Taxi Facts, Cab Etiquette
It was early December when a water pipe burst in the ceiling of the store where I was working, the damage was so extensive that the company closed the location and laid everyone off until the store could be repaired sometime in January. So there I was Christmas looming right around the corner and I was unemployed. Needing a job quickly I decided my best course of action was to try my hand at driving a cab. I figured that the tips would be a quick source of income to supplement the money I made after the lease, gas, and other company expenses were paid. I drove a hack for three years with The Blue Cab Company who at time was based out of Oak Park, Illinois.
So I’m offering a few pointers here to make using a cab easier. I’ll be focusing on cabs in Illinois, especially those in and around Chicago. If you live here in northeast Illinois, near Chicago or travel here and don’t have a car, you’re probably pretty in tune with how things work with them, but here are a few things most people don’t know. Let me start by saying the drivers come all different backgrounds and all different socio-economic strata’s. Just like you and me they have good days and bad days.
A few good terms you should know if you’re riding in a cab or have dealings with a lot with Taxis or taxi companies. A Hack is a Taxicab it is a shortened version from the English term for a cab called a Hackney Carriage, This term has fallen out of usage with younger drivers but most old-timers still know it and use it. The Barn is the taxicab’s headquarters where the vehicles are stored when not in use, or they’re being serviced or are new and getting readied for work. Chasing is what they call it when a driver goes on a dispatched call to pick up a fare. Flagging is what you do when you signal a cab from the side of the road typically by waving or gesturing with your arm. Fare refers mainly to the passenger who hired the cab by flagging or a dispatched call for pick-up it can also mean the cost of the ride. The riders are the Fare’s “guests” or additional passengers there is usually a small additional charge per each passenger (except very small children) though a driver may choose not to add the additional charges if they know the fare is a good tipper. A Load is what the dispatchers refer to a call for service since most cab companies offer courier services and package delivery as well as passenger trips, the dispatchers tend to think of everything as a load, when a driver is loaded they have picked up either the person or package. Conversely a No Load means that the driver is at the location for the pick-up and there is no person or package there, if your plans change or you flag a passing cab take a second call the company back and cancel your ride, the drivers and the company will appreciate that you did. Point to Point a trip that stays within a town or city limits you also might hear them call it Staying Local. Then there is Poaching is when a driver steals a fare from another driver. Drivers that do this kind of thing regularly tend to get ostracized by other drivers. Dead Heading similar to what it means in trucking the driver has a long unpaid way to drive without a passenger or package until they’re back to the areas where they normally work. The Meter refers to the cost of the ride the cost is calculated by time the Fare is in the car plus the distance traveled plus any additions for extra persons or extra long distances (if you’re going a very long way in the cab the company will explain any additional charges for the long distance when you call). If a Fare pays straight Meter it means they paid just the cost of the ride no tip!
Tipping is partly of how the driver makes his money especially if he lease’s the cab. Most drivers do their best to try to earn a good tip. Tips should never be less than one dollar no matter how short the ride. Keep in mind that the driver usually has to bring the cab back to the barn with a full tank of gas and may have just spend gas chasing to get your fare. Also round off tips to the nearest dollar that way the driver isn’t dealing with pockets full of change. Keep in mind that the best tippers generally get the best service on occasion even jumping ahead of unknown or bad tippers when they call. Never pay for a ride in change that will upset and insult the driver and it’s unlikely he’ll be too quick the next time you’re looking for a cab.
The types of leases vary from company to company. But generally there are daily, weekly, and monthly as well as Owner operator rates. Daily drivers pay the most to the company Owner operators pay the least amount since they’re only renting radios and signage from the company. They (the owner operator) have to carry their own insurance. Insurance that is incredibly expensive. Independent Taxicab owners pay typically one thousand dollars a month for basic liability insurance.
Below is a list of the most important things I think people should know about dealing with cabs.
- The City (Chicago of course) ordinance for meter and a half is ONLY for suburbs without a common border with the city of Chicago. For example, Norridge, Oak Park, Elmwood Park and Cicero all have at least one street in common with the city. Therefore, city cabs can only legally charge straight meter when taking you to them. Towns like Forest Park, River Grove, Riverside, and Maywood have no common borders and are meter and a half. Don’t let the driver tell you any different .Some city drivers will insist that once they cross any Chicago border its meter and a half that just isn’t true. It’s best to check with the driver before you get into a cab and leave the city. There are usually plenty of other cabs around if the driver you’re speaking to insists it is meter and a half take a different cab. The city passed this ordinance as a way of helping city drivers who were getting stuck with long rides outside the city and no fares coming back as a way of help them defray costs. I don’t disagree with the ordinance but some guys do try to take advantage of it.
