An open letter to the taxi drivers of the world

The TV series  is based on my book of the same name, but I didn’t write the script. And episode 5 is my personal favourite, but I didn’t and couldn’t have come up with the idea to tell the personal story of a taxi driver. That was all down to Tom Ward, the brilliant scriptwriter for the series, who managed to do something I never could……Make taxi drivers human.

So, to the taxi drivers of Australia and around the world,

I’m sorry…

I’m sorry for all the flippant remarks I made about how it’s your fault people are flocking to Uber in their millions and leaving you behind with empty cars and emptier pockets.

“If you can’t adapt to the changing conditions, don’t complain when you’re broke. You only have yourself to blame. Adapt or die, innovate or implode.”

I would have these conversations with passengers at least three of four times a day, without ever once considering the life of a taxi driver, a real person with a family at home and overdue electricity bills mounting on the kitchen bench.

I de-personalised you. You became ‘the taxi industry’, not Mark, or Rajesh, or Mohammed, just ‘the industry’, who could crash and burn for all I cared.

I would drive past you at taxi ranks where you sat alone in the pouring rain for hours praying for a fare, while my passenger seat was never empty for a second. I remember shaking my head smugly and saying to customers, “When do you think the penny will drop? When will they realise no-one wants to take taxis anymore? When do you think they will drive for Uber instead?”

And it’s the last stupid comment, the raw, ignorant callousness of it, that haunts me most. Here I was, a man born in Australia, who speaks perfect English, owns his own car, lives rent-free in Sydney by house-sitting like some 21st-century vagabond, and I had the gall to judge hard-working people without knowing a single thing about them.

I didn’t know their names, where they came from, how many children they had or, the most important point, why they were driving a taxi in the first place. I had boundless opportunities to do anything I wanted in this great country at my fingertips, whereas many of these people I judged so harshly had few. When I finally decided to stop driving for Uber, I knew I could step into a shiny new job with a decent salary overnight. Most of the taxi drivers, the diverse group of people I tarred with the same brush, a high percentage of whom are migrants to Australia, do not have this luxury.

To the people reading this who say, “Why didn’t these fools read the writing on the wall?” I don’t think any of us see the writing on the wall until the ink has dried.

How many of us foresaw Brexit? Or Trump? Or the devastating economic crash of 2008? If you did, well done, because I didn’t.

I remember feeling a lump in my throat when I read an article from the ABC about the closure of the Holden factory in 2017. It read, “The sounding of the end of shift siren at the Holden plant at Elizabeth on Friday, October 20, 2017 means the closure of the factory, and in the end, for the foreseeable future, of car manufacturing in this country. It’s a turning point in our history and an emotional moment, not least for the hundreds of workers walking out the gate.”

When I read this article I envisioned an old man in blue mechanics overalls walking out that gate for the last time, a tear in his eye, a feeling of utter hopelessness and despair swirling in his stomach. I thought about him walking up the steps to his home feeling ashamed, embarrassed, and completely lost.

I felt so deeply for him, so why didn’t I feel this way for the taxi drivers? Why wasn’t he also a fool who should have seen the writing on the wall?

It’s a question I still don’t have an answer for.

This isn’t a plea to start taking taxis again, because we won’t. But it is a plea to put a face to a name, to think about a real person who has hopes and dreams of their own, before we throw them away like yesterday’s news.

We are all just trying to get by in a world that forever keeps on changing.

Ben x

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