February 27, 2009 7:14 PM   Subscribe

Does anyone have advice or first hand experience being a taxi driver?

I am thinking of taking a part time position driving a local city taxi. What is the difference in night vs. day driving & is there something in particular to be aware of before taking the job. Also is there any contract do's & don'ts to look out for?
posted by sharkhunt to Work & Money (9 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
You might want to send a MefiMail to Ian A.T. -- New Orleans taxi driver.
posted by Houstonian at 7:26 PM on February 27, 2009

This also.
posted by Houstonian at 7:34 PM on February 27, 2009

Yes, what do you want to know?

Taxi driving was fun. I got to bullshit with a lot of people. I set my own hours. The money was absolutely, absolutely shit. The reason most drivers are terrible behind the wheel is they drive hours that would make a long-haul-truck driver cry in order to make a moderate living.

Night driving, you deal with drunks, and the risk factor of getting mugged goes up. Day driving, you have regular customers and business district areas of town are easy loot. You can make trips to and from the airport.

Contract? Generally, you keep all the money, but owe the cab company a fixed fee for use of the car. You have to pay for gas, they pay for maintenance.
posted by talldean at 7:58 PM on February 27, 2009 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Ian A.T. here. Let me just pop in and say that the thread Houstonian linked to is almost universally solid, with a ton of good answers from people who didn't find it necessary to bloviate at the length I did.

I just looked through my posting history to see what else I've written here about my job: there's this post, where I argue that "learn their name and use it!" is tricky if not outright dubious advice for building rapport with service industry workers. And there's this post, which tells you a little bit about the madness of working during a huge event. And over on the first post of my--ugh--"author's blog," (self-link, duh) I write a bit about how I started driving a cab.

I hope it doesn't seem like I'm so taken with myself that I can't be bothered to actually participate in your thread, but will condescend to post a bunch of links to my previous writings on the subject--so gemlike in their perfection! so stunning in their insights!--before flitting away again. The truth is, I'm still recovering from 18-hour Mardi Gras shifts, and I don't even want to look at my cab, much less write about it.
posted by Ian A.T. at 10:45 PM on February 27, 2009 [5 favorites]

This book was written by a woman who spent some time as a taxi driver while her husband was deployed in Iraq. The book is fiction, but it's based around her real experiences. Might be a slightly different twist on what you're looking for.
posted by Thistledown at 8:40 AM on February 28, 2009

Best answer: i drove in Chicago over ten years ago. it was a good job and a terrible job all at once. i have friends who still drive, and they really like it for the freedom. the money truly is shit. but it'll do in a pinch.

i used to tell people that nobody lies more about what they make than cabbies and gamblers. it's like they always remember the "big win" and forget all the days where they barely make enough to get over the nut + gas. (the nut being cab-slang for the daily car rental.)

another thing that sucks is that it's really bad for your body: you have to make a serious effort to do yoga or something to keep yourself from turning into a knot of hunch and sore ass. (those funny beaded seats are no laughing matter when you sit there all day.) the shifts when i worked were 12 hours--and if you aren't in a place where it's independent contractor oriented, you're expected to keep it going that entire time. independent's where it's at, really. as long as you make the nut, they don't give a shit what you're doing with yourself.

nighttime was too scary for me, but it was Chicago, and i was young. i was too intimidated by groups of drunk guys to do that more than a few times. however, i think that now, years later, i wouldn't be as worried about it. working Fri-Sat eves is always premium--the senior drivers usually get those shifts. if you work in a big city, though, daytimes work it enough once you get the hang of it. even in a poor town like where i live now will get you through with little old ladies or otherwise car-less folks going back and forth to the grocery store or the doctor.

what i loved: the freedom, the feeling of being part of the blood of the city, the incredible randomness and karmic play. it was terribly interesting, and i saw some of the weirdest shit imaginable. that's only possible when you're driving around a place all the time. i still find it funny that just about every journalist and travel writer uses cabbies as their first go-to source for "what's going on" in a given place. laziness or getting at the true pulse? hard to tell.

if you're in a big city, there is usually a cabbie-guide that some joe publishes that gives you the shortcuts and lowdown on where everything is. find out if there is such a publication, and get it immediately. if there's more than one, get them all. they really do come in handy.

