The Long Way Home

Hello, how are you guys tonight? “We’re doing well, how about you?” I’m great, I said. Where do you guys need to go? They gave me an address in a neighborhood just over the mountain in Homewood. I headed toward the Red Mountain Expressway, the easiest way to take them home. “So what brings you to America?” the woman asked. I was flabbergasted by the question. I thought damn, didn’t she just hear me greet them? I know I said at least a couple of sentences in my slightly southern but unmistakably American English. I could tell that the couple may have had a few drinks but they were a long way from what I would consider hammered. Yet, this woman obviously thought I was a foreigner. After a few seconds went by, I said well, I guess it was the delivery doctor. I was born about fifty miles southwest of here in Tuscaloosa.

She was embarrassed. I think this taught both she and I a valuable lesson. The power of stereotypes. The idea that all cab drivers are recent immigrants was so firmly ingrained in her psyche that even clear and compelling evidence to the contrary, which was right in her face, didn’t purge it from her mind.

That’s one stereotype many people have of us drivers but it’s not the only one. Another one which is more common and more hurtful, at least to me, is the idea that all cab drivers are out to cheat the customer. Customers usually think drivers cheat by driving a longer route than is necessary in order to run up the meter. I’m not saying  this hasn’t happened to some customers and I know that there’s some scumbag drivers that would do it, I’ve met them. What I am saying is that it’s not most drivers. It’s certainly not me, in fact I’ll usually go out of my way to keep from overcharging someone. I definitely do have a strategy to maximize my income but it doesn’t involve cheating anyone. My strategy is to purposely target  neighborhoods that are a good distance, but not too far from the entertainment districts. This will make each trip a lucrative one without taking too much time. I don’t want to go so far that I have to spend a lot of time riding empty. I want to go back and get another one shortly after I drop off the last one. I want to keep it going, non-stop. That’s how you make money, not by cheating people.

cab meter

Knowing that this stereotype is strongly in the minds of many cab customers, I usually try to head off any accusations by letting the customer choose the route. This will usually take the issue off the table. There are often several good ways to get where you’re going. The customer will sometimes choose the longest route simply because they don’t know the short way. I’ve learned however, that if I choose the route and it’s a route that they’re unfamiliar with, they will almost always believe that I’ve cheated them, even if it’s the shortest route possible. Therefore my policy is to let the customer be the boss when it comes to which way we go, which most customers appreciate. There are however, a very few that are so stubborn in believing this stereotype that they will find a way to accuse you of cheating them no matter what. I once had a woman that didn’t like the total even after she had chosen the route. She accused me of tampering with the meter.

We have a minimum charge to go out and pick a up a customer. In Birmingham (the city sets the cab rates) it’s three dollars. Once we get rolling, the rate is two dollars per mile. So if you go one mile you will be charged five dollars, but if you go two miles you will only be charged seven dollars. There is another way customers are charged. It’s for time when the cab is sitting still. The rate is twenty four dollars per hour. So, if you have a driver to stop and wait on you at a store, someone’s house, a fast food drive through or somewhere else, you will pay three dollars for seven and a half minutes, six dollars for fifteen minutes, twelve dollars for thirty minutes and so on. Many customers don’t like paying wait time but it’s absolutely necessary to keep customers from taking advantage of us. Some customers would have us waiting for hours and pay us very little if not for wait time. It’s designed to hurry them along. All the rates are posted on the window of the cab but some customers will pretend that they didn’t know about wait time and start a confrontation with the driver. It’s always a good idea to warn them about it whenever they make a stop. I will usually turn the wait time off in a situation beyond the customer’s control, such as having to wait on a train or a funeral procession. If it’s a regular customer and I like them, I will usually give them a few minutes of free time if they’re in a store.

M dayham 011

I’ve had many customers complain to me about other drivers cheating them. Sometimes it sounds like they were legitimately cheated and other times it sounds like it’s in their minds. One guy told me that a driver stopped at a store and kept moving the car around in the parking lot to run up the meter. I reminded him that a driver would have to drive a mile to run the meter up two dollars. If you’re familiar with Birmingham, that’s the distance from the fountain at five points south to the middle of the Lakeview district. The customer still insisted that the driver had cheated him. I simply said, I’m sorry that happened to you. I was convinced that the customer spent more time than he thought he had in that store.

So if you order a cab and you’re concerned about being cheated, and I do know that sometimes it’s a legitimate concern, try telling the driver the route that you would like to take. If he or she refuses, you may want to complain to the company or request that the dispatchers not send that particular cab the next time you call.  Always be aware of wait time if you decide to stop. I’m always truly disturbed when I hear of a customer being cheated because it makes me as well as all the other honest drivers look bad. Please know that while there may be a few bad apples, most of us want to make your cab experience as pleasant as possible.

copyright 2014 R.W. Walker

*All views and opinions are strictly those of R.W. Walker. These views do not reflect the views of any cab company.

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