OPINION: Take a cab and link into web of active citizens

Geraldine Peacock, a charity commissioner and a civil service commissioner

As I now drive less and cab it more, I have grown to marvel at the communications network of the average taxi driver. Black cab drivers, in particular, are famous not only for their mastery of 'the knowledge' but also for their unique command of wide-ranging contacts and insider info.

The person "I had in the back of my cab yesterday" always turns out to be just the celebrity or politician you have been wanting to make contact with. Everyone talks to taxi drivers and they, in turn, pass it on. This communication not only allows you to learn everything you ever wanted to know but also helps you to spread your messages far and wide in good, plain English.

I have educated more people about autism, visual impairment and Parkinson's disease by discussing them with taxi drivers and giving them stories to tell their other clients than by almost any other method. Mind you, it is vital to make sure that everything has been heard correctly or, as happened with Thor Heyerdahl, things can go awry.

The famous anthropologist was once waiting for a cab to take him to the BBC studios. He spotted a man in a flat cap who looked as if he might be a cabbie and was obviously searching for someone. "I'm Thor Heyerdahl," he said. "Are you looking for me?"

"No, mate," replied the taxi driver. "I've been sent to pick up four airedales for the BBC."

And, at Guide Dogs, taxi drivers played a vital part in the run up to implementation of section 37 of the Disability Discrimination Act, which requires access for guide dogs to black cabs. Drivers became our champions by putting 'Guide dog friendly' stickers in their cab windows and laying the foundations for the requirement to be extended to include minicabs.

It was, and the new requirement will come into effect at the end of March, thanks to Neil Gerrard MP's private member's bill.

Compared with the general public, disabled people travel a third less often, but use taxis and minicabs 67 per cent more frequently. And for many people with disabilities, the local minicab firm or black cabs are not just a mobility lifeline, but the hub of information and social networks too. Cabbies provide much more than transport from A to B - they are 'active citizens' in the true sense of the word.

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