Arkadi Koluntz is one of the owners of Leidse Taxi Centrale (LTC), a private taxi service that operates a small fleet of vans and luxury sedans in the Leiden area. Calm and philosophical, Arkadi doesn’t particularly enjoy driving. But he does enjoy interacting with customers, and he spends much of his time behind the wheel listening to their stories and thinking about life and his role as a kind of confidant to his customers. Arkadi, 33, lives in Leiden with his wife and two young children.

 Arkadi emigrated to the Netherlands from Armenia in 2000. He’s been driving a taxi in Leiden for the past eight years. “I’m originally from Armenia, I’ve lived here already 17 years. I came here as a refugee. I came … to avoid the army, the Armenian army. Two years is the [military service] requirement … I came to the Netherlands searching for a better future. And after one year staying in Dordrecht I came to Leiden.” 

“There was a refugee center based in Leiden, and so I came there and I started my study in Leiden … at the LSA, it’s a kind of college. I was then 16 or 17. So first, of course, I learned the language, and it went quite OK, because I liked the Dutch language, and it made it easier to me to roll into the society.” In addition to Armenian and Dutch, Arkadi speaks Russian and English. “I got [Russian] from school when I was in Armenia, back then everyone needed to learn.”Arkadi’s mother and brother are still living in Armenia.

“To be able to work here in the Netherlands, you must have permission [from the] state. I didn’t have it about for about seven or eight years. For seven, eight years I had only one thing to do, learning the language and studying. And … all was paid by the government, so that was perfect for me. I kept studying and studying. And when I got the permission [to work], I directly went to a shop … and I started working there. And after a few months I didn’t like it … It was a shoe shop with clothes and that kind of thing. And after that I went to another shoe shop, working there as a manager. It was in Zoetermeer called Dolcis. So after I experienced a little bit of being a manager, somehow I realized that I couldn’t stay with this, it was not the thing I really imagined … So after that I went looking for work … My nephew was already working in the taxis, and they said come over and see if you like it.”

“When I started with the taxi driving back then, I basically did it only for the money. To survive for awhile and then to find out what to do, to buy some time, just for that. So after I got into the business, first of all the money I could earn made it interesting for me … But after two years of going in this rhythm, I found out that [driving a taxi] became very monotonous. I found out that, OK, if I earn more money somewhere else and I still don’t like it, I will [find myself in the same situation again]. I will find it monotonous and not interesting anymore. So after that I really started to analyze myself while I was working. And then I found out there is one important thing I really like, but I didn’t know it before. And that is the interaction with people. Meeting different people every day.”

“When I compare the conversations I had with the clients at the [shoe] shop it was like ‘hello, how are you doing.’ But the conversations I sometimes have [as an LTC taxi driver] …  that could be a very deep conversation. Sometimes people really lose some heavy weight without [being aware of it]. And why do they do that so easily? The topics they talk about [are sometimes ones] they shouldn’t or couldn’t talk about with their family easily. And it comes out so easily [in the taxi].”

“And sometimes I do carry this information. It is heavy. And sometimes it is nice. (laughs) … I should say I am comforted by the information people give. And somehow it is so related to my personality. I don’t know how it comes. Does it come by nature? But this part makes [the job] very interesting to me.”

“And of course there are things I don’t like about the taxi. Mostly I don’t like driving the car. But this interaction [with customers] and the pleasure I take in it is so much that this minus is OK for me. I don’t even pay attention to this. [The customer interaction] gives me a big punch of energy. And of course the pleasure translates into quality [of service], even if you are not aware of this. What you do with pleasure you do it well somehow … And for me every day when I’m getting into the car … it becomes my part. And I like this part. And how did it come that I accepted this? Because I liked this way of discovering myself because it gave me pleasure.”

Freedom from family and societal expectations. “That’s my topic these days … When I became aware that I was having pleasure in my work [as a taxi driver], I asked myself if [I was living up to the expectations] of the people who know me and the people who know something about me. And if I were to ask them about their expectations and where they would like to see me, that would be something very abstract. But if I listen to my voice and my heart, then it goes against all expectations around me. And sometimes it makes me stop and think … that I really have to be strong to keep going, and to keep doing what I’m doing. Because society expects [something different]. But if I look at [other] people and how happy they are with their work,  the result is maybe not that much. So I’m having trouble not listening to their advice and what they expect of me, but also to accept that as something that is correct and healthy for me … If I’m having pain somewhere I’d rather listen to the advice of the doctor and not to the one that is having the same pain.”

“There are some people around my family who are quite happy [about] what I’m doing. Because of course they see that the work I’m doing has a big influence on my personality. And they do realize that is positive.”

“When we are doing something, we are making choices. This comes from a few sources. And the sources most of the time are the expectations from our society … So once we make the choice to study to become a doctor, maybe that is because society feels that being a doctor is a very safe situation … But after awhile [being a doctor] becomes monotonous for some people. And these people start to get disturbed by some questions. And they start to realize that all the choices they made are because of the expectations of the society where they live. And some realize it is too late to do something else … If I’m satisfied with my work day and I come home and have positive energy, it is linked to everything. Everything is linked to everything. And when you are an unhappy person, it is very important to learn why.”

What to do with the customers’ stories: “I realize the important thing to realize before I would ever think of writing down these stories … is that all of them are unique to me. All of them. Because every time I take this information, it makes me a different person … It gives me a shape … Maybe when I get enough shape then it will be the time to write something down … When you open the doors, of course, then it happens.”

Even if Arkadi won the lottery and no longer needed extra income, “I would keep driving. I would really keep driving, and especially on the weekends. I would not like to lose that part of my personality.”

Arkadi wishes more people were free “from expectations of society, and [instead to have] expectations from yourself. You might after all dare to do something you like. That is one of the general problems in our human development, that we don’t dare to do and say and be the person we like … if you want to dance, then go and dance. And in [the Netherlands] you have freedom to dance in the way that you like to dance … But if you dance, you need to dance without thinking about your expectations. Because then you break through the wall and you break to the other side of reality … Once you dare and you break through this wall, then you see, ‘ah, that was it.’”

“So my advice is to dare … if I want to be a dishwasher, I don’t dare to be a dishwasher because my society doesn’t see me as that. So what happens? I begin not doing things I like. I make myself unhappy because society sees me doing something else. So I don’t want to make myself unhappy. I dare to listen to what I like.”

“If in my work the people like me, and accept me in the way I like to present myself, it gives me happiness. It helps me to discover my good sides. And the thing that helps the most is to talk to people, to feel free. Even about the thoughts that you find tricky to talk about … If you do this and it’s related to your work, it’s perfect. [My work as a driver] gives me a perfect chance to do that. Without expectations of society, just with the expectations of my heart, just listening to my heart. That’s what I like to do.”

Information about LTC Taxi, including rates and reservations, is available at

Peter & Calvin

Peter & Calvin