Taximen, or “cabbies” as they are often called, are by and large a friendly lot. At times they have interesting and unusual experiences, which might be said to be one of the dividends of their occupation. For example, they get to meet many so-called celebrities, noted musicians and government officials, as well as other interesting people from many walks of life and various lands, and often they are able to engage these in conversation. Such experiences had by taximen ever since 1907, when gasoline-powered taxicabs first made their appearance, might well fill many a book.
Long before taxicabs came into use, the jinrikisha was popular in the Orient. It was a light two-wheeled vehicle pulled by a runner between two shafts, much as a horse would pull a buggy. It usually had a top to protect the passengers from sun or rain. Once very popular, it has been declared illegal in many Chinese cities on the ground that ‘human horses’ are undignified. It has largely been replaced by the pedicab, a three-wheeled cycle, which, in turn, is being replaced more and more by taxicabs.
Taxicabs in Western lands have greatly increased since their introduction in 1907, some 150,000 operating in the United States alone. Of this number some 7,000 medallioned or licensed yellow cabs operate in New York city.
Almost all taxicabs have taximeters, although in some cities a zonal arrangement governs the rate taximen may charge. A taximeter is a time-mileage registering apparatus to compute the fare while riding and while waiting. It also records total receipts for the cab owner’s information.
The Taximan’s Wages
“Why did you choose to become a taxicab driver?” a family man who has been driving cabs for ten years was asked. “Because that is the quickest way I know of to make a dollar, and it is very interesting work, especially if you like to talk.” It must be profitable, because of the high cost of medallion or license to operate a cab due to the number of cabs there being strictly limited.
Each city that licenses cabdrivers has its own regulations. In New York city to become a taxicab driver one must be not only a licensed car driver but also one without a serious prison record, and to get a job one must usually be able to furnish three business references. He must become fully acquainted with the Hack Driver’s Manual, upon which he must take a test. Among the things he is supposed to know are the locations of leading hospitals and airports. There are also rules governing the use of the radio, what he may and may not refuse to carry; also he is not supposed to ask before a person enters the cab as to where he wants to go.
It is said that a firm operating taxicabs usually is very helpful to one who wants to become a cabdriver as they often have more taxicabs than drivers. Helping to make up for this shortage is the trend for women to become taxi drivers. But why should there be a problem in recruiting taximen when the wages are quite good and the work interesting? Why? Because of the challenges associated with driving a cab.
The Challenge of Accidents
When working, a cabby must be on guard, especially against youths driving cars, who often are even more prone to take chances than is the taxi driver and who account for more than their share of accidents.
Then, too, people jaywalk. Will the cabby see them in time? On a busy Manhattan street on a rainy evening a woman stepped out on the street in spite of the stoplight and right into the path of a taxicab driver. He slammed on the brakes but could not keep from knocking her down. The police exonerated him from all blame; still the shock was so great that he quit being a cabby; he did not want to go through another such experience!
The Temptation to Violate Traffic Rules
Closely related to the challenge of accidents is the temptation to violate traffic regulations. The temptation is great to beat the traffic light, to cross an intersection just as the light turns red in order to get one’s passenger to his destination in the minimum time. Or when a person hails a cab on the other side of the street there is the temptation to make a U-turn when such is not permitted. But cabbies can drive carefully. One cabby in St. Thomas, V.I., told that in ten years of driving a cab he had yet to receive his first ticket for traffic violations.
Of course, had he lived in some large city such as New York he might have got a ticket in spite of all his carefulness. In such cities at times a traffic officer may suddenly become conscious of the fact that he has been writing out very few tickets and at once goes about trying to improve his record of tickets issued for traffic violations. Then he will be quick to use borderline incidents or those which can be construed as violations, in which case a cabby may get a ticket in spite of all his carefulness.
This is not to say that the police and the cabbies are natural enemies. Just the opposite! Many policemen earn extra money by part-time cabdriving. Typical of the cooperation between the two is the case in which two couples, picked up by a cabby, got very abusive, insisting that the cabby was not taking the shortest route to their destination. He finally drew up to a police car and explained matters to the officers. They ordered the unruly passengers out of the cab.
