A Very Pricey Taxi

Picture the scene: It’s 4am; the last tube left hours ago and the only available night bus takes you on a three-hour detour through London’s Arse End.

Walking isn’t an option either,  certainly not in these heels. Instead, you find yourself in the familiar, fogged-up surroundings of a licensed taxi. The radio’s tuned to Magic FM, you’re singing along to Roxette’s It Must Have Been Love with a drunken tear in your eye, saying ‘Ohhh, turn it up cabbie, this song’s the BEST’. The Sat Nav seems to be taking you via Berlin, but that’s ok; you’re too drunk and comfortable to protest. You get home safely, pay the agreed fare, et voila – the night is done.

Or alternatively…you could get in a black cab, watch your fare rise to levels beyond Paris Hilton’s inheritance and die at the hands of a convicted schizophrenic killer. Eek, sorry, I came over all Daily Mail there for a moment. But yes, it’s true, news broke last week that Transport for London are allowing a man who once strangled his wife to study The Knowledge; the black cab test that will one day allow him to take a drunken mess like me home.

Sensationalism aside, this is an alarming bit of news. The 38-year-old man in question can’t be named, but for argument’s sake, we’ll call him Norman. Now, Norman has been released from his mental hospital after committing manslaughter in 2001, and is free to work because he’s ‘no longer a risk to society’. I’m down with that. If the voices have stopped and he’s feeling alright, then sure – give the man a job (though preferably not in a motel). But in my opinion, there are certain jobs that a man with a violent past should not be allowed to do; and driving members of the public around London is one of them.

When I hop in a black cab, I do so because the man or woman at the wheel knows exactly where I’m going and will get me there safely. What’s more, TFL’s rules stipulate that those allowed to study The Knowledge must be ‘of good character’. Our Norman might turn out to be a splendid driver with sparkling nuggets of cabbie wisdom up his sleeve. He might even know how to get from Charing Cross to Waterloo in 3.5 minutes. But does a past that involves once killing his wife really denote a ‘good character’, no matter how reformed the authorities claim he is?

It’s one thing to allow a schizophrenic murderer back onto the streets. It’s quite another to let that person drive the public around those streets. In my mind, London black cabs have a reputation to uphold – and their driver’s trade on it. We already pay a high monetary price for these journeys, but I think the risk fare might just have gone up.

Image by spratmackrel courtesy of Flickr

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