This word may be unfamiliar to you, but it is well-known to taxi-drivers in Britain. Here is a general definition.
Non payment of fares – ‘Bilking’
Non payment of a taxi fare is called ‘bilking’ which is an offence under the Fraud Act.
Any customer unable to pay the full fare for their
journey will be returned to the original pick-up point or the local
police station. Passengers must ensure they have sufficient funds
to pay for the journey before it starts, or inform the driver
accordingly. The driver will be happy to give you an estimated fare
to your destination.
During the short time I worked as a taxi driver in Kent from late 1973 until early 1976, I soon became used to the variety of ingenious ways some passengers would use to avoid paying the fare.
Some basic fare-avoidance tactics were obvious to anyone.
Suddenly jumping out of the car at traffic lights and running off.
Claiming to have no money at the end of the journey and promising to bring it to the taxi office the next day.
Offering much less than the amount due and claiming that was all it cost them the previous day.
Fortunately, they were not that frequent. But as a local private-hire taxi using your own car for pre-booked jobs, there was little redress available. Fighting someone for the money was not a good option, and calling the police was pointless, as it was considered to be a civil offence of non-payment of a bill. The more recent changes that made it an offence were not law at the time, and the police in Kent would never have considered attending an address to enforce payment of my fare.
However, it was the more talented fraudsters that could cost you the most money. Often employing elaborate scams, and being so convincing, I was frequently left having to admire their talent, despite being out of pocket.
One morning, I was asked to attend the office of a respectable local Estate Agent. As I stopped outside, a well-dressed man walked out. He was carrying a heavy box, and turned in the doorway, calling out “Goodbye, Anita. I will see you later”. The young woman inside waved to him as he got into the back of my cab. He asked to go to Lewisham Town Hall, a distance of around nine miles. On the way, he told me that he was taking a box of papers to the planning department, as the Estate Agents were acting for the builders of a new development in the Lewisham area. On arrival, he asked me to wait, and to take him somewhere else after.
The man reappeared some twenty minutes later, minus the box. He got back into my car and asked me to take him to Westerham, a small town in Kent. This was a further fifteen miles to the south, and I guessed it would take around an hour, in traffic. When we got to Westerham, he pointed at an Estate Agent’s shopfront, and said he was going in there before returning to the place where I had picked him up that morning. I couldn’t park close to that, but found a space at the other end of the shops, agreeing to wait. By now, the fare due was considerable. Including waiting time, it was almost fifteen pounds, and in 1974 that was equivalent to around £150 at today’s values.
After thirty minutes, I went to have a look through the window of the shop, and he wasn’t in there. I went in and asked for him. As I didn’t know his name, I described his clothing and appearance. The young man inside nodded. “Oh yes, he was a potential buyer. He asked for a leaflet about one of the houses in the window, took it, and left”. I walked back to the car realising I had been conned. The man had obviously wanted to get to Westerham, and had staged a really elaborate ploy to get a free taxi ride without making me suspicious. No point wasting any more time, so I drove back to the original Estate Agency in Bexleyheath where I had picked him up. I wanted to know if he had any connection with that company.
When Anita had finished a phone call, I asked her about the man, without telling her he had bilked the fare. “Oh yes, he was nice. He came in carrying a box, and was asking me about a property in Bostall Heath. He said if I could ring him a taxi he would go and look at it from the outside, then come back in the same taxi to arrange a viewing over the weekend if he liked the area. When he didn’t come back, I presumed he didn’t like the look of the house Why? Was there a problem?”
I told her he had left a pen in my cab, and I was going to return it. I was too embarrassed to tell her the truth.