thereafter.
Supposing we travelled from Tesco in Stalybridge to the Tame Valley public house, the first 1,000 yards would be £1.70. For another 120 yards, 20p. The total fare is the first 1,000 yards then whatever amount of yards in total charged at 20p per 120 yards.
The first thousand or so yards of a cab fare is referred to as a ‘flag drop’ rate. This refers to the old mechanical meters which had a ‘For Hire’ flag facing the curb. As soon as s/he boarded the cab, the flag would be dropped and our driver would be ready to chauffeur us to our destination.
If we travelled before (for example) midnight, this would come under Tariff 1, the standard tariff. After midnight, Tariff 2 (usually valid till 6am) would be the normal fare and half of the normal fare together. Therefore:
- A Tariff 1 fare could be £4.00;
- A Tariff 2 fare could be £6.00 (which is also known as ‘time and a half’).
On some occasions, the cab fare could come Tariff 3. This usually applies on Christmas Day or the early hours of New Year’s Day. Typically:
- A Tariff 3 fare is double the Tariff 1 fare: which means our £4.00 fare will be £8.00.
Timing also has an effect on your cab fare. Whereas bus fares are the same price if our 346 is stuck at BT Roundabout for two minutes, traffic has an effect on your cab fare. In the time our taxi or minicab could cover 120 yards, a minute’s wait could add another 20p to your fares.
Why is this the case? Meters also have timing functions. On its LED display you will see a ‘clock’ style icon where time is denoted by a clockwise circuit.
For cab drivers, time is money as s/he has to pick up as many passengers as they can safely and promptly. Being as they are self-employed, their income is dependent on how many passengers they pick up. Which is why they also charge for waiting time at a set rate per hour.
In some cases, there may be extra charges per person, or for the carriage of heavy luggage (usually 20p at 2015 prices). Different types of vehicle may mean a slight difference in fare rates. A minibus may be slightly dearer than a saloon car or black cab.
Some local authorities include a surcharge for leaving their borough’s boundaries. If you decided to book a cab to Droylsden from Piccadilly Gardens, Manchester you will need to pay a bit more for leaving Manchester’s boundaries. For the privilege of booking a taxi to Greenside Lane, Droylsden, you would be charged extra for going into the Tameside area.
To make your cab fare cheaper it is best to split the fare between yourself and your partner or carer. A £4.00 fare with two people makes that fare £2.00 each. Which at present rates in Tameside is equal to or slightly less than the equivalent adult bus fare per person.
Finding a cab company
First and foremost, choose your cab company with discretion. From personal experience, I have found recommendations from friends and family the best move. If you are booking in advance, that is the best policy.
I have a number of cab company’s to choose from in my area. Which in part is a fringe benefit of living in a well built-up area where a cab can be cheaper than the bus. I take into consideration a number of factors such as:
- How many miles away from home is the cab company?
- Choosing one nearest to the supermarket or a given part of any town centre;
- Which cab company is most reliable for urgent trips?
- Types of vehicles available (i.e. saloon cars, black cabs, minibuses);
Going for one nearest to my home or any given place may be a good option as he or she may not have far to travel. Using Ashton-under-Lyne for example, Stamford Cars’ base on Egret Street is suitably placed for The Witchwood public house. Near enough for you to go to their office and book one in advance.
As for reliability, a degree of personal research and past experience is the best way to decide this. Word of mouth from relatives or recommendations from the landlord of your favoured pub are a good source. The latter, as with some public places may display a list of suitable cab company numbers.
If you have mobility issues or wish to bring more than four people with you, a choice of vehicle is important. Sometimes, when you book your journey over the telephone or in person at their office, the operator may ask what vehicle you need.
If urgency isn’t too much of a priority, you could choose your favoured cab company on the grounds of price. Please keep in mind that waiting times for the cheaper company may be longer than the more expensive equivalent.
Booking a cab
For some people, using the telephone can be daunting, whether we book for a cab or wish to order a pizza. Though I have some issues using the telephone myself, booking cabs isn’t too overloading for me. This in part to having heard many a cab based telephone call from Chez Vall and knowing the same lines to use each time.
Though it may be cheaper to book a cab from your home telephone, booking a cab from a mobile phone is now a more attractive option. In many cases, some cab companies send you a text message which tells you its estimated time of arrival. Or they may offer a ringback function, which is available on your home telephone as well as your mobile phone.
Here’s a couple of social stories:
1. A Trip to the Dentist:
Clare has a dental appointment at a surgery some 12 miles away from home. She lives in a rural area devoid of buses. Unfortunately for her, part of the journey is during the morning peak hours which means traffic galore. With her appointment at 9.45am she aims to be at the surgery for 9.35am at the latest.
Therefore the journey she books allows for the traffic. Supposing it takes 45 minutes on average, she books the cab for 8.35am. As the dentist’s waiting room is full of screaming children at that time, she takes her earphones to go with the smartphone before her appointment. She also uses the same device to book her cab because of the company’s text messaging service.
