A million miles and still going for Glasgow’s oldest cabbie

Robert has been driving cabs in Glasgow for 58 years. Pic: Elaine Livingstone
Robert has been driving cabs in Glasgow for 58 years. Pic: Elaine Livingstone
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Glasgow’s longest-serving taxi driver says he has no plans to retire.

Robert McLaughlin, 79, has been driving cabs in the Scottish city for 58 years.

Pushing on for a million miles travelled around the city’s streets ferrying people to their work, rest and play, he still drives one day a week and the occasional Sunday shift for Glasgow Taxis.

Robert’s career has been so long it almost reads like a social history of the city.

“Glasgow has changed dramatically over my time in the trade,” Robert says.

“It’s a very nice city to look at now, whereas in my day the Clyde was still heavy engineering.

“The river was busy. Glasgow was a dirty old town, but it’s not so dirty now.”

Robert has defied his age to carry on the job he loves. He recently passed his medical to allow him to carry on driving.

But he says taxi driving is not the job it was when he came into the trade in 1960 – it is now a much tougher environment for younger drivers to make a living.

“The guys working in the trade at the moment are working a lot harder than I ever worked – or my generation ever worked,” Robert, who lives in Mount Florida, says.

“We were going home at one in the morning, with the night shift over. I did 25 years night shift.

“The younger guys now are still working till four in the morning – and sometimes later.”

Robert adds: “When I came into the trade there was only three doors on the car. It was the old [Austin] FX3 … no heaters, nothing at all, just the bare essentials.

“Did it start, did it go? Yes. Was there a meter on it? Yes and away you go to work. But when you’re a young man that’s neither here nor there, you know.”

Glasgow had a reputation as a tough “No Mean City”, but Robert says his experience was far from the stereotype.

He says of Glasgow passengers over the years: “There’s a lot of shouting and bawling, but very, very seldom does it get serious.

“I’ve got enough fingers on one hand to tell you the number of times I’ve had to get myself out of a tight spot. I could always maybe talk my way out of it.

“And the police in those days – I’m not condemning the police now, but the police then looked after the taxis.

“We didn’t have an enforcement unit [as we do now].

“We had police who were assigned to the Hackney Carriage Branch as they were called. They were disbanded many years ago.

“The police when they were in charge of the taxis, it ran like a watch, you know what I mean. They were good at their job.”

When Robert came into the trade as a young man, there was 852 taxis in Glasgow for a city in excess of 1 million people. Now there’s 1,429 hackney cars for 500,000 people.

According to Robert, what makes competition even harder now is the proliferation of private hire cars.

“There is a living to be had now if you are willing to put the hours in, but it wasn’t always like that,” he says.

“It’s not the job it used to be. If you want to eat, sleep and work you will be well off.”

Robert adds: “When I was a young man in the trade we had social events throughout the year.

“We had an angling club, we had a golf club. We had social evenings out – maybe three times a year.

“We would have annual dances and the kiddies’ outing, which is still on the go, but away back then you took a day off or two days off to do your car up. And then two days off to get it tidied up again once you came back. Guys can’t do that now. They can’t afford it anymore.”

The industry has changed in other ways too, noticeably the silence of the airwaves with the demise of radio operators.

“We don’t have voice anymore,” Robert says.

“It’s all screen. It’s all hi-tech. The trade used to be very good because you were listening to a bit of crack over the air.

“If you were quiet, you were driving along, somebody would be on to the controller about something. And there would be a bit of chit-chat, a bit of banter, you know. It was good.

“It’s just a screen now and if you have the need to talk to a supervisor you’ve got to press the appropriate button, then you go into a queue.

“And if it’s a busy time of the day, you could wait for maybe five or six minutes before you get a bit of airspace.”

Robert was asked recently by his grandson – he has nine grandchildren – how many miles he has driven in his time. “I can’t even begin to imagine how many miles I’ve done,” he says.

“I’d hazard a guess – say 15,000 a year – and it’s probably more than that because some drivers are doing 1,000 miles a week now.”