My job: Taxi driver goes the extra mile

By Angela McCarthy

Name: Gary Bennett
Age: 45
Employer: Corporate Cabs
Salary range: An owner-driver can expect a turnover of about $100,000 a year, depending on the level of work available and how many hours they want to work
Qualifications: School Certificate; Transport Service Licence, driver's licence P endorsement

Gary Bennett. Photo / Ted Baghurst.
Gary Bennett. Photo / Ted Baghurst.

Describe what you do.

I provide taxi and limousine services mainly to corporate clients but also to the public. We cover the Auckland region. Occasionally clients require us to drive them further afield.

Your work history?

I worked in the IT industry for 12 years as an account manager and I used to be a client of this company. I would often speak to the drivers about their job and the lifestyle appealed. The professional attire, vehicle and clientele were key components.

What skills do you need for this job?

You need to have an impeccable driving record, interact confidently with others and be personable.

What's the most challenging part of the job?

Getting to client pick-ups on time with Auckland's traffic congestion issues.

Best aspects of the job?

You don't know where your next job may take you. I enjoy meeting people and having interesting conversations, in particular with our friends from across the Tasman - I regularly have to defend our sporting prowess.

What's the most unusual assignment you've had?

I once picked up a pizza from a top Auckland restaurant and delivered it.

Any advice for others thinking of becoming a taxi driver?

This job gives you control over your working hours but, like any job, you get out of it what you put in. You need to have a strong work ethic and self-discipline.

Working hours and days?

The legal maximum is 13 hours a day, followed by a 10-hour uninterrupted break, but no more than 70 hours before having a minimum 24-hour break. My hours vary, depending on my clients' requirements or what I have planned away from the business. The flexibility is one of the reasons I enjoy being an owner-operator. However, it could mean working Friday and/or Saturday nights.

What would a normal working day entail?

The jobs are a mix of corporate and private clients and vary in terms of distance travelled. I mainly work afternoons and evenings. Once I start my working day, I'm assigned work by the central operations team. Because a high percentage of Corporate Cabs jobs are prebooked, we tend not to spend much time waiting at ranks. By law, we must take two 30-minute breaks in our working day. I tend to take longer breaks during quieter evening periods. This is part of my "work smart" theory.

Do you supply your own car?

Yes, either a Ford Fairlane - which I have - or a Holden Statesman. The company has a partnership with Holden to increase the drivers' use of the EcoLine range of vehicles, which are more fuel efficient.

How does providing a service to corporate customers vary from other taxi services?

For all our clients, not just corporate passengers, the company has strict protocols. For example, when booked, we arrive at the point of pick-up five minutes before the required time. The meter starts only when the client enters the vehicle or five minutes after the booking time. There is a perception that we charge much more than other firms but this is not the case. We meet and greet our passengers at airports, we carry their luggage, open and close car doors. Our cars are required to be in immaculate condition, we carry umbrellas for our passengers, the day's newspaper and a selection of magazines.

What do you do if you have an "undesirable" customer - maybe someone who has had too much to drink?

A driver is not obliged to accept all fares. There are laws that ensure the driver and client are protected at all times. But we rarely have to deal with the undesirable element.

What training does a taxi driver undergo?

Corporate Cabs uses a company called PassRight which takes new drivers through the New Zealand Transport Agency licensing requirements. This takes up to eight weeks and, on top of that, we have a four-day induction with Corporate Cabs which covers the standards and etiquette expected. I am one of the younger drivers - many in our fleet are middle-aged and older. The job requires maturity, a focus on professional standards, a calm manner and an ability to relate to people from all walks of life.

How do taxi drivers know which are the most direct routes to areas?

The Land Transport licence requires us to pass an Area Knowledge Certificate, which tests drivers on suburbs and streets and also on how to get to locations by the best route. Corporate Cabs prefers its drivers not to use GPS devices but other companies use them. Many of us have lived in the city for a long time and know the arterial routes like the back of our hand.

Do you think companies provide enough security for their drivers?

Our business model of mostly prebooked customers is great for driver security. The company knows whom we are picking up, their address and phone numbers. All cars have an alarm which alerts the operation centre to anything untoward.

- NZ Herald

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