In the few years I’ve driven a taxi, I’ve witnessed the evolution of the typical cab customer: from the old standard of cash-paying clients, to plastic paying ones. The cabbie’s hatred of plastic has cast a negative shadow on the industry. A fare is a fare, and all cabdrivers should happily accept your credit card (I don’t care how my customers pay me), but I think it would be helpful to understand why paying with plastic can break your cabdriver’s heart.
A cabdriver’s operating costs are around $50,000 or more each year, assuming they are a legal, licensed and insured business. Broken down, that would be about $20,000 for gas, $26,000 for the cab lease, and rest is miscellaneous ( car washes, city licenses, and out-of-pocket upkeep). Assuming a cabbie works 6 days a week, 52 weeks of the year, he or she will have to earn over $160 a day just to cover operating expenses. So next time you cringe as you watch the meter climb, know that there are real costs behind that meter.
We get paid in three ways:
With certain cab companies not paying their overages on account customers, and with banks taking 5% off the top, that leaves the driver with fewer resources to meet the bare-minimum of their operating costs, much less to pay their bills. Keep this in mind the next time a cabbie looks deflated when you offer your credit card in payment. For me it’s all the same, but I’m not fare to fare like some.
At the end of the day, all cabbies are in the service-industry, which means we need to offer what our customers want in order to be successful, but my advice to people is that if you liked your driver, had good service, and can pay cash, you should do it. I’ve also observed cabbie behavior long enough to have seen that cash paying customers get better service, and get cabs quicker. Cash paying customers are worth their weight in paper-gold.
My heart skipped a beat when I saw a jail run pop up on my taxi's computer screen, but not for the reason most would guess. I’d lay even-money that most would think that a female cabdriver getting called to a jail late at night would be afraid, or, at the very least, hesitant about taking the fare. Not me. I was excited. A little known fact about jail and prison runs: they are often both fascinating and lucrative, especially the ones in the outer suburbs. Are they risky? A little, but I find that the payoff far outweighs the risks. Besides, people getting out of jail aren’t typically in a hurry to go back, so the biggest risk is getting there and the fare is gone, robbing me of gas, time, and a potentially great story, but what fun is life without gambling now and again?
When I arrived at the Washington County Jail, I saw an elderly woman shuffling out of the shadows, her walker scraping across the pavement. My thoughts began to swirl: why was she in jail? DUI? Domestic assault? As she struggled into my cab, she directed me to Willernie, a small, less-than-affluent community in the underarm of Mahtomedi. A thirty-dollar fare at best-- not what I was hoping for.
Having been around the block a few times (I am allowed one cabbie cliché), I asked to be paid up front, wary of being stiffed. When she told me that her husband was waiting for her with “a duffle bag full of cash” to pay for the ride, my imagination started working overtime. Elderly woman. Walker. Jail. Willernie. Duffle bag full of cash. Maybe she was an up and coming meth cook molding herself in the image of Walter White? Or maybe she was just a crazy old lady who was trying to scam me. I didn’t know which option to prefer. The more I thought about it, I came to realize that the likelihood of an elderly woman with a walker opening the door and sprinting from my cab before she paid her fare seemed to be far-fetched. Funny, but far-fetched. That’s not to say I haven’t been scammed by elderly folks. It happens more often that you would think. Shady knows no age restrictions.
Despite my hesitation, the thought of a duffel bag full of cash had piqued my curiosity. The promised bag of cash (that I imagined with spray painted with dollar signs on the outside) had so captured my imagination that I decided to take a chance. I shifted my cab into gear and began driving towards Mahtomedi.
The ride was, in and of itself, uneventful. I learned within the first few miles that my customer was slightly crazy—which I have to admit was not even a little surprising, but the questions about what a woman her age was doing in jail and how she came to possess duffle bag full of cash kept swirling in my mind.
We rolled to a stop in front of a house that could be more accurately described as a shack, or perhaps a shanty, happy to be one step closer to collecting my fare and writing this story. Much to no one’s surprise, the door was locked and she did not have a key. Motioning to her walker, she told me to walk around the house and bang on all the windows to wake her husband up. For those of you who think that cabbies do nothing but sit on our ass all day long—think again. Unless you know a cabdriver personally, you don’t know a tenth of what we actually do.
Focused on getting my fare, I began walking through the overgrown yard, trying to avoid the trash, old tires, and scrap metal that was strewn about as if to add to the trailer park ambiance. After a couple of minutes of banging on windows and trying to remember when I had my last tetanus shot, I heard the muffled sounds of someone grumbling, swearing, and stumbling towards the front door.
The moment of truth—would I get paid, or would I be left to hope that an attractively single police officer would arrive to file my complaint?
When the door opened, the couple began swearing at each other, locked in the throes of passionate, trailer-park reunion. I was able to steer the conversation towards the duffel bag-o-cash, as I became more and more convinced that its existence was a myth of Easter Bunny sized proportions that was told to innocent cabdrivers in order to con them into giving a free ride. After asking his wife where the bag was (how does someone lose an entire bag of cash?), the man disappeared, and I followed the woman into the home. Minutes later, the husband reappears with a worn and faded duffel bag, (minus the spray painted dollar signs, much to my personal disappointment) and drops the bag on the table.
Stacks of hundred dollar bills were peeking out from within. It was true. The bag did exisit. Did they win the lottery? Were they on the run? How did they get this much cash! The more I thought about it, the more I came to realize that, if any of my suspicions were true, I really don’t want to confront them about it. I decided that it was best to collect my fare and be on my way. Afterall it was none of my business.
“How much?” The husband asked. The last I had seen my meter, it read thirty-dollars. He handed me two twenties and asked for change, which I gave him, expecting the customary tip for services above and beyond your typical cab ride.
He gave me exactly thirty dollars, or, more pretentiously, a zero percent tip—far below the industry (and Chey Cab) standard. I left, cash in hand and a question worth pondering: how exactly does an elderly couple in Willernie with a shack for a house come to possess a duffel bag brimming with bundles of one-hundred dollar bills? It is a question best left to the imagination.