OPERATOR: Sunshine Cabs…
CLARE: Hello, I would like to book a cab for eight thirty five please…
OPERATOR: Where are you going?
CLARE: Tribe’s Tooth Place, 35 High Street, Lower Meltham…
OPERATOR: Who’s it for?
CLARE: Clare Wearden (W-E-A-R-D-E-N)
OPERATOR: Where from?
CLARE: 160 Occupation Road, Hailham Paice.
OPERATOR: Would you be all right in any vehicle?
CLARE: Any vehicle will do.
OPERATOR: O.K., should be coming ’round shortly.
CLARE: Thanks a lot.
(Clare presses red button on smartphone to finish call. Within moments she receives a text message detailing the arrival of her cab. The text message reads, “Your taxi will be due at 8.34am. Your vehicle will be a grey Vauxhall Zafira, reg.no. YK60 RTB”).
As seen above, our operator asks whether she is happy with any vehicle. If she prefers a black cab or a minibus, she could ask the operator if they have any of the vehicles. Given how unusual her surname is, she may sometimes have to spell it out to the operator. (I have to do the same with my surname being a different spelling to that of ‘Valentine’).
On your mobile phone, I recommend saving a number of cab companies which you trust. I not only have the nearest minicab company to Chez Vall. I also have a number of some for other areas. For example, one in Oldham as they may offer more favourable rates compared with some in Tameside if I go to the Oldham Coliseum or Whittles.
2. A Post-Gig Booking:
Oliver and five friends of his went to see Level 39, whom according to their venue’s publicity material are “The Greatest Level 42 Tribute Act on Earth”. With the battery on Oliver’s ‘phone about to run out in minutes, they use a payphone in the bar. With Friday night being a busy time for taxis there is the likelihood of two things: one, cab companies of any description using the Tariff 2 rate (which if you remember is time and a half); and two, longer waiting times.
Before booking, Oliver and his peers decide the split the fare six ways. Fortunately they are undergraduates living in the same student house together, so no quibbles about one person paying more of the fare than the other.
(Oliver places £1 coin into slot of payphone and telephones the number of a local cab company seen above the ‘phone itself).
OPERATOR: Metro Cabs…
OLIVER: Hello, I would like to book a cab for as soon as possible please…
OPERATOR: ‘Fraid the next cab is in twenty minutes. Are you alright with that?
(Realising this means another pint before his cab arrives, Oliver reluctantly accepts).
OLIVER: Yeah, no problem.
OPERATOR: Where y’are goin’
OLIVER: 34 Ryefield Avenue, Penwortham.
OPERATOR: ‘Ow many?
OPERATOR: What’s yer name?
OLIVER: Oliver Monaghan.
OPERATOR: Where from?
OLIVER: Preston Guild Hall.
OPERATOR: Would you be all right in any vehicle?
OLIVER: Minibus please.
OPERATOR: O.K., should be due in twenty.
OLIVER: Cheers mate.
(Oliver replaces handset on telephone then goes to his peers telling them about the 20 minute wait).
Everything is less complicated by Oliver’s supportive housemates. Fortunately for him they understand his differences. They know that if he gets overloaded, they could calm him down. In the next part, we see a slight hitch to the plans. Their cab is more than 20 minutes late and Oliver is panicking.
OLIVER: Such a long 20 minutes… where’s this taxi? (One of his friends, NATHAN, turns to OLIVER)
NATHAN: Give ’em another five minutes, it’s busy out here.
OLIVER: But 20 minutes is 20 minutes, not 22, 25 or 21 and a half minutes. (Another one of Oliver’s friends RACHEL consoles him)
RACHEL: Ollie my friend, there’s no buses till tomorrow. We might as well wait for the cab. We’ve no lectures till Tuesday. Long weekend as well.
OLIVER: (grumpily) Still not happy.
(Nathan plays Running in the Family by the real Level 42 from his smartphone. Oliver becomes more contented. Moments later, a horn is pipped)
NATHAN: Must be our cab then…
OLIVER: Phew. (The driver appears)
DRIVER: Oliver Monaghan…
(The group files towards the minibus).
Many an urban centre is likely to have a public taxi rank and/or a privately owned minicab office. They are usually situated in areas of high footfall such as open market grounds, public houses or takeaways. At busy times, especially night times when buses have stopped running, they can be intimidating as other people try to get taxis home.
The public taxi rank option works best if there’s a steady flow of taxis waiting. Other than that, telephoning for one in advance, in a safe place, is better.
If you was to hail a taxi in the street, make sure the taxi has:
- The local authority’s licence plaques on the front and rear of the vehicle (important!);
- The ‘For Hire’ sign lit up on the kerbside doorway (where the passenger’s front seat would usually be);
- The name of a cab company you are familiar with.
