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Drunkards, VIPS, and Suspects: Tales From Two Decades Driving St Andrews' Taxis

St Andrews native Ryan has spent over two decades driving local taxis. But no two days have ever been the same.

The longtime taxi driver has picked up celebrities, golf superstars, and even a student with a knife protruding from their hand. He’s driven rich golfers to places he wouldn’t mention and taken odd requests to drive to the cemetery at midnight. “I don’t ask questions”, Ryan said. “I just drop them where they want to go.”

Plus, “students have a tendency, in this town, to get really, really drunk”, Ryan said, noting that he’s had some grim encounters with drunken wanderers. But even with his job’s occasional downs, and with Uber and private hires pushing out taxi drivers in some more cosmopolitan areas, Ryan said that he’s confident he’ll be behind the wheel a while longer.

“I wouldn’t do it anywhere else. I am just used to what I do. I know every single street in this town. I know every single farm”, he said. “There is not anywhere that you could ask me to go that I wouldn’t know […] It’s just years of practice.”

Ryan grew up in St Andrews and attended Madras College. In his 21 years in the local taxi business, he has spent the past 10 years with the largest taxi business in St Andrews, Golf City, which has a fleet of 22 cars.

“It’s unique driving a taxi in St Andrews because it’s very international here”, Ryan said. “There is a massive difference in the kinds of people I get to speak to, which is quite cool. You learn some new things and get told some exciting stories.”

Sometimes, that includes talking shop with VIP passengers, including famous actors like Jamie Dornan from 50 Shades of Grey, Hugh Grant, and famous golfer Ernie Els.

“I’ve driven with a lot of different famous people”, Ryan said. “Especially during the Dunhill time… Some of them are really nice and will chat. Others are a bit more quiet.”

Hugh Grant, in particular, is a “very quiet individual”, Ryan said.

“Which is fine”, he said. “I am a professional. I don’t push on anything. I don’t ask for autographs. Everybody who gets in my car is the same as the next person.”

In contrast, Ryan said that Ernie Els is “one of the nicest men” he’s “ever met.”

“His family is lovely too”, Ryan said. “He just chatted away. Some of them are really friendly; some of them are really reserved.”

But some interactions are less pleasant—especially when they’re with students fighting to keep their balance and keep from catching the spins late at night.

“A lot of the taxi drivers refuse [students] because they are drunk”, he said. “I try to help as much as I possibly can […] to a certain degree. I don’t want my car to get sick in it.”

Sometimes, Ryan has to ‘help’ for more dire reasons. “I picked up a student one day on Market Street. He was going to the hospital, and he came out with a knife stuck through his hand”, Ryan said. “It came out the other side.”

Next: Ryan is anxiously anticipating Raisin Weekend. “Raisin weekend has been interesting over the years”, he said. “I have seen many students doing many different types of things”, noting that he once watched a group of freshers push a car around the St Andrews town as many as six times as part of their family ritual.

Along with transporting students and celebrities, Ryan also interacts with a lot of the rich golfers who come to St Andrews. Although, in recent years, golfers have been steering away from taxis and hiring private cars, he said.

Part of the reason for the decline in demand? Discretion. “I can’t tell you too much because I could put myself in a bit of an issue, but I can tell you that I have taken some golfers to places that they shouldn’t have visited”, Ryan said.

But Ryan isn’t worried about competing with more discrete car hires, or even car services like Uber, which taxi companies have been struggling to keep up with in many cosmopolitan centres. “St Andrews is too rural for Uber”, Ryan said. “They would not make any money through here.”

Starting at six in the morning, Ryan now works a 10 hour shift, typically getting off at four in the afternoon. Unlike gig economy workers, such as Uber drivers, who rely on temporary independent contractors wages, Ryan said he values his steady salary and employee relationship with Golf City. “It’s been a set wage, set hours”, he said. “No worries.”

Plus, St Andrews is unique, both for the people and the drivers. Drivers need to be prepared for driving on busy city roads and through more rustic scenery. That makes the kind of experience-based service taxi cabs provide all the more important. “Compared to anywhere else, I think our work is a lot more rural. We go on roads that are small”, he said. “Our trips are also a lot longer than they would be if we were in a big city.”

Work is also more consistent throughout the year in St Andrews compared to larger cities, which he said gives established taxi services leverage over competitions. “St Andrews is a very special town. It’s its own little bubble. I think the quiet periods are a lot less than they are anywhere else,” Ryan said.

During summer, the town gets especially busy as tourists and students start to flood the three streets. “I interact with a lot of students, and tourists as well. Especially in the summer months when they are all mixed together. It becomes a lot of work to get done in a short space of time”, Ryan said.

A lot of that work entails airport trips. Ryan said that he goes at least once a day. Other major trips include to and from golf courses and the train station, but there are always some strange requests.

“I’ve been asked to go to a cemetery at twelve o’clock at night before”, Ryan said, “which was very odd.”

During COVID, the taxi industry in St Andrews struggled, and they continue to do so. Fewer and fewer taxis are available, he said. “I think the hardest thing for people at St Andrews nowadays is that there are not as many taxis available, even though there alot of companies and plenty of cars,” he said.

Like many businesses, recovery since the pandemic has been hard. “When COVID happened, a lot of guys didn’t come back. There was no real support”, Ryan said. “It will be easier in the winter to get a taxi. When the summer is in full swing, it is really hard to get a ride.”

If anyone is to catch a ride with Ryan, he said he invites them to strike up a conversation with him.

“My favourite part is the people. I love talking to people. I love getting to know somebody,” he said. “I feel my service is probably the best part of my job.”

It’s Ryan’s connections with his passengers that explain why he’s been on the job as long as he has, and why he has no plans to park his responsibilities anytime soon.

“Everyday is different”, Ryan said. “That’s why I like it.”

Illustration by Mya Shah

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