- Sunday was a busy day in the City, Monday was busy enough as usual, but