Driven: The Secret Lives of Taxi Drivers

Driven: The Secret Lives of Taxi Drivers by Marcello Di Cintio is a compilation of fourteen stories from all across Canada. Di Cintio concentrated on the subjects outside of the confines of their cabs and thus spared us the seedy stories that one might have expected to find in the cars’ back seats. We learned what brought each man–and a few women–to find his or her career as a cab driver. Some fled unstable or war-torn countries while others needed to make a living while waiting for the wheels of bureaucracy to turn. The chapters that worked best were the shorter ones, as I found the author’s lengthier cabbie profiles to be boring to the point where I no longer cared who he was writing about.

The overwhelming number of cab drivers are recent immigrants. They have to put up with all kinds of passengers, and being in a cab seems to give some of them licence to be openly racist. I never realized how much verbal abuse cab drivers face in order to earn a living. Most of them have learned to ignore it. Di Cintio then exposed a chilling fact:

“A 2012 Statistics Canada report revealed that taxi drivers are murdered on the job at a higher rate than workers of any other legal profession. Even police officers are killed less often.”

On the lighter side of cab driving, I chuckled as each driver told the author his immigrant story because:

“Almost every taxi driver I met who had come from somewhere else, especially from tropical climes, told a similar story of landing during the cold dead of winter. No one ever seems to arrive in Canada in the summer, as if there were an official government policy to cruelly haze new Canadians with weather.”

The best chapter was about the women of Ikwe, a group of Winnipeg women drivers who serve a female clientele. After feeling the abuse and discrimination from male drivers, Winnipeg women had had enough. Ikwe, an Ojibwe word meaning woman, is their non-profit taxi service. I also enjoyed the chapter on Rawi Hage, a driver turned award-winning author.

Di Cintio included a pandemic postscript, to document how COVID decimated the taxi industry. Drivers lost customers and had to work longer shifts to earn the same each day. Cabs were outfitted with barriers and some drivers no longer felt safe handling their passengers’ baggage.

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