Thursday 12th August 2021 – Vol 001 Edition 00006
By Jim Campbell
Thomas (Tom) Byrne
Most of us, at some stage, had reason to hire a cab, whether it is to go back and forth to work or the social night out on the town. Taxi driver entails several duties, tasks, and responsibilities towards helping their passengers get to their destinations safely and timely. Such responsibilities include ensuring passengers’ safe and timely conveyance to their goals; helping their passengers load and unload their luggage, especially when the load is heavy or when the passenger is carrying children and needs assistance. My ‘Day in the Life of’ series today focuses on Carlow taxi driver Tom Byrne.
Tom operates his taxi service in Carlow, a town that stands at the confluence of the Barrow and Burrin rivers. Tradition has it that the junction of the two rivers once formed four lakes, and the name ‘Carlow’ means Four Lakes. At the 2016 census, it had a combined urban and rural population of over 24,000.
“When you come out of the army you have to try and find your feet”
On a wet miserable Monday afternoon, the rain was dancing on the windscreen of Tom’s 2017 Hyundai Tuscon. We were stationed outside of Carlow Railway Station, I gave my feet a rest while the driver gave me an insight into a day in the life of a taxi driver.
Originally from Enniscorthy in County Wexford, Tom spent nine years in the Curragh Camp in County Kildare. On exiting the army life in 1987, the Enniscorthy native was quick to point out, “When you come out of the army you have to try and find your feet, I spent nine years, and you be kind of ‘army domesticated’ you could call it.” Tom was quick to feet his feet and commenced driving coaches and trucks, working for well-known bus companies like JJ Kavanagh and Bluebird Coaches. For the last twenty-three years, he has been driving taxis around Carlow and owned his own taxi company at one stage.
The cabbie primarily operates on the night shift. “The night usually starts between five and half-five in the evening; as you go to the train station and bus depots in the town for people coming from Dublin, that would be kind of your start.” With the capital only approximately seventy-five kilometres from Carlow town, it is easy for commuters to travel to and from the city center via bus or train for work or shopping trips. “This normally keeps you busy up until about seven.”
“From seven till about nine, you would be collecting people bound for the town”
“From seven till about nine, you would be collecting people bound for the town, heading for a drink, food, or maybe to go out to the pictures or whatever.” Depending on the night, this can be one of the cabby’s busiest spells. Making sure people get to the dinner reservation on time or maybe someone visiting a loved one. Then there is the late shopper who only gets the time to shop in the evening for work reasons. On a given day, the taxi can be very busy with little time for a break.
Whenever possible, it is after the rush hour that Tom makes time for a break. From around ten onwards, people are heading home after their evening out, staff returning home from work. Depending on how busy it is, the prime time will take the cabbie up to two or three the following morning. “Keep working until everyone is gone. No point in sitting there doing nothing; most people are gone by three o’clock.”
“I love people, I love the banter”
On the challenges facing taxi drivers- “High maintenance is a massive issue for the taxi industry today. The cost of insurance, diesel, and the maintenance of the vehicles can be very costly.
Street work can be good, but it also can be tricky.” The cab driver explained that it could be problematic when doing the street work, especially when it is difficult to see who you are picking up on the wet nights. “I always wind down the window and assess the customer, get an idea of what’s going on, before you let them in. But in fairness, 99.9% of clients are just good people who need to go home. But it is like any game where you work late into the night; there is always the dodgy one.”
“I normally crack a joke about the wife. Everyone laughs at the ‘wife jokes'”
The thing that Tom loves about his work is the people. “I love the people, love the banter. And it is the variety, the different people, the sad, the happy, the elderly, the young. Everyone has their little stories. I get great banter out of people. I find that I can get people laughing quite quickly. A long journey can be short if you are with a good customer. I normally crack a joke about the wife. Everyone laughs at the ‘wife jokes'”.
“Be familiar with their territory”
Many people depend very much on their taxi drivers, particularly the elderly and the young people. “I had on many occasions parents ringing me and asking me would I make sure that I pick their up sons or daughters.” Overall, in the main, taxi drivers are very caring. Looking after the elderly very well; making sure there are home safe, at times helping them if they are unsteady on their feet and bringing their shopping into the home.
I asked Tom about the type of customers he would be carrying in his vehicle. His observation was quite interesting. “You would have ordinary people, shop workers, restaurant workers, waiters, barmen, bookie workers. You would meet so many different people and get such a variety of fun doing it. And even when you pick up people who are tired and worn out after their day, if you can smile, share a little auld joke. Be familiar with their territory; if it’s a barman, try and be familiar with his work and a person working in a bookie office or a shop. A lot of them are delighted to hear that you are interested in what they do. Try to be positive with people, treat them the way you would think you should and how you would like your family to be treated, that’s important. You will find that it is gratifying.”
Tom believes that it is not a job for a young person; the hours are unsociable, it can be challenging work and very expensive for an inexperienced driver. A job ideally suited for a person from their late thirties up with a bit of maturity. It would be best if you were streetwise.
His advice to people who want to become a taxi driver is to get their license and sign up with a company that rents a car. Work for that company for a year or two, see how you like it. This way, you don’t have the expense of renting a car, maintenance, insurance, taximeters, etc. You will get the experience, and you will know after a year or two whether you like the work or not. “Don’t go rushing in and borrowing forty thousand to buy a good car, borrowing another ten thousand to insure it. If you get three bad weeks in a row, you are under pressure. If you go to most big taxi companies, you can rent a car with work for a small fee per week depending on what you want. The beauty is that you haven’t got that considerable expense. You are not under pressure paying big money to lending institutes.
My thanks to Tom and Chris Byrne for their contribution in making this blog. Very much appreciated
All Images and Original Text © All Rights Reserved – Jim Campbell 2021
About the author
Jim Campbell is an Irish photographer, freelancer and photojournalist. Campbell has being contemporary photographer for more than two decades.
A native of Wexford town in the south-east of Ireland, Campbell studied photography in the Dublin Institute of Technology before going to work with a newspaper.
Since 1998 he has been working with local and national papers in Ireland and the UK. His work has appeared in publications globally including newspapers, magazines and online publications.
In 2013 Campbell made his first of what would become many trips to the conflict areas of the world. To observe more on Jim’s work vist the link to his website below.