Edinburgh's longest serving cabbie lifts the lid on 50 years of navigating the city's streets
It started out as a stopgap job, but half a century later Allan Moir is still behind the wheel of his black cab, driving the streets of Edinburgh after it became his 'way of life'.
The 75-year-old has seen it all, ferrying thousands of passengers around the Capital, accumulating around 1.5 million miles.
Over the 50 years he’s been caught up in plenty of drama, being spat on, beaten up and almost stabbed.
He has many stories to tell from 50 years driving the city’s streets, none more so than the impressive array of celebrities who have graced his back seat including actress Catherine Zeta Jones and comedian Graham Norton.
He has seen the city and industry change over time, but the constant throughout his career has been his enjoyment of meeting and talking to his friendly passengers.
He said: “It’s hard to explain as a job, it’s a way of life for me. There’s no reason to stay in and I love being out and about talking to people.
Edinburgh has changed a lot but I love it. I enjoy telling people about the history of the landmarks we pass and celebrities who stayed there as you’re driving about. The Americans love it especially. I had two Asians in my taxi the other week, I took them to the Royal Mile, through Holyrood Park pointing out different landmarks and they were delighted.”
Born and bred in Edinburgh, Allan left school to become a telegram messenger aged 15. After three years in the role he gave it up to be a postman, though as a teenager, he found the early morning rises a struggle after a night out with his mates, meaning his mum was left to drag him out of bed.
After a period of time as a civil servant, a friend’s suggestion made him try his hand behind the wheel.
He recalls his first fare on May 22, 1968 driving from Princes Street to Blackwood Crescent, Newington and after an eight-hour shift came away with three pound and five shillings.
He said: “In the civil service I could not stand being indoors all the time. One of my friends told me to get my licence and work as a taxi driver until I got fixed up with something else – I’m still looking for that something else! I never expected it to be a career. I met a lot of good mates over the years.”
The honorary president of City Cabs has a strong passion for where he lives, and it comes through when speaking about his job, which he relishes.
Allan is honoured stars such as Peter Euston, Dame Flora Robson and Alastair Sim have sat in the back of his cab and remembers those days just like it was yesterday.
He said: “Graham Norton was funny. He got in my taxi at the gay bar near the Playhouse at 3am.
“He said ‘you’re not going to like this driver, I’m only going to the Balmoral Hotel. I said ‘it’s alright Graham, bums on the back seat make me money no matter how far you go. He was such a great guy.”
“In the 80s I picked up Catherine Zeta Jones from Stockbridge when she was an item with John Leslie. I picked them up with Grant Stott and his wife. She was very giggly and clearly had a good drink in her. I got a kiss and a cuddle from her when I dropped them off.
“Most of the celebrities are friendly and start talking. You feel privileged to pick them up and it’s a nice feeling.”
But the Hearts season ticket holder’s favourite fare was when he picked up Jambo stars John Robertson and Wayne Foster after the latter scored a dramatic winner in a 2-1 victory over rivals Hibs in the fourth round of the Scottish Cup in 1994.
“I picked them both up and I remember John telling Wayne ‘you’re a legend now’,” said Allan.
Allan, who lives in Stockbridge, was also a keen footballer, hanging up his boots at the impressive age of 59.
He ran and played in a taxi football team for more than 20 years in the 70s and 80s and played each year against London cabbies on the week of Scotland’s first team facing the Auld Enemy.
One match sticks in Allan’s memory in 1973/74 when the cabbies south of the border “stitched them up” when a team of professional players from Chelsea, Arsenal and Tottenham took to the field. Despite this, the Capital amateurs came out 3-1 winners in an unlikely victory.
When Allan began his career as a cab driver there were around 300 taxis operating in Edinburgh, charging two shillings and six pence on the meter. Now five decades later he shares the roads with 1400 black cabs and 1800 private hire cars – one of many changes in the city which are not necessarily for the better in his opinion.
Capital residents expressed their anger at the dire state of some of the city’s roads, with many demanding stronger action by transport chiefs.
A total of 9,342 potholes were reported to the city council in 2014 – but by 2016 the figure had reached 35,329. Between April and November last year, 1,976 per month were reported to the city council, in comparison to the two month period of December to January which saw complaints soar to 2,350.
The father-of-two said: “The roads are in a shocking state, absolutely terrible. When you’re driving along you’re dodging in and out around potholes. You begin to learn where the worst ones are.
“It’s gradually got worse in Edinburgh and it’s bigger repair bills all the time. It’s so annoying. Semple Street is particularly bad, among lots of others.
“Closing the roads and putting in speed bumps causes repairs to the taxi. You have to go into traffic to get anywhere now. Before you used to be able to go from the West End to Stockbridge without going through Queen Street. Things like that have changed which makes it more difficult for us taxi drivers.”
Being a cabbie can represent some challenges, especially when working during the night and transporting intoxicated party-goers.
Allan added: “I got dragged out of my taxi and beaten up in the 70s.
“A guy also tried to stab me in the 90s in Leith. I was picking up a fare at the foot of Leith Walk.
“I remember it was a bright summer’s morning about 2am and I had the window open. Someone people were getting in the taxi at the passenger side and I noticed someone near the taxi on my side. He pointed the knife at me and said ‘this is my taxi’. I turned around and said ‘no this is my taxi, pal’, elbowed him in the nose and took off.”
The pensioner is always interested in the stories his customers have to tell and says many of his passengers have remembered him following their journey.
His longest trip took him from Alloa to Leicester in 1971 – a 660 mile trip with only stacks of magazines for company.
His biggest scoop was when he was handed a whopping £380 in cash after collecting a man outside the National Museum of Scotland.
He said: “Five years ago a guy jumped in at 9.45am on a Monday morning asking to take him to Inverness.
“He said he’d come down for the weekend and got steaming drunk seeing mates who he hadn’t seen in ages. He needed to get to Stornoway at a certain time and it was the only way he could make it on time.
“It cost at the time £380, so I had a few days off after it. He paid me cash out of his back pocket as well so I stuffed it under the seat just in case.”
Allan, who was a founder member of the Drivers Sports & Social Club on Beaverhall Road, now shares his black cab with son, David, with the pair splitting day and night shifts.
Despite being on the roads for half a century, Allan has no plans of quitting, insisting he is able to continue for years to come.
He added: “I passed a medical last year with flying colours so I will keep going for as long as I can and enjoy it.”