The Challenge of Crime
In addition to accidents and traffic violations there is the challenge that criminals present to the cabdriver, especially in large cities such as New York. In that city during the first eight months of 1970 seven cabdrivers were murdered, either shot, stabbed or beaten to death, and upward of seventy cabbies were robbed each week.
To combat this hazard to the cabby’s occupation, policemen were given permission to operate cabs during their off hours, the city ordered well-nigh bulletproof shields to be installed between the cabdriver and his passengers and lock boxes attached to the floor for holding the cabby’s receipts and to which he does not have the key. These measures, some of which have also been adopted in other cities, have so decidedly reduced the risk that cabbies faced, that in 1971 not one taximan was murdered on the job.
Regarding this challenge a cabdriver told the following experience: “It was New Year’s Eve. A well-dressed youth asked me to take him to his destination. Upon arriving there he got out and while reaching for his change dropped some of it on the pavement. As he seemed to have difficulty finding his money I drove the cab out of the way and played its lights on the spot. I stooped over to help him find his money and as I looked up I saw he was pointing a gun at my head.
“He ordered me up the stoop of his house and upon my getting to the top of the stairs two men came running down from the upper floors. The three took me to the top floor and had me face the wall with my arms stretched out over my head as they took my wallet, watch and ring. They asked if I had more money in the cab—I did have quite a bit on me—and I told them they could go down and look, hoping to be able to get away. But instead one of them said, ‘Let’s kill him!’ I told them that I was a Christian minister, that I had helped many people in my time and would like to continue doing so, but if they wanted to kill me, that was up to them, I could not stop them. With that they asked me if I could identify them, and as it was quite a dark night, I told them I could not, and with that they let me go. It appears they were drug addicts. I reported the matter to the police but heard nothing more about it.”
The Challenge of Honesty
There is also another challenge that taxi drivers have to face—to cheat or not to cheat their employers or their customers. For example, a cabby may go by a roundabout way, when taking a stranger, so as to get a higher fare, the stranger not knowing the difference. Then again, one who owns his cab may suggest a flat rate instead of using the meter, knowing that that rate would be higher than what the meter would show. Or if he is operating the cab from some firm he may offer to take the passenger to his destination for a flat rate less than what the meter would show, because by not using the meter he could pocket the entire amount instead of his percentage.
To combat this cheating, some taxis have been equipped with a “hot seat,” which automatically turns on the meter when‘a passenger sits down.
But the public has to bear its share of the blame in this matter. Often a passenger will ask not to have the meter used in order to get a cheaper ride, since the cabby will be able to pocket all of the fare instead of only getting a percentage of it. And there are some who order them to do this in a rather threatening manner. When this happened to one cabby, he replied: “Sorry, sir, but the inspectors are all about tonight. I would be sure to get caught.” This satisfied the passenger.
This cabby also tells the following experience: “A woman said: ‘Drive me to the Bronx. Here is $5, do not put on the meter.’ I replied, ‘I’m sorry, Ma’am, but I always put the meter on.’ She fussed with me all the way to her destination in the Bronx. The fare was $3.50. She paid it but did not give me a tip even though she saved $1.50 by my putting on the meter, by my being honest.” Yes, the public must share in the blame that some taximen are not honest!
Among cabdrivers are to be found nice people, even as there are to be found in nearly all honest forms of employment. The foregoing experiences by and large were had by such cabdrivers. They tell that being a cabdriver has its advantages for a minister. A cabby who had previously held a responsible office job stated that he considered it an advantage that a cabdriver is not bothered by contentious or lewd work companions. He can easily keep his distance from his fares if he so desires.
More than that, he has quite some freedom. He can take time off and he can work longer hours if he needs extra money. Some even earn bonuses for being steady workers. In New York city cabdrivers get vacations based on a certain percentage of total fares earned and have many other benefits.
Yes, chances are that the next time you call “Hey—Taxi!" you will find a friendly chap at the wheel, one who will enjoy engaging you in conversation, a family man who is trying to earn an honest dollar.