The trials of being a town cabbie

Taxi driver Stephen Buckley with the Gazette's David Sharman.
Taxi driver Stephen Buckley with the Gazette's David Sharman.
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Four people, sprinting for all their worth along the cab rank at Blackpool North station, jump in the back of a taxi.

“Drive! Drive! Drive!”, they scream at the obliging cabbie.

As he pulls away an unkempt man in a dirty looking blazer bangs on the back of the car.

“Don’t let him in!” shout the passengers, almost certainly under the influence of something.

Martin Smith, who has been driving for three decades, doesn’t question why his new wards were running, or why the man should be barred entry.

He just drives.

This is only the start of what Martin calls “a quiet night”.

They’re the only form of public transport offering a door to door service, despite facing abuse and worse from customers.

So I decided to spend a Friday night getting a first hand glimpse at the often dangerous reality of being a Blackpool taxi driver.

The evening begins innocuously enough with Martin’s colleague Stephen Buckley, a wily old hand at this game now fed up of the weekend drunks who see taxi drivers and their cabs as fair game for abuse, vandalism and assault.

Tonight is Friday, and Stephen won’t be working the risky rat run of Blackpool town centre in the early hours.

When asked what those risks entail, he is almost nonchalant.

“Just some brawls.

“I’ve had bottles thrown at the cab and banging on the windows. My main concern is damage to the cab.

“You can sit on a rank and all of a sudden someone can come up and kick it.”

Such vandalism, and the resulting costs, can have a profound effect on takings in a market place which is becoming more crowded as people seek what is perceived as easy work in tough economic times.

That said, the camaraderie found among his fellow cabbies is undoubted, and there is no rivalry or quibble about who gets the biggest fare.

“It’s just like one big happy family,” says Stephen.

“We all get on and we can have a laugh.”

And with that, he calls it a night, heading home to his family in Squires Gate.

Martin, who is working through the night, is more cynical.

“You’ve got to be insane to do this job,” he declares.

It’s easy to empathise when he reveals the number of times he’s been abused, the time he was punched in the face, or the time a colleague was stabbed.

“The poor guy had a mental breakdown in the end, he ended up getting a divorce, I don’t know what he’s doing now,” says the 54-year-old, from Staining.

“It’s a downright dangerous job and with the way things are now and the price of alcohol, drugs are more prevalent.

“Drunks are fine but with drugs they can turn on you like a wild animal.

“I just try and blank out all the things that have happened to me.”

Most of the fares Martin safely delivers to their homes across town are well-mannered, if a little tipsy.

But the undercurrent of potential violence is ever present each time he returns to the Queen Street rank.

One man approaches the car, unable to speak, his mind addled with a dumbfounding substance almost certainly acquired illegally.

Martin enquires with impeccable politeness if he needs a lift home.

The man holds Martin’s gaze for a couple of seconds, punches the side of his cab and moves on.

More revellers tap the car and flick obscene gestures at Martin while he attempts to manoeuvre his way through hoards of kebab wielding stags in poorly printed T-shirts emblazoned with tacky, crude nicknames.

But regardless of all of this, Martin’s genuine compassion for those in his care comes across in each and every journey.

He offers them the same courteous “good night” before warning them to mind their head as they leave.

“We do care for them and we make sure they’re OK, we have a responsibility to keep them safe.”

Perhaps it’s time the men and women who get people to the comfort of their homes night after night received a little more of our respect for doing just that.

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