Every cab passenger's got a tale or two about a shocking or unpleasant taxi journey.
And many have shared those stories on social media too, damaging the reputation of the driver or taxi company in question.
While the UK has strict regulations to weed out the worst drivers, there are still some who either flout the laws or offer poor customer service.
So if you're a taxi driver who wants to keep your reputation unblemished, what behaviours should you avoid? And which ones could land you in trouble with the authorities and invalidate your taxi insurance?
Read on for our guide to putting your passengers at ease and boosting your brand.
For a taxi driver, it’s pretty annoying to queue in a rank at a railway station, only to pick up a passenger who wants a short hop that will net you just a fiver.
However, taxi drivers are allowed to refuse to take passengers only in certain circumstances, such as when they want to travel outside the district. Failing to take a passenger on a short journey could lose you your licence.
Better to accept the situation as just part and parcel of a taxi driver’s life, take the passenger with good grace – and hope they give you a generous tip.
Taxi driving, especially in cities, can be a frustrating business. Just one set of roadworks can easily double your journey time.
It’s tempting in those situations to suggest to the passenger that they walk the final stretch. They might reach their destination quicker, and you can get onto your next fare in good time.
However, for passengers carrying heavy luggage, who find it difficult to walk, or who don’t know their way around, those final hundred metres are a huge challenge.
Sure, you can suggest they walk. But insisting on it will gain you a bad reputation.
So you’re picking up passengers from the airport. You can see they’re foreign, lost, and desperate to get to their hotel in this strange city. Are you tempted to take them the scenic route – even though it’s dark?
Plenty of local taxi drivers do just that. Indeed, many tourists suspect you’re doing it even when you’re not, which can be hurtful for honest cab drivers.
These days, with Google Maps on smartphones, passengers are pretty savvy. The best way to boost your fare is by offering an excellent service, not by trying to bamboozle people.
It's understandable that drivers don’t want to wait too long. Each minute spent idling outside someone’s home is wasted as far as you’re concerned.
But if you arrive at a pick-up point five minutes early then speed off four minutes later, passengers are understandably aggrieved and mightily inconvenienced.
Sure, you might pick up your next fare more quickly, and earn yourself an extra tenner. But in the longer term, your reputation and your business will suffer.
Whether it’s extra bags, extra passengers or extra mileage, some drivers will attempt to use them as leverage to gain extra cash. Passengers feel they've no choice but to accept grudgingly.
Unless there's a good reason for these charges and you spell it out at the time of booking, you're going to anger a lot of passengers this way.
Reputation matters – there's a lot of competition out there between taxi firms. So if word spreads that you've hit passengers with an unexpected and unexplained charge, expect your business to suffer in the long term.
It’s understandable that drivers don’t carry a lot of change. You’re in a vulnerable position, and large sums of money could make you a magnet for trouble.
But no change for a tenner for an £8 fare? That’s hard to believe.
As society goes increasingly cashless, more and more drivers are accepting card and phone payments so maybe this irritation will soon be a thing of the past.
The vast majority of taxi drivers are courteous – even when their passengers are not. Some drivers, however, overstep the mark.
If you’re a male driver, you need to behave in a professional manner towards all passengers, but especially women on their own. Even if she’s chatty, she wants to feel safe – that’s probably why she’s taken your cab rather than the bus.
If it’s late at night, or if she’s drunk, then it’s doubly important that you don’t act in an overfamiliar way.
Putting any customer in an awkward position will mean they’re very reluctant to travel with your firm again. If you're persistent or intimidating, you could well find they make a complaint about your behaviour to your boss, local authority – or even the police.
If you’re on the road all day, it gets very tempting to cut corners. After all, you’ll see countless other commercial drivers running red lights and undertaking some very alarming U-turns.
Don’t do it. As a professional driver, you’re already at a higher risk of traffic accidents than most people, simply because you spend so many hours on the road.
Don’t make accidents more likely by breaking road laws – they’re there for a reason, which is to keep you, your passengers and other road users safe.
Stick to the road laws – and make sure you’ve got good taxi insurance in case of accidents.
Passengers don't book taxis just for fun. They want to get somewhere – usually by a certain time.
So if you fail to turn up when expected, your reputation will plummet. That passenger will turn to your competitor immediately, and will tell their friends and neighbours about your failure too.
