Last Thursday night I inadvertently caused a car crash.
After finishing performing my hit stand-up comedy show Independence in the Edinburgh Fringe, I went to the temporary taxi rank on Potterrow to get a black cab back to where I am staying. Now I drive an electric powered wheelchair which means I need the driver to get their ramp out so that I can get in. I work all over the UK and I have found that this not to be a problem for most taxi drivers. Indeed some of my best mates are cabbies. However for some unknown reason, when I approach cab drivers in Edinburgh and ask for the ramp, they look at me as if I've just suggested gang-raping their mother.
Other professions who provide a public service do not get to pick and choose who they serve. There would be an outcry if doctors or firefighters starting being picky about who they would and wouldn't help! So why should black cab drivers be any different?
As a stand-up comedian I've spent a lot of time working in Edinburgh over the years. In fact I've worked here 8 out of the 34 weeks we've had so far this year, equaling nearly 24% of 2016 to date. That's a lot of my cab fares that Edinburgh drivers have missed out on! Indeed back home our local black cab company often say that my wife and I keep them in business. It doesn't take a financial genius to work out that, if you're running a company providing transportation to the public then people with mobility issues are going to be some of your best customers.
Two years ago I was waiting in the exact same place with my mate for a taxi. It was pouring with rain in a way that only ever seems to happen in Scotland. There was so much water running down my face that it was difficult to see. Eventually we did manage to get a black cab to stop by my mate flagging one down whilst I hid out of sight round the corner. But once I emerged, the driver steadfastly refused to get out of the cab to get the ramp out, an activity that would have only taken thirty seconds or less. My mate and I stared in disbelief, soaked to the bone as he drove off into the distance.
Like the driver last Thursday, this driver couldn't even produce the customary medical exemption certificate that taxi drivers are obliged to produce to prove that they are legally entitled to refuse to take disabled passengers on medical grounds. Obviously I've no wish for some poor cabby to do his back in helping me into his cab. But I've noticed that far more drivers in Edinburgh flash me one of these certificates than anywhere else I've worked in the country; and there's no means of checking online whether a certificate is genuine or not. Call me a suspicious Aloysius, but I can't help but think there's a crafty cabby out there somewhere with a scanner and a colour printer knocking out fake medical certificates ten to a dozen. Either that or driving a black cab in Edinburgh has an abnormally serious detrimental effect to your health!
Last Thursday there was only one accessible back cab on the Potterrow taxi rank. But when I approached him, he made it clear that he would not take me because I am a wheelchair user and he was "too old" to help me get in. I asked to see his medical exemption certificate but he angrily said he didn't have one. It's quite difficult to have a conversation through a passenger-side car window when you're sat down, so I opened the side door to try to explain to him that my personal assistant is insured to help me get into cabs so he doesn't need to do any heavy lifting. But before I could speak he flew into a rage and slammed his foot down on the accelerator, pulling out into the road without looking and straight into the rear end of another car!
Nothing like a bit of instant karma is there?
I took a photo of the taxi's registration plate and reported the driver to Edinburgh City Council that very same evening, but four days later they haven't so much as acknowledged my complaint. In contrast, the last time I complained about a black cab refusing to take me back home in Liverpool, the council disciplined the driver within 24 hours. I can't help but wonder whether the council's inability to deal quickly and effectively with these drivers is partly to blame for why the situation is so bad in Edinburgh.
Of course, I do get the odd cabby here who is happy to get their ramps out and take me. I usually uncharacteristically give them a large tip because it makes such a refreshing change. But until more of them see the light and change their ways, I'll stick to the buses.