Unlicensed taxis have their own pick-up points
Helsingin Sanomat tested how easy it is to scare up an unlicensed cab in Helsinki on the eve of the Christmas party season
By Jorma Palovaara
A row of taxis in front of the main entrance of Helsinki Ice Hall are waiting for people coming from the sEXHIBITION.
At the same time, a red car with a Russian licence plate is circling the parking lot behind the Ice Hall.
After a few rounds, a group of people stops the car, entering the vehicle after a short negotiation. The dawning Christmas party season cannot yet be seen in any way in the city centre.
Traffic has become livelier, and people are streaming into bars. A few persons are hanging around in front of the Central Railway Station next to their vehicles. The first one says yes.
”I was waiting for a mate, but I can give you a lift anyway”, says a bald-headed Estonian man in his 30s, wearing a neat jacket.
The man stubs out his cigarette, and we are leaving towards Helsinki’s Vallila district, after having agreed on the price of EUR 10.
On the way, the driver mentions that actually Jussi Halla-aho [the outspoken anti-immigration True Finns MP] has a point. In a little while, the same driver is already looking for a new customer.
The photographer and I make a round passing the bars on Iso Roobertinkatu and checking out what happens on Mannerheimintie.
No cars offering rides seem to be around, but at the Central Railway Station, someone offers the photographer to pay for a ride. A middle-aged Finnish man offers to give a ride to Vallila for ten euros.
Police officers standing beside their police van are interviewing an intoxicated couple at the Railway Square.
”We can fine the driver, if we notice that the same car is going around and picking up people. At weekends we have more pressing things to do”, says Sgt. Mikko Hakkarainen.
In addition to the parking lot at the Central Railway Station, unlicensed taxis operate on Annankatu, Mannerheimintie, and Iso Roobertinkatu, according to Hakkarainen.
”They are mainly on call close to the popular bars with no taxi pick-up point nearby. Some of them also serve customers in front of hotels”, Hakkarainen notes.
We will look for a ride in the direction of Iso Roobertinkatu. Lively nightlife creates markets and attracts drivers.
I manage to get a ride immediately. The driver is a young Finnish man with a station wagon. The address is again Vallila, and the price is ten euros.
”Friday is good enough, but Saturday is better. I want to earn a minimum of EUR 50 before I go home. On a good evening I manage to make EUR 100. I am a student, and this way I can get a little extra income”, the driver notes.
The throbbing life of the small hours has started. Party animals are pouring out of the bars.
The unlicensed taxis have their own pick-up points in front of the Central Railway Station, with seven cars in a row. The conduit of Iso Roobertinkatu pushes the customers of the bars to the other end of the street where four unlicensed taxis are waiting.
There are even official taxis around, but the "civilian cabs" are swallowing more and more partiers. Two happily drunk girls are negotiating with the driver a price to the district of Otaniemi in Espoo.
I am looking for the last ride tonight, standing on Mikonkatu next to the Railway Square. I hail a car slowly driving past the bars to stop, but our price negotiations fail to reach a satisfactory conclusion. The driver starts to be worried, as he is afraid of getting caught.
A newish Mercedes turns up.
”At this time of night the fare is EUR 15”, says the driver, a Turkish man in his 30s, who says that he earns approximately EUR 100 to 120 per night.
We both are already tired. I am thinking of my bed, in which I will soon be able to fall. Tomorrow I will be able to sleep long. Unlike my driver.
”Tomorrow is Father’s Day, which is why I will have to get up early. My eldest boy's football team will play against us dads”, he explains.
Helsingin Sanomat / First published in print 14.11.2011
Previously in HS International Edition:
Unlicensed taxis already have regular customers in Helsinki (24.8.2010)
Granting of further taxi licences in Helsinki halted (21.11.2008)
Increase in robberies involving unlicensed minicabs (1.6.2004)
JORMA PALOVAARA / Helsingin Sanomat