Without question it was the most exhausting job I ever had. And I’ve worked as a construction laborer, factory foreman, farm worker, many hours in healthcare, factory welder, headhunter, and then some. But no job I ever had was as exhausting as driving a New York City cab. I did it for five years.
When I recently learned that NYC cabbies had come to Albany because the state government in its lack of wisdom wants to inflict a $1 surcharge on them for their fares, my only regret was that I didn’t learn of their protest in early enough so I could join them.
Anyone who holds to the belief that cabbies make good money, you can let go of it right now. Anyone who thinks a $1 surcharge won’t stop people from taking cabs, think again. When I was driving in the 1980s fleet cab drivers were compelled to charge a 50 cent surcharge for night fares. Many times I was waved off by someone who’d rather wait for a privately owned cab because it did not have the 50-cent surcharge.
Surcharges and extra fees can cause a fair amount of danger too. I remember once intervening, with the support of two of my passengers who, to my complete surprise and utter delight, turned out to be off-duty NYC cops, when I saw a cabby being savagely stomped and beaten in Columbus Circle by three passengers, two men and a woman, because the cabby asked for the 50-cent surcharge. The men were in fancyt suits and the women wore a long fur coat so no doubt the 50 cents would have bankrupted them. Believe me, I felt no qualms at all when I slammed one of the men face first onto the hood of the cabby’s cab and I felt wonderful when I turned to see my two passengers with their guns out ordering the other two to get up against the car and Shut the fuck up your yelling thank you very much.
When you are a cabby, everyone wants a piece of you. If you drive for a fleet, the union, which supports everyone and anyone but the cabby, has its monthly go at you. I don’t know what the dues are now, but when I was driving in the 1980s, ues were something like $15 a month plus you had to pay for a $2 union trip ticket every shift you drove. Shifts run 12 hours, by the way. So say you drove six shifts a week. Most of us did. Between the trip tickets and the dues, you were paying the union something in the neighborhood of $63 a month, that’s $756 a year.
When you drove a cab for a fleet, the days of working for a percentage of the meter are long gone, you paid what they called a lease fee each shift. So, back then, if the night shift cost you $65, plus you had to pay for your own gas, another $20, then tack on the $2 trip ticket and oh yeah the $5 you’d better slip to the dispatcher if you want a cab in a reasonable amount of time, you’re $92 in the hole before you even hit the streets. Which means you aren’t making dime one for yourself until you take in $92.
There were two instances in which the fleet owners could raise your lease rate. When they bought new cars and, wait for it, when the rates were raised. You think life won’t get more expensive for the cabbies with a $1 surcharge? – think again. When they instituted the 50 cent night surcharge our lease fees went up something like $10. If you had 30 fares that night, your net profit after the $10 lease increase was $5. Take into account the handful of fares that waved you off because they were pissed at you for having the fee, and you lost money.
One more thing, for anyone reading this who sees cabbies as just a bunch of immigrants and so who cares, meaning for anyone reading this who is in the poisonous grasp of bigotry, remember this; unless you’re a native American, you’re from immigrants too.
In the meantime, let’s hope the state government becomes one of the few realities that actually gives cabbies a break, like how about a discount on gas prices for cabbies and other professional drivers?
Now there’s a thought.