Magazine article The Spectator

Real Life

Magazine article The Spectator

Real Life

Article excerpt

My local minicab firm has installed an auto - mated booking system. This means ordering a taxi now generates so much bureaucracy that I have to factor in an extra ten minutes to my morning routine so I can process all the red tape.

It is no longer a case of simply ringing up and speaking to a bored-sounding bloke with a crackling headset. Now, a snazzy recorded message by a movie-trailer voiceover man set to elevator musak greets you with a series of suggestions about where a cab might take you and gives you a lengthy mission statement explaining that the aim of this mini - cab firm is to deliver you to your destination in comfort and safety (as opposed to carting you about in agony and peril), that they have developed a groundbreaking in-house database, also for your comfort and safety, and that they are CRB-checked and follow tried and tested lost property procedures. . .

you guessed it, for your comfort and safety.

Eventually, you get through to a human being who takes your order pleasantly enough, but after that the text messages start. The first is to thank you effusively for your booking, give an estimate of the cost and remind you where you are going. A few seconds later another text tells you that the cab has been dispatched and gives you exhaustive details as to the colour, make, model and engine size of the car.

When the cab arrives, another text tells you it is outside, reconfirms the make and model and provides a number should you wish to contact the driver by phone.

At the very moment this text arrives, the driver calls you on your land line. As my mobile is usually in the bedroom and the land line in the kitchen, I have to keep the cab waiting for ages as I run between phones trying to pick up all the messages the arrival of the cab is generating, thus keeping it wait - ing so long that more often than not it just drives away.

I wouldn't mind if all the bureaucracy improved the service, but it doesn't make the journey any more efficient or polite.

Take the driver who picked me up from Heathrow the other day. After a lot of musak and three scrupulously polite text messages, I was met at Terminal Five by a battered silver Toyota driven by a man with a religious - ly motivated beard who looked me up and down and told me with a hearty laugh that he intended to take me to Pakistan 'after we are married'. …

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