We’ve all been there — it’s 3 a.m. on a Friday night and sobriety abandoned you hours ago. To make matters worse, you’re stuck on Richmond Row watching cabs picking up your peers left and right. In such a situation any passing car willing to provide you with a lift home will arrive with the sound of a heavenly choir.
It’s not hard to see how people in such a situation may fall victim to London’s so–called “bandit cabs.” Having avoided paying the astronomical costs of a secondhand taxicab licence — well over $100,000 — these drivers float around the downtown looking for potential customers who are willing to sacrifice safety for convenience.
But of course it isn’t hard to see why there’s a market for such a service. With the post–bar crowd notoriously impatient and many cab company phone lines tied up after 11 p.m. on a busy night, ugly fights spring up for any available transportation. These issues only escalate on nights with high student turnouts like Charity Ball and St. Patrick’s Day.
One could argue a solution to this problem would be to open up more cab licences in a city — a seemingly elegant solution except for the fact the higher volume of cabs is only really needed three nights a week eight months a year.
There’s also the issue of cost. Though London is comparable to other cities, when offered the chance to halve the cost of a fare, many riders will take the cheaper option. More so if alcohol has been affecting the “good decision–making” part of the brain.
After all, taxis are strictly licensed for a reason. Beyond insurance liabilities, licences ensure cabs are kept to a regulated standard. Drivers are screened for the protection of passengers, and licensed cabs have safety measures to ensure drivers aren’t taken advantage of by passengers who don’t want to pay a fare.
There are also other options. If students opt for a late–night bus service in the upcoming referendum, the busing may be able to alleviate much of the congestion visited on Richmond Row.
And finally, it’s hard to gauge exactly how large of an issue “bandit” cabs are. Though London’s bylaw enforcement office is happy to talk about a crackdown, there has only been a dozen arrests in slightly over a year. Yes, the enforcement officers should be commended about being vigilant about potential future problems, but they shouldn’t be making mountains out of molehills.
—The Gazette Editorial Board