- Suburban cabs can only pick up in Chicago with an order and the destination must be outside of the city.Be very wary of any suburban cab trying to give you a ride point to point inside city limits. If their caught it means a six hundred dollar fine and impoundment of the cab for them. There is no penalty for you except your ride ends where ever the cab is stopped. But it’s more likely that the suburban cab working inside city limits has either been stolen, carjacked, or sold to a drug dealer who is now supplementing his income by renting to addicts he trusts to make money to buy his drugs. Yes, this really does happen. It could also be that the driver is just plain greedy and dumb. I say dumb because the city has investigators whose job is to catch illegally operating cabs.
- Gitney or Jitney Cabs, These are illegal cabs operating inside city limits without any sort of Taxicab licensing, even in some cases without any sort of insurance. They get their orders by phone or radio but will sometimes offer rides to people they think are looking for a ride, and occasionally can be found in legitimate taxi stands hoping to “poach” a trip. They’re dangerous on a lot of levels. They’re always completely unmarked so they look like normal cars, normal cars that have taken a beating and most are barely running.They communicate with their base over cheap CB radios or cheap cell phones, making communication problematic in emergencies. But what makes them dangerous is that they operate almost like a cab and almost like a bus so they’re constantly dropping off and picking people up while they’re driving you to your destination. Sometimes they know the customers and sometimes they don’t. Their fares are based on distance traveled at a rate set by them. They operate out of the poorer neighborhoods on the misguided belief that legitimate licensed cab companies won’t service them. Their rates can be cheaper than a licensed cab but anything can happen with them….
- Pick a company and stick with it, especially if you’re in a suburb, the key to getting good reliable cab service is getting the dispatchers to know who you are and developing good reputation and rapport with the drivers. Everyone in the cab business talks about who are good riders and who are bad, who tips well, little or not at all. If the person is waiting and comes right out to the cab or if they (the driver) have to wait while the person finishes a few last-minute things before leaving, they even talk about fares personal hygiene. When the dispatchers hear this kind of information they tend to make mental notes especially if they remember taking calls from that person. If your reputation with the company is good and they know who you are you’ll probably have no problem getting a cab when you need one even on a busy day (of course always allow ample time to get to where you need to go.)
- Don’t make the driver wait for you. Be ready to leave when you call for a cab. If you have luggage or additional bags have them in an easily accessible spot packed and ready to go, if you need a coat due to weather put it on or keep it ready to go if your wait is going to be awhile. When its busy cabs try to get around as quickly as possible, anything you can do to help with that will be greatly appreciated by them. If you take too long getting out to the cab the driver can at his discretion cancel the ride and make you go through the entire process of getting a cab all over again. No one wants that to happen, not you, the company or even the driver, but it does happen from time to time when customers take too long to come out. Cabs can also charge for waiting time, so if you dawdle too much don’t be surprised if the meter is running by the time you get into cab.
- Cabstands, if you see a group of cabs lined up they’re most likely in a cabstand. Always approach the first cab in the line (He’s on the head) if the driver seems unacceptable for any reason then try the second cab in line then if necessary the third etc. until you find one your satisfied with. Just walking up and getting into anyone of them may upset the driver who, if he follows the proper protocol will ask you to go to the head of the line.
- Never, ever ever ever call multiple companies for the same ride. Some people do this and get in the first cab that arrives. If the other cabs catch you doing this they will report to the company who in turn may choose to deny service to you or the address you were at the next time you call. With computerized dispatching these days it gets easier and easier keep track of folks who do this kind of thing. This action is actually called Theft of Service, its illegal and you could although it’s unlikely you would be prosecuted for doing this. Not to mention drivers who show up at the same time will usually not take the person who called some may even wait to see if others drivers show up and warn them as well. This is a major no no!
Ultimately though one must remember besides the fact they’re people just like you and me for most drivers driving a cab is a transient thing some drivers will move on to bigger and better things and some are unfortunately on their way to being down and out, while some are happy with where they are and have no intension of leaving. I know a guy who passed the bar exam and is a lawyer but loved driving a cab so he stayed driving with the company last time I saw him was a couple of years ago , and he was still driving ten years after passing the bar and as far as I know he still is today. There is an allure to driving a cab, as unbelievable as it seems. Being your own boss, not punching a time clock and having only yourself to blame if the day goes bust. But sadly it is a hard job to make money at and you’ll never get rich doing it although a lot of guys try.