In Toronto two people were killed in an act of senseless gun violence and today the argument was put forth that had, at least one of, the victims not been denied a cab ride by a taxi driver, that person would be alive today. While that may be true it’s also a load of bullshit, a straw man; the bad guys here aren’t the cabbies, the bad guys were the shooters, period. The argument wrongfully focuses attention on a very real problem with the taxicab business but it is a problem none-the-less and you’re to blame.
I drove cab for years, I worked in the industry for a decade and I’ve seen all its sides in multiple cities, multiple markets. I may not be an authority but I’m not a novice, either. I have spoken to you on the phone, dispatched the taxi you rode in and have driven you to your destination but I’ve also managed the business and have a good idea what things look like inside and, as a customer both before, during and currently, I’m ready to reveal some secrets.
(Photo; below, me as a young man in the early 2000’s)
What if I told you that turning on the meter does not turn off your personal responsibilities? You may expect me to open your door, you may expect me to load and unload your groceries and you may expect me to greet you with friendly conversation but what you’re entitled to, matter of fact, is a safe ride from pick-up to drop off. You may think you’re buying a blowjob but don’t have any illusions here, you’ll be lucky for a handy and how good it feels depends largely on you, both as a customer and as a person. The appointment you’re late for, that’s not my fault – you should have planned better. Your cranky kid kicking the back of my seat is similarly your fault.
What if I told you that a running meter doesn’t mean you’ve hired a personal babysitter slash valet? I’ll grab your luggage, if I think there’s a tip in it or if you’re nice enough to ask me to but when you arrogantly ignore me, leaving your bags on the curb, and stride right into the car as if you own it there’s a good chance your bags ain’t coming with us. The same goes for your groceries or your kids’ stroller. I’m happy to help if you’re happy to be helped.
What if I told you that cabbies make shit, get treated like shit and feel like shit as a result? Empathy is an amazing thing and we’d all be better off if we empathized more. When you greet me with a smile, ask how my day is going, when you’re generally a positive human being, I’ll treat you like royalty. “Would sir like the A/C on?” I’ll ask, “… is this music to your taste, or would you prefer something else? I can turn it off if you’d like.” When you don’t treat me like shit, you’ll get treated like a person. When you treat me like a person, I’ll practically suck you off – such is the depth of shit through which drivers must wade.
What if I told you I wouldn’t let you in my cab because you’re a drunk, belligerent, asshole? This is by far my biggest gripe and the one I see the most griped about by spoiled urbanites on social media. Virtually every time the story is the same and it goes like this: went out, got perilously drunk, called a babysitter or maybe it was a cab. You getting hammered is your responsibility. You’re drunk, I can see that. You’ve had a few too many. We’ve all been there but if you expect me to look after your ruined ass, you’ve got another thing coming. It’s not my job to clean up your puke or to hold my breath as you waft wave after wave of cheap beer breathe my way. If you come into this relationship with baggage and entitlements I’m going to tell you to hit the bricks, baby. You’ll say, “Oh but there’s a thing that says blah blah pay for puke” but you have no idea how few of you drunken morons will actually pay up.
What if I told you that we make peanuts and have to try and maximize our returns per ride? It shouldn’t surprise you that cabbies don’t make a great living and if does surprise you, that should give you pause. When customers bitch about a cabbie being reluctant to take a sub ten-dollar fare it’s because that’s all they see, they don’t see that this might be the only ride the driver gets in a given hour and once operating costs are subtracted he’s made less than minimum wage for it. It shouldn’t surprise you that you get what you pay for, you expect the same of and for yourself.
“The cabbie wouldn’t give me a ride… “ I’ve heard it a thousand times and it is always used as an excuse to alleviate personal responsibility. Sometimes it’s justified because cabbies are just as human as their customers and every now and then you get a crappy one but by and large the majority of the complaints directed at taxi drivers and the cab industry as a whole are as much the fault of the customer as the business itself.
“I’ll take Uber then…” isn’t a solution either, it’s insanity. Here we’re doing the exact same thing and expecting a different outcome. Uber should have been a vehicle to meaningful change instead of a vehicle for personal greed and corporate shenanigans. The system is broken and just patching it with a new version of the same isn’t going to fix anything.
We need to start treating taxi drivers (read; also bus drivers and anyone in the transportation industry responsible for shuttling people about) like humans and paying them accordingly. Have you ever gone to work and it ended up costing you more than you made in the end? This happens to cabbies often, it is a very real fear which drivers deal with almost daily. Lease and fuel costs need to be addressed even before the driver starts making money and in companies which pay their drivers a portion of the over-all take, that portion is often below 50%... all just to guarantee you take something home at the days end.
We need to drop our racial bias. Yes, cabbies tend to be ‘ethnic’ and yes they tend to come from foreign countries. Do you know why that is? It’s not about exploiting a valuable piece of the economy, let me just assure you. It’s about the disenfranchised being relegated to particular economic opportunities. In some areas investing in the local economy is a fast-track to citizenship but only particular avenues are open to those people in terms of that investment and, lo and behold, the taxi biz stands prominent among them.
We need to regulate the industry. The lack of regulation is both the best and the worst part of being a taxi driver. Variously classified as sub-contractors, most drivers aren’t employees of the company they drive for and that’s problematic as it means that drivers have less investment in the success of the company than they do in their own personal agendas. They break down into two major groups (in most major cities): you have drivers and you have owners – both groups need one another yet battle endlessly over lease rates and other operating conditions. There needs to be a fundamental reorganization of the industry as a whole to encourage drivers to be more committed to the company for which they work met with respectable compensation.
We need to stop looking at Uber as an alternative and recognize the damage it’s doing. Uber isn’t fixing anything and it’s making the problem worse in the taxi game. I understand getting fed up and trying the new thing. I understand finding opportunities to exploit the market. I understand these things but they’re both farts in the wind, they won’t change anything. The taxi business is breaking and Uber isn’t the super-glue that is going to solve the problem – it’s just another thing to break and frustrate users.
You have rights as a passenger and they may change city to city, state to state (or province to province), country to country but if you don’t take the time to learn those rights you shouldn’t be surprised when the driver shirks his responsibilities to you. There’s something wrong with the way we treat one another when we expect more of others than we are willing to give of ourselves and nowhere is this inconsistency better illustrated than the service industries. The taxi business is just a microcosm of a much bigger macro-problem and we have within ourselves the ability to create the change we want to see in the world but the fact is that so long as we’re satisfied squabbling over the scraps and fighting amongst ourselves the people at the top won’t have any incentive.
It’s true, a cab ride would have saved that person’s life in the same way that going to a different club, leaving at a different time or maybe using a different shampoo would have saved that life but these are all straw men, wild goose for us to chase, because the problem isn’t with the taxis but with human nature.
What if I told you we have the power to change that, too?