Why you can't find out how much a taxi driver earns
Updated: Nov 1, 2021
Rule #1 of taxi driving, never tell anyone how much you make.
Probably the biggest gamble I ever took was to endeavour on The Knowledge of London.
Okay, I was only 24 years old and didn’t leave a fancy career or well paying job to fulfil this ambitious task that takes an average of 3-5 years.
But unlike most professions or jobs, you can’t easily ascertain how much a cab driver earns, in facts dependant on area and who you ask, the figure can fluctuate massively!
I was fortunate in that, I came from working minimum wage for a company, at a certain time, certain place, expectations, uniform etc. At least jumping into taxi driving, working for myself in a city that I enjoy, I should hopefully be able to clear minimum wage. I’m glad to say, that since achieving my green badge in 2017, my minimal expectations were met.
As a YouTuber and someone who wishes to pave the way for future generations of taxi drivers. I was very clean to change this age old tradition of not sharing income. Okay yes it’s not a very British tradition to share income statements, formally or anecdotally. But in the interconnected world and multiple hustles that exist, I wanted to at least understand why cabbies would not be so keen on sharing this.
I came up with some hypotheses.
1. Tax implications
One assumption is that cabbies don’t like to disclose earnings in any form is the idea of undeclared tax. In decades gone by taxi driving has been a cash heavy industry. With some drivers very slow or reluctant to accept credit cards. TfL has made this a standard across all London taxis, with licensing action enforced against drivers who refuse this method of payment.
On one side of the coin, I accept that drivers should be allowed to accept cash, and the idea of forcing every driver to take credit card is a strong statement. But the standardisation of this, I would argue has saved the London Taxi trade.
In a post covid world, the majority of my takings in the taxi are via credit card. Let’s face it, the gross majority of the population is paid by bank transfer, cash is an outdated and antiquated system. Card is certainly more convenient (though not necessarily quicker or cheaper). Despite this, the unwritten rule of “don’t talk about the money” is still alive and true.
2. Turnover is vanity, profit is sanity.
Being self employed there are a lot of costs before we can actually take a cut we can call our own (profit). If you’re not used to the concept, it’s this simple formula:
Income - Expenses = Profit
Income (turnover, how much money you actually take each day in the taxi)
Expenses (the cost to run your taxi, business, savings for taxes etc)
Profit (what’s left over, what actually goes in your back pocket)
Sounds really simple, but for me personally I only gravitate towards the profit (and to some degree expenses as I can control those). There’s no value in having astounding turnover, if your expenses equal your turnover (you will be left with 0).
But alas, not everyone is me, and some people will happily talk turnover to give themselves that little boost.
Speaking of expenses
3. Every driver is different
Whilst we all drive the same vehicle, work in the same geographical area and licensed by the same authority (TfL), London cab drivers are all self employed and work entirely for their own schedule.
Want to crank out 90 hours a week? Go for it? Retire and want to chip away 20 hours across the week? You can play it exactly how you wish.
Therefore there is no set standard cabbie wage. We all work off the same metered rate, so unless drivers are accepting private work at a negotiated rate, we are limited by the meter. Therefore it becomes an equation of, hours in equals money out. The longer you work, the more money you earn.
Some drivers may have paid off their cab, so their expenses are a lot lower, meaning that they can generate the same profit as someone working twice their hours. It’s really hard to quantify everyones individual circumstances.
4. Respecting other drivers
The other problem with sharing income is respect for other drivers.
If I was produce an annual profit figure for non drivers to grasp their head around (hypothetical or accurate), I get one camp of drivers saying “wow that’s ridiculous, you must be working 90 hour weeks to make that kind of money”.
On the other side of the coin, you have drivers who will profess “that’s minimum wage, I easily earn double that, you must be doing the job wrong”.
If we were able to produce a chart across the taxi industry, I would like to believe the variance between driver profits could easily be £40,000+ if we consider some of the examples above (1. Driver with very low expenses, high rate of work, vs. Driver with very high expenses, low rate of work).
I earned my taxi badge so I could have a better quality of life, not to become a leather arse by working every hour of every day. For some drivers, it’s about having a sustainable living so they can enjoy time with the family. For others it really is all about the money and they are willing to trade their living hours for
I earned my taxi badge so I could have a better quality of life, not to become a leather arse by working every hour of every day. For some drivers, it’s about having a sustainable living so they can enjoy time with the family. For others it really is all about the money and they are willing to trade their living hours for.
As humans we objectively fantasise over the numbers, one of my first jobs I earned £3.50 an hour. I soon worked out that if I could work 10 hours I’d have £35. 100 hours and I could buy a new bike. We often forget about the sacrifice involved to reach the larger number at hand.
This is exacerbated even further with taxi driving; “what? You earned x just for sitting and turning a steering wheel?” When really it is a non-stop job, something I’ll cover in a future blog post.