Jane Jacobs, 44, is a black cab driver. She lives in Orpington, south-east London, with her husband Jakey, a facilities manager, and their eight-year-old son Ted
Getting up for work is so much easier in the summer when it’s light. My alarm goes off at 5.30am every day, but I’ve been a cab driver for 11 years now so I’m used to it. I shower, blowdry my hair and get dressed – I usually wear a pair of capri trousers with a shirt from Gap or Zara. I leave home at 6am and turn my cab light on as I drive into town. If I’m lucky, I’ll pick up a passenger on the way. I usually head to south-west London, as it’s busy in the mornings, but after that I don’t have a set route – I go wherever my customers take me. Between jobs I park up and have breakfast, either cereal and milk that I bring in a special bowl or Pret porridge.
When I first started there weren’t many female drivers so I used to get comments like: “Shouldn’t you be at home peeling the potatoes?” or jibes about women drivers. But now there’s great camaraderie. I don’t feel unsafe driving; I keep my door locked and if I’m unsure about someone, I don’t pick them up. If anyone is argumentative or rude, then I ask them to get out. It helps that I work the day shift – even at Christmas, when it’s really busy, I only work until 10pm – so I’ve had very few drunk customers and just two people who ran off without paying in the whole time I’ve been driving.
I’ve just become a driver for the new taxi app Hailo, which lets you hail a black cab via a phone. It’s revolutionised my business – it gives me the choice of taking a job if I can.
“At Lunchtime i take a break outside the cab, I’ll park up and go shopping at Selfridges”
At lunchtime I take a break outside the cab – I’ll park up and go shopping at Selfridges or Marks & Spencer. And sometimes I get lunch from the original green cabmen’s shelters on Pont Street. Cab driving appealed to me because I’ve always enjoyed driving and I wanted to be self-employed. I started out by renting a cab, then after nine months I bought my own for £30,000. It was like my baby! People think cab drivers make a fortune; we’re not rolling in it, but we do well. One of the best things about the job is the flexibility – I don’t need to get time off to attend my son’s sports day or volunteer at his school. It can get lonely though. I had a regular customer with a broken leg who I took to work each day. We became friendly – I saw her the other day so I stopped for a catch up.
It took me three years and nine months to qualify as a black cab driver while working full time as a legal secretary. Early on weekend mornings I’d wrap up warm and drive around on my moped, learning the 400 cab runs I needed to know to pass The Knowledge, the official qualification for black cab drivers. I had to sit numerous multiple-choice tests and answer tough oral questions, leading the examiner through the various routes verbally. It was really challenging to remember it all – I’d wake up in the night to go and check street names on my maps.
Whether or not I chat to passengers depends on my mood – if I pick someone up from the Heathrow Express I usually ask where they’re from, or if they’re heading somewhere unusual I chat to them about that. I don’t get lost but I’m sometimes asked to go to streets I don’t know; I don’t trust GPS so I look it up in the A-Z on my iPad – it’s the cabbie’s bible. My favourite routes are through Holland Park – the houses are so beautiful – and over Albert Bridge. I’ve picked up quite a few celebrities over the years including Timothy Spall and Gary Lineker, but my career highlight was when the British Tourism Authority took 20 black cabs – my cousin Jill and I with 18 male drivers – to Europe to promote tourism. It was amazing to see the cabs driving together through France, Belgium and Holland.
It’s not all plain sailing. Finding loos is the bane of my life! I often put on a pashmina and shades to pop into a nice hotel. The traffic drives me mad too – it’s getting worse, with the digging up of the roads and constant closures. The taxi driving doesn’t stop with my working day. I usually get home at about 5pm, cook dinner then ferry my son to football, karate and swimming. Around 9pm I finally get to sit down on the sofa then I’ll watch British dramas or documentaries like 56 Up before going to bed at 10pm, ahead of my early start.