Some private hire companies have their own taxi ranks. Typically this includes the operator’s office, associated radio control equipment to contact its drivers and a waiting room. Usually, the waiting room has a vending machine or two, selling hot and cold drinks, or crisps and chocolate.
For our third social story, we go to the taxi rank of Nova Cabs in West Pilling:
3. Rosie and Michael’s Night Ride Home
Rosie and Michael had an enjoyable night at the West Pilling Community Cinema in St. Peter’s Church Hall. After seeing Brief Encounter their next stop is The Golden Sun takeaway 200 yards from home.
Michael’s partner Rosie tends to be the most outgoing of the two, but she makes sure he doesn’t leave everything to herself. This time, she got Michael on cab booking duty.
MICHAEL: (looking towards the operator’s counter) Hi I would like to get a cab.
OPERATOR: Where to, Sir?
MICHAEL: Golden Sun chippy, Blisham Road.
OPERATOR: There’s one due in five minutes.
MICHAEL: Cheers mate.
(Michael and Rosie take a seat before their cab arrives).
Sometimes, ‘five minutes’ isn’t an exact science. The operator could exceed their expectations if the cab arrives within rather than exactly five minutes. Maybe a minute or two later.
In the cab: the journey itself and tipping your driver
Once we’ve entered the vehicle, sitting in the back seat of the car (or behind the driver in a minibus or Hackney Carriage) is a good place to sit. I would consider sitting in the front seat if you either know the driver or use the cab company’s vehicles often.
On some occasions, the driver may wish to enter in to conversation, asking you how your day or night has been. Whether you get an outgoing or quiet driver varies on whether he or she is available to take you. Whilst on the move, cab drivers may be informed of their next pick up through the company’s radio system.
At the end of your journey, the driver stops the meter. You may choose to pay the stated fare, or offer your driver slightly more. This is known as ‘tipping’.
You may have come across tipping if you’ve been out for a meal. A tip is given to show your appreciation for the product or service that has been offered to you for the person who served you. Alternatively, you could tip to round the price up to a round figure. If the fare is £4.50, and you have no change, you could (if you had a £5.00 note) round it up to five pounds.
If you’re claiming the cab fare back as travel expenses, you can ask the driver for a receipt. He or she may write the amount on the back of the cab company’s business card.
We return to Michael and Rosie’s journey:
CAB DRIVER: That’ll be £3.60 please…
ROSIE: (to Michael) Have you got any change on you?
MICHAEL: (after checking his pockets) £4.00 on me.
ROSIE: Yeah, that’ll do… (Michael pays four pounds in four pound coins to the driver)
MICHAEL: Call it four mate.
CAB DRIVER: Ta very much.
ROSIE: Thanks a lot.
MICHAEL: Thanks. (Both Michael and Rosie leave the vehicle with Michael shutting the door behind him).
CAB DRIVER: Bye…
MICHAEL and ROSIE: Bye…
(The driver’s car leaves with our fellow moving on to the next pick up)
As seen above, the makings of a successful journey. Rosie and Michael leave us at The Golden Sun and hope the Special Fried Rice is up to their exacting standards. Supposing they were to make a return journey a few minutes or hours after their previous journey our scenario is as follows:
(After paying for the first journey, Rosie looks at the driver to book the return journey)
ROSIE: I would like to book a return journey from here to Blisham General Hospital at 10am. Could you do that for me please?
CAB DRIVER: No problem.
ROSIE: Thanks very much.
CAB DRIVER: O.K., see you later…
ROSIE: See you…
For future reference
- Ask friends and relatives to recommend suitable cab companies. That as well as personal experience is a good guide.
- Keep more than one suitable cab company numbers in your telephone’s electronic ‘phone book. Better still if you have a mobile phone, especially when they text you back with details of your vehicle and expected arrival times.
- For important appointments, go for the most reliable company. If you live in an urban area where taxis and minicabs are plentiful, you can do that.
- Work to a conservative departure time if traffic conditions are likely to be heavy. Supposing your journey takes 35 minutes, allow another 10 or 15 minutes for rush hour traffic. Or book for an earlier time to factor late running.
- Splitting the fare among yourself and another passenger or two helps to defray costs. With two people, you could split the fare in half on a single journey. Or, if you need to make a return journey by taxi, you could pay for the outward trip with your partner or carer paying for the return trip.
- If you need to book a return journey, tell the driver to book it for you. He or she will have direct contact with the cab company’s radio system to book your destination.
What is your experience of using taxis or minicabs like? We especially welcome comments from people with autism spectrum conditions, their carers and friends, as well as people without autism spectrum conditions.
This useful guide is based upon my personal experience with minicabs and taxis, both on my own and with family members. My experience is due to shortcomings of our bus network (price as well as frequencies); being ferried in taxis to the late great Ewing School; and post-pub transport (due to the lack of buses of course).
Though not a complete guide, this I would say is complete enough for understanding the basics of using taxis and minicabs. I hope you find the social stories and advice most useful.
S.V., 18 August 2015.