By Clive Turner
Driving in Cyprus is an experience we talk about endlessly. And an experience it certainly is: vehicles with – apparently – no indicators and definitely those with only one headlight or brake light working. There are cars which park facing the traffic on the wrong side of the road and up on the pavement with headlights left flashing while owners go shopping. The classic the other day was a vehicle storming up the motorway on the wrong side towards the oncoming traffic, a visitor unused to our ‘keep left’ practice?
And then there are the small children standing in the footwells risking their lives in the event of even a modest shunt and babies unsecured in their mothers’ laps in the front passenger seat. And the unbelted drivers, the sandwich eaters, and the phone users, all on the move.
Now I accept the considerable difference in the accident potential of speeding motorists or motorcyclists (even those many without helmets) compared with vehicles travelling desperately slowly. But the regular frustration of following an elderly expat gentleman doddering along who never has a clue there is anyone behind him and leaves one to guess if when and where he will turn off can be dangerous, because it can lead to impatient and dangerous driving.
I sometimes wonder what experience and qualifications driving instructors offer. I hope and trust it is all top notch. But with the recent corruption scandal at Paphos’ transport department where it is alleged that examiners are being bribed for the issuance of a pass, there is justifiable concern about just whom is being let loose on our roads.
And then there are our taxis. I am expected to refer to their operation as a profession. No lesser standard of social or educational level will do for them. As a trade association they are up there with doctors, lawyers teachers – you name it – all those who train for years and years to gain qualifications to serve the general public. And, yes, the cars these days are clean and shiny. And their accident rate is low. There are many taxi drivers who are delightful, caring, interesting, fair and careful. But there are still too many with a disinclination to turn on the meter unless prompted.
We are one of the very last countries to witness the anger of the taxi business now low fare buses are available to get people to and from airports, when this form of transport has been a given for decades almost everywhere else people travel.
It is simply ludicrous that taxi drivers should consider they have a sort of God-given right to convey us from place to place without any form of competition save for our own vehicles. And even those are pounced upon if a taxi driver thinks we are using our own cars to ‘steal’ his trade at the airport when it’s noticed we are meeting a friend or family too frequently for his liking. And, yes, that pouncing has actually happened. But to be entirely fair a few unlicensed people have certainly been caught acting as taxi drivers.
Meanwhile, their Mercedes behemoths bully us and swish past on the motorways at speeds which would soon earn a ‘normal’ driver a ticket very readily. Have you ever seen a taxi pulled over for whizzing past a police speed trap under a motorway bridge? No, I thought not. I know a taxi driver’s time is money but isn’t the law supposed to prevail equally for us all?
The most outrageous remark I’ve heard was when a taxi driver grossly overcharged a tourist and then expected a tip, explaining that times were hard, with fewer fares, so he had to bump up the charge when he did get a customer. What kind of economic lunacy is this? No wonder the tax driver community receives little sympathy – and public derision.
But dear reader, we should not despair. Cyprus compares remarkably favourably with many other countries, particularly Italy, and if you have ever driven in Tokyo the relative calm in Cyprus is simply incomparable.