The Fast & The Spurious

In the creeping march of reality catching up to Science Fiction (specifically, in this case, see the “Nosedive” episode of Black Mirror) I was… well, conflicted isn’t the right word…. maybe “given pause for thought” about a private hire taxi rating.

A couple of months back m’chum Jules and I used her phone app to summon a private hire car to get back to my place after a long day working at one of Bristol’s FINEST whisky festivals. We started off home, and the driver casually mentioned that he needed to stop for fuel. No bother – there’s a Shell right at the start of the M32. I glanced over his shoulder at the fuel gauge and noted that it said he had 4 miles of fuel left. It’s not a position I’d typically let myself get into following some *very* variable range gauge readings I’ve experienced in the past, and so I tend to start getting a little nervous if I see the needle drop into the bottom 15-20%. I remarked aloud that 4 miles was cutting it a bit fine, and sensing he was rumbled he explained it was a loan car, and the fuel efficiency was different to what he was used to.

We arrived at the Shell only to see a row of cones out across the driveway, and this very much changed the complexion of the trip – from one of the easygoing relief of being on your way home from a long but rewarding day of talking to people about whisky, to sitting in a stranger’s car on a motorway with no idea of whether it would sputter to a halt at any moment.

He casually said “Oh, there’s another one up just off at your exit”, and we sat in the back with me doing my best to appear reassuring to Jules that we were, in fact, going to make it.

Arriving at the 2nd garage, the cones were out there as well – but the driver had decided that it wasn’t going to stop him and he ramped the kerb & drove between the cones and the barrier, then went in to the counter to beg the attendant to let him fill up. I saw some fervent shaking of head, and some exasperated body language, but in the end the fuel was dispensed and we made it home.

I suggested to Jules that she give him no more than 3 stars, because to me a taxi running out of fuel isn’t an oversight, but a fundamental failure in being able to deliver the one service that they’re being engaged for their competency in. She demurred, and after some heavy debate over whether to give him 4 ended up giving him 5, on the rationale that his rating affects his livelihood and companies will deactivate a driver that drops below an average of 4. I’ve long held that giving people a rating of 5 as a minimum grade of competence is a terrible idea, but this appears to be the way the system is geared now. Moreover, if you’re actively bad and/or negligent at your job and someone reports it to your boss it doesn’t seem unreasonable to expect some kind of repercussion.

So anyway, that was in the forefront of my mind the other day as my Mum and I were in an app-summoned private hire car heading towards Bristol Zoo. The driver appeared to be going a little faster than ideal, and from where I was sitting I was able to glance up and notice he was doing 35mph in a 20 zone.

20 zones are a tricky thing, what with the “normal” residential speed limit having been 30 for so long, and while *my* preference is to drive at the posted speed (because I resent having to hand money over to people to go faster, given the vanishingly small gains the speed affords you), I could understand that he might’ve not realised. We caught up to some cars doing 20 and he menacingly tailgated them and we passed about 4 speed limit signs, so my initial forgiveness gave way to just thinking he was a prick.

As we approached the Old Market roundabout he appeared to want to get to the Zoo more urgently, getting us up to 40 on the straight and then flying around the roundabout and into Old Market St at about 45mph.

So, when we got home I reported him to the taxi company for dangerous driving.

The reason for this post I suppose is just to register my cognitive disconnect, because it’s true that at the time I could have told him to slow down. When the cab app company phoned me back they asked if I’d taken any photos as evidence, and I said that I didn’t think that was appropriate as it might have distracted him – and surely the whole point of having app-tracked taxis was that journeys could be inspected after the fact if need be.

So on the one hand I *could* have asked him to slow down – but if he had, would the social contract then still be that I give him 5 stars? And would he mark *me* down for criticising his driving? Was it partially my fault to put up with a circumstance and say nothing, then complain about it afterwards?

On the other hand – he was breaking the law, and doing it while acting in a professional capacity.

As it happens, I couldn’t actually give him the 2-out-of-5 rating I was going to, because the app was being weird and not letting me in to score that ride. So I just went through the “Support” route and reported him.

The crux of this is – I don’t know whether I’m supposed to feel bad or not, but the reality is I don’t.