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Taxi bosses on celebrities, vomit and breaking stereotypes as firm celebrates 25 years

PUBLISHED: 10:23 16 November 2019

From left, ABC Taxis co-owners Simon Callender, Paul Walker and Dave Hall. Picture: Sonya Duncan

From left, ABC Taxis co-owners Simon Callender, Paul Walker and Dave Hall. Picture: Sonya Duncan

ARCHANT EASTERN DAILY PRESS (01603) 772434

What happens when three people come together to form a taxi company in Norwich?

Part of the ABC Taxis team at their Norwich base. Picture: Sonya DuncanPart of the ABC Taxis team at their Norwich base. Picture: Sonya Duncan

In the case of Simon Callender, Dave Hall and Paul Walker, you end up with ABC Taxis - a firm that employs 250 drivers and this year celebrates its 25th anniversary.

Before the trio came together in 1994, Mr Hall was a cabbie at Beeline Taxis, Mr Walker was at Bestway Taxis - and Mr Callender ran an antiques shop.

But a shared vision united them - and ABC Taxis was born.

"My ideal always," Mr Hall, 67, said, "which has been shared by Simon and Paul throughout, is if you treat people right, they'll respond.

"The image of a cab driver used to be this terrible stereotype of a cowboy or a 'Dick Turpin'. People just really didn't like the idea of a cab driver. They were just seen as bad people.

"We've completely reversed that - people now realise it's a professional job done in a professional way."

More than half of ABC Taxis' fleet of cars is made up of hybrids. Picture: Sonya DuncanMore than half of ABC Taxis' fleet of cars is made up of hybrids. Picture: Sonya Duncan

But the road to achieving that has been far from easy.

Things are going well now for a company which has almost doubled its fleet in the last five years, but there have been times when that looked like little more than a pipe dream.

Mr Callender, 60, said: "It hasn't always been roses. We've had periods in the past where we weren't far from bankruptcy.

"At the turn of the century we had a dodgy period where business wasn't going so well. We had a small amount of money, and either we got more business through advertising on the radio or we'd have to sell some of our cars. We were short of money - cash flow was dire.

"We took a gamble and spent on a radio advertising campaign and, thankfully, that worked. It was a big decision."

Today it's a different story, with the firm thriving, something that Mr Hall said is, in part at least, thanks to Uber.

Directors Simon Callender, right and Paul Walker have been at the helm of ABC Taxis Norwich for 25 years. Picture: Steve AdamsDirectors Simon Callender, right and Paul Walker have been at the helm of ABC Taxis Norwich for 25 years. Picture: Steve Adams

The cab giant is yet to set foot in the city, but ABC were quick to integrate iCabbi - the system that powers the app and ability to take card payments - and now Mr Hall said customers from further afield are calling ABC 'the Uber of Norwich'.

He said: "We did take measure to get ready for [Uber] a few years ago. We went to a conference in Leicester - which I attended in my slippers because I forgot to change - which was all about what to do if Uber comes to your town.

"They gave us tips, one of which was to get iCabbi. It was awful to begin with but now it's really good. People can pay by card on the app and they love it. Thousands are doing it."

ABC have seen 400,000 bookings made on the app this year alone, with around half of all fares now paid by card. Their app is "growing ridiculously", with bookings rising by 40pc year-on-year.

And after 25 years running a cabbie company, it's inevitable there will be some interesting stories.

One such anecdote comes straight to mind for Mr Callender.

ABC Taxis pride themselves on customer service and set out to change stereotypes about taxi drivers. Picture: ABC TaxisABC Taxis pride themselves on customer service and set out to change stereotypes about taxi drivers. Picture: ABC Taxis

"One of our drivers told me that in her first week as an ABC driver, she was helping an elderly gentleman out of the back of her cab - and his leg fell off.

"She was obviously flustered but the man just said 'don't worry about that, it happens all the time'. That's something she'll never forget."

Vomit is always something a taxi driver has to deal with, and Mr Hall claims to have had the worst incident.

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"I was working one Christmas and this lady was in the back. She'd had too much to drink and too much to eat at Christmas dinner - she actually vomited all over my back seat, and in the vomit was her false teeth.

"I took her round to her nephew's house and he took one look at the seat and added to it. I still got paid though so I was happy."

ABC Taxis are a regular sight around Norwich. Picture: ABC TaxisABC Taxis are a regular sight around Norwich. Picture: ABC Taxis

After the last 25 years, the trio would be forgiven for being content with what they have, but they are looking forward to the next step.

"We still want to grow," said Mr Hall, "growth has been thrust naturally upon us, so we might as well try to respond to it and introduce infrastructure appropriately.

"We still don't cover all the work that comes in."

Celebrity encounters

Any taxi company is bound to pick up their fair share of celebrities, but the time a famous face wandered off in Norwich springs to mind for Mr Callender.

He said: "We had to pick up the actor Robert Vaughn from a hotel in the golden triangle and take him to the BBC for an interview.

"We got there just about on time to pick him up, but the receptionist said that he had just wandered off down Unthank Road.

"The driver told the control room that he had wandered off and, as he was doing that, another driver called in to say 'you'll never guess who I've just seen walk into the Tesco on Unthank Road - Robert Vaughn'.

"So the driver went down there and found him wandering around the aisles. He hadn't realised that the clocks had changed and now he was going to miss his radio interview.

"Luckily we managed to still get him there on time, but that was a bizarre one."

'We don't just carry people'

The vast majority of the time, taxis simply transport people from place to place, but on occasion their cargo is a little more unusual.

One ABC Taxis driver had not been at the company for long when he was called to a hospital, where he was taken down to theatre and handed an ice box.

"It was a human organ," he said.

"They gave me a green flashing light - that doctors have - to go as fast as I could to the Little Chef car park in King's Lynn, where I was to meet a rapid response vehicle from Leeds Infirmary.

"I booted it up there and there he was with his blue flashing lights on. He sprinted across the car park, grabbed the box, jumped in and headed back where there was somebody waiting for theatre in Leeds.

"People think taxi drivers just carry people - they don't think what we're carrying sometimes."

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