So invest in a good booking and administration system. Make sure support staff are clued up. And when you say you'll be somewhere at a certain time, make sure you are!
Now this is about more than just reputation. This is a moral and legal issue, too.
It’s against the law to refuse to carry a wheelchair if a passenger needs one. Likewise assistance dogs, unless you are already displaying a medical certificate that shows you’re allergic to them.
You face a fine and the loss of your taxi driver licence if you’re found to have refused to carry a passenger because of their disability.
There really is no excuse. Many cabs are now wheelchair accessible, and if not, you should be able to store the chair in your boot.
And assistance dogs are really not going to cause you any trouble. They're perfectly trained in how to behave in a taxi – which is more than you can say for some passengers!
There’s a fair amount of paperwork involved in becoming a cab driver, so it’s understandable that some drivers just want to get on the road and start earning money before they’re properly licensed.
But doing so could land you with a large fine, and invalidate your taxi insurance.
The law is clear: you are not permitted to smoke in your taxi or mini cab. Even if it's your own vehicle, and even if you are not carrying passengers at the time.
If you need to smoke, take a break and have your cigarette well away from your vehicle.
However, be aware that smoke clings to your clothes. While that's not illegal, many customers find it unpleasant to be in a confined space with the smell of stale cigarette smoke, and might avoid travelling with you again. Yet another reason to kick the habit for good!
As for drinking and driving – it's illegal and dangerous. Don't even think about doing it.
Local authorities have the power to set fares for taxi journeys, though these don't apply to private hire vehicles.
So if you're on a meter, that's the maximum you can charge – and exceeding it puts you at risk of losing your taxi licence.
If you're a minicab driver, you can set or agree your own prices. But unless you're the sole operator in your area, there's likely to be a going price for certain journeys, eg to the airport or railway station.
Setting high prices – or, worse, agreeing one price before the journey and then demanding more at the end – is a sure-fire way to upset your customers and damage your reputation.
And with growing competition from the likes of Uber, you really can't afford to do that.
See our article explaining taxi fares for more information.
Sometimes it makes total sense to see if passengers would like to share your taxi with others travelling the same way. If cabs are in short supply, it can be a massive help for stranded passengers. It also reduces costs for everyone involved, and is better for the environment.
However, not everybody wants to share a cab. They might find it uncomfortable, from both a physical and a psychological point of view.
If you sense that the first people in the queue don't want to share, don't force the issue. It will create bad feeling all around.
Your cab is your livelihood. You should be caring for it: getting it checked and serviced regularly, and covering it with a suitable taxi insurance policy.
From a passenger's point of view, they want to travel in a recently valeted car. They don't want to sit in debris left behind by other passengers, or smell the lingering traces of your lunch.
Of course, at the end of a busy Friday night, your vehicle interior may not be as pristine as when you began your shift. But keep it as tidy as possible.
Tell passengers – politely – not to eat in your vehicle, and ask them to take their rubbish home with them. Take a quick look in the passenger area between rides, and clear out any obvious mess.
It's frustrating that so many passengers leave wallets, glasses, coats, umbrellas and suchlike behind. You can't keep track of every item – particularly not if you're on a busy shift.
But if you find mobile phones, laptops, cameras or anything with an internal memory; personal ID such as passports or bank cards; or large sums of money, you should try to return them or take them to a police station.
Drugs should also be handed in, for obvious reasons!
Other items you should keep for at least 28 days.
Drivers who go that extra mile to reunite passengers with their lost property will quickly win gratitude, and boost their reputation.
When you're giving a passenger a ride, you're at work. So you need to act professionally.
That means not holding lengthy phone calls about your own family or personal business. It means not stopping to pick something up from a shop. And certainly not giving a lift to a friend or family member.
All the above can be disconcerting or intimidating for nervous passengers, many of whom find being in a confined space with strangers somewhat alarming.
Keep everyone happy by separating your personal and your professional lives.
Protecting your reputation can be a complicated business – but protecting your vehicle with taxi insurance is simple.
Taxi Insurer arranges cover for a wide variety of vehicles from a panel of insurers to suit your budget and your requirements.
Benefits can include low deposits and monthly payments, discounts for DSA taxi test, and public and employer's liability.
You may also benefit from a Protected No Claims Bonus, and a Mirror NCB from other insurance policies, depending on certain criteria.
Contact Taxi Insurer today for a quote.