I can’t explain it, but I never identified with taxi drivers. And not just DeNiro in that movie.
Maybe it was a combination of terrible driving and seemingly abstract refusals to take me anywhere outside the District.
But now, I’m starting to see taxi drivers with some pity: like indentured servants or unhappy lawyers with student loans. They can’t get away from their jobs.
By signing on with a company, a driver pays a certain sum, say $100, every day. They also lease the car from the company, pay for gas, pay for upkeep, and pay for any repairs. The fares they collect they keep.
But those fares are increasingly being paid by credit card. Unlike New York City cabs, which all feature a credit card payment option, DC cabs rarely accept credit. And drivers who do accept credit cards are even more recalcitrant to accept plastic than small business owners: credit cards cost them (not the company) 8.5% off the total fare. 8.5%! That’s almost ten percent of the fare flying out of the driver’s hand because I don’t want to carry cash.
And I shouldn’t need to carry cash for taxis; DC should institute credit cards in taxis, with the credit card fee split between the cab company and the fare.
Drivers outside downtown DC work mostly by collecting APBs from a call center in order to pick up riders. Any failure by the driver to pay up on his company debt results in call stoppage. So if they aren’t paid up, they can’t take on any new fares. Now it’s a debtors’ prison metaphor. These guys don’t seem to get a break.
Twelve and fourteen hour days are normal. My most recent ride to BWI for an early morning flight landed me a talk with a jovial Haitian driver, saving up for a trip home. He’d been getting up at 3am to pull fourteen hour days, saving up for his ticket, but was still paying for repairs on his car after being hit by a drunk driver in a hit-and-run.
So, the next time a cab driver sideswipes you in the bike lane or takes you the long way home, remember, you can learn a lot from the drivers. They can ruin your night, but the night’s much longer for them than it is for you.