as far as safety, i made a lot of plans in my head, and had a few close calls, but did fine with big old figurative antennae and paying very close attention to what was going on around me. (i did have a can of mace, for if someone decided to drag me out of the vehicle. if i were to get robbed, i planned to throw the wad out the window and take off.) if someone doesn't have enough money to get somewhere, i usually would take what they had with a smile instead of getting into an argument. i never refused to pick up anyone unless they obviously chose me because i was female and supposedly vulnerable. i had to kick a guy out on Lake Shore Drive once, because he was propositioning me over and over. i simply pulled over and told him to either get out or i would. when i pulled out the keys and left the car with him in it, he begged me to just take him to the front of another cab line, which i did. never fight over money, but do keep the bigger bills in your sock or somewhere not obvious. the breast pocket is for the big wad of ones--which makes a good decoy when things get bad. (the cabbies who were killed during the time i drove were always offed because they fought a robber. don't do this.)

contracts are different in different places. ask cabbies which are the best companies to work for, and take everything they say with a grain of salt. in Chicago, you didn't want to work Yellow, because they treated their drivers like crap, mostly because so many of them were "fresh off the boat". i started at a real gem of a place where i quite literally ended up driving the worst car in the city, but i was such a noob i didn't know it right away. the mechanic had to load that car up with oil every 12 hours. (and the stink! oh god. i can still smell it. i became obsessed with air fresheners.) the night guy eventually rigged the meter to run fast, which could have got me fired if i got tagged (whoever is driving is responsible for the meter's tape, even if you claim ignorance). the day after i noticed the meter was rigged, a front wheel fell off while i was driving; this became my last day. was rescued by/ended up working for an individual owner--someone who owns only one car. he worked nights; i worked days. twas almost like driving a limo. very nice. (except for the fact that he would always meet me at the door of his night-shift darkened apartment in his underwear. ew.)

it was one of the most profound experiences of my life, and has provided me with endless material as a writer. but i only recommend it for people who are familiar with buddhism. :)
posted by RedEmma at 10:31 AM on February 28, 2009 [2 favorites]

I drove for a while but don't have much time to comment. Here's a quick bit of advice:

Don't let anyone sit directly behind you (unless, of course, all the other seats are full). That's your blind spot.
posted by philip-random at 1:49 PM on February 28, 2009

Second-hand experience, but a good friend of mine who's a cab driver told me this story.

Where we live, there used to be a fair bit of street prostitution. There was a loop, where you could drive around the same four streets and see lots of hookers. Guys used to get in a cab and just have them do the loop over and over while they picked one out. And they would often ask my friend for advice. They'd cruise past a hooker and say "What do you think mate, she looks all right, doesn't she?".
posted by AmbroseChapel at 2:27 PM on February 28, 2009

I've driven cab in large cities only (SF, CA and St Paul MN), so this might not apply in smaller towns. The thing is, like Red Emma said above, you see amazing things, and a lot of people will be very kind (and trusting, and honest, and they'll tell you their life stories whether you want to hear them or not.)

BUT: you'll also get to see the, ah, darker side of life... not just in the form of drunken fratboys and gangbangers and businessmen and -women, but you'll get to take people to the city detox unit at 1 am on a Friday. You'll get to drive groups of ghetto moms (of all colors!(not ghetto-ist!)), w/ several kids apiece, and have to stop the car so you can put their open vodka bottle in the trunk.

You'll get to hear hundreds of conversations that will make you cringe. You'll get to hear women tell their 2-year-olds, repeatedly, to 'shut the hell up!'. Ah, I'm going to depress myself if I keep making lists. I'll assume you get the gist: you get to see people iw/ a lot of bad luck, and making a lot of poor choices, and in a lot of insoluble trouble.

Oh, and you'll get lied to constantly by your customers (about how much money they have, how long ago they called, what the dispatcher told them, how much this ride cost last time, about what their name is, how much they're going to tip you, you name it.

In that way, it's kind of like being a cop- everybody lies to you all the time whether they have a good reason to or not- except the pay's *way* less, and when someone pulls a gun on you, your options are more limited.)

Point being: I'm pretty much of an introvert, but I love dealing w/ people and my customers tended to find me charming and helpful. I'd even tend to think of myself as thick-skinned, almost cynical. But after my last 2 years of cab-driving, it took me several months before I could stand to be around people at *all*, that's how down on people it had made me.

So... I guess my point is, there's a lot of good in it, but it's not for everybody. I've done years of it, considered myself pretty good at it, but clearly, it's not for me either.

Of course, YMMV. Good luck!
posted by hap_hazard at 6:21 PM on March 1, 2009

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