Is it normal for a queue of 40 people to let out a cheer when a taxi finally comes to pick them up in Scotland’s third-largest city?
Thousands braved the bitterly cold February night air to embrace Spectra on Saturday night.
Meanwhile, sports fans watching the Six Nations and dedicated Dons supporters celebrating a victory at Pittodrie helped fill the streets.
And while it was thankfully a dry night, the mood for many was slightly dampened by the long wait to get home at the end of a fun night.
There’s been a lot of talk about the lack of taxis serving Aberdeen recently and news of Uber planning to bring its ride-hailing service to Aberdeen.
I decided to head out to the queues in Aberdeen to find out what people think about the taxi service, how big the different queues really are, and if Uber could make a difference.
Difficulty getting taxis puts people off coming to centre
By 11.20pm the queue on Back Wynd was already snaking its way down past Bar 99, with the heavy smell of vinegar filling the air.
Again, four taxis swiftly pulled up to the rank and I’m pretty sure a man walking down the street jumped into the last taxi, claiming he had been at the front of the queue, but no one made a fuss at that point.
After that, it felt like an age until the next taxi turned up.
In the meantime, I got chatting to Ada Miron who had been enjoying a night out with some colleagues and was now waiting for a taxi home to Northfield.
The 40-year-old said she hadn’t been out for years but was surprised to discover the queues for taxis.
She said it can be difficult to get a taxi in general and it puts her off wanting to come into the city centre.
‘We’re very rarely in town’
Julie Lindsay, who is also from Northfield, said the lack of late-night travel options stops her and her friends from wanting to come into the city centre.
“We’re very rarely out in the town,” she explained.
“We’re never out, but we were tonight to catch up with friends, have a meal and look at Spectra. We went for a few drinks in the pub and unfortunately missed the last bus home so we thought we’d get a taxi.”
However, she said they’d walked around in search of a taxi to flag down and couldn’t get one so joined the queue on Back Wynd.
She finished: “It really is ridiculous.”
Football fans enjoy ease of Uber when following team across Europe
Ernie Morrison overheard me talking about taxis and weighed in on the subject.
The Dons fan said he’s been all over Europe to see his team play and every time he’s used Uber which he describes as “the best thing ever”.
“It comes no problem,” he adds. “All you do is get on your phone and pick the cheapest one available.
“Uber should be in Aberdeen because it’s brilliant.”
The 57-year-old who was waiting to get home to Dyce said there’s been times he’s booked a taxi to get him to football and they’ve never turned up, meaning he’s had to drive himself down in time instead.
Pub-goers leave night out early to try grab a taxi
I watched as a group of four unsuccessfully tried to hail a taxi further up Union Street. The minivan had stopped by the side of the road, and the men were chapping on the window hopefully.
But instead, it swung round to the other side of the street at the 8848 restaurant near Soul Bar where a queue had already formed at around 11.40pm.
Leanne Muir said there’s a “massive problem” with taxis after midnight, and that she finds she always struggles to get home safely.
Tonight, she’s out in a group, but she said they left the bar early to try to beat the queues and get back home to Torry.
She said: “It stops us from wanting to go out in the city, that’s why we’re heading home now because if we stayed even later it [the queues] would be even worse.”
Edward Esson chipped in and told me he’s witnessed arguments in taxi queues and thinks there should be plenty of taxis in a city like Aberdeen to take you home.
“Get Uber,” he exclaimed. “It will make a difference.
“We were in a taxi coming to town and the driver said to us ‘why would I work till night? I make enough money during the day’.
“Something needs to change.”
Which taxi rank is best to wait at on a Saturday night?
As I’m standing there chatting to the group at the rank near Soul Bar, three taxis pass by and not a single one stops. It’s then that I realise the queue, which has about 18 people in it, is moving very slowly.
In fact, the road is pretty quiet with very little cars and buses on it by this point.
Another man joined soon after and said he’d been waiting on Crown Street for about 20 minutes thinking it was still an operating rank.
Mark tells me he usually struggles to get home and doesn’t know where’s best to wait to try to get a taxi.
“It’s frustrating,” he said with a sigh. “I’m out way later than I’m supposed to be but it was my brother’s stagger, and now I’m standing in another queue for a 20-minute taxi ride back to Westhill.”
He added: “Uber would make a difference, I’ve used it in Edinburgh and Glasgow. I’m a football fan and I follow my team and yeah, I think it would make a huge difference.
“Aberdeen needs to waken up.”
Crowds cheer when taxis pull up on Union Street
Rebecca Adams is by herself when she joins the queue near Soul Bar and tells me she often “can’t be bothered” going out anymore because of the lack of taxis.
The 24-year-old added: “It’s a safety issue, I’ve just moved from the queue at McDonald’s up to here because the was an unpleasant experience.”
And once I made sure she was ok, I made my way down to that rank to see what it was like.
As I’m passing by, the queue from Back Wynd has completely disappeared, I can only imagine people dispersed and joined the bigger ranks.
Walking down Union Street I can see there is now a massive queue across the road from McDonald’s and I quickly count 40 people — but it’s steadily growing as more and more people trickle onto the street and join the end.
While trying to count the heads, a taxi pulled into the rank and was greeted with cheer and applause. I guess there hasn’t been a pick-up in a while.
Lack of taxis a safety issue says these Aberdeen mums
Rhiannon Fraser, Rachael Milne and Sandra Thomas have found themselves in the queue after enjoying a night out together at a concert.
They are roughly in the middle of the queue by the time I speak to them at 12.30am, and they say they’ve been there for roughly 30 minutes.
The women all agree that they think Covid resulted in Aberdeen’s lack of taxis, with many drivers finding other jobs during lockdown and not returning to the trade.
But, they also agree that Uber could turn things around as long as drivers have been police-checked.
Rachael says she doesn’t blame the taxi drivers for the shortage, but does worry more about the safety of younger girls trying to get home by themselves.
She said: “I’m in my 40s and I’ve got friends with me, I’m from a different generation and we know to stick together.
“My daughter is 11, in seven years I want to make sure she gets home safe. As parents we’re going to stay sober to pick them up, and at least our kids have parents who can drive and pick them up.
“Imagine if you can’t for whatever reason, if you’ve got a disability or can’t afford a car, imagine how worried you’d be.”
Her friend Rhiannon agreed and said: “Things happen, folk might follow you, or say things to you… you just never know.”
‘People end up stranded out here for hours’
More people hugging their takeaway bags closely, start joining the queue with many surprised to see how big it already is.
I can hear exasperated groups debating whether they should chance moving to a different queue, while others are resigned to waiting it out in the cold.
For 26-year-old Thomas Burt, this is his first time waiting for a taxi home after a night out in four years.
He told me he had been living in town so never had to think about getting home, but now he’s moved back to Newtonhill he has already been reminded how “dreadful” the wait can be.
Thomas and his friend Harry Tremain had been out enjoying a friend’s birthday and even left early to be “sensible” a try to get ahead of the taxi queue.
Thomas said: “Why, as a taxi driver, would you fail to attend this queue? Like, this is where all your business would be tonight and they seem to not care.
“To be fair, this is as good as it’s getting but it’s going to get a whole lot worse, this isn’t even peak time for taxis, and even then we’re still queueing for a significant amount of time. It’s quite disappointing.
“People end up stranded out here for hours.”
Long waits bring out a ‘community spirit’
Harry said most people waiting in taxi queues all feel in the “same boat” so he hasn’t really experienced any unpleasant situations.
He added: “Generally, you get a good kind of community spirit where hopefully if someone is going south of Aberdeen they ask if anyone else is going that way to be efficient. That’s certainly how I would be.”
I must admit I realised that as I chatted with people waiting, I heard others shouting out where they were headed in an attempt to share a taxi.
Whether everyone would feel safe to get in a car with a stranger off the street is a different matter, though.
The friends agreed that Uber would make a difference to Aberdeen, despite what taxi drivers think.
Thomas finished: “Taxis don’t want to see Uber, but there’s not enough taxi drivers. If they want to deflect Uber there needs to be more taxis because look at the state of this situation.”
Aberdeen taxi boss says there is ‘no quick fix’
Russell McLeod, managing director for Rainbow City Taxis, has stressed the company is working on a “sensible plan” that should increase the number of taxis in Aberdeen.
But he warned there is “no quick fix”.
Mr McLeod added: “Having been in the trade for over 30 years, waiting for a taxi late on a Saturday and Sunday morning is nothing new.
“As for Uber, do people realise that private hire cars cannot pick up from a rank, do they understand “surge pricing”?
“As a trade, we have been asking people to plan ahead, [and] those who do have no problem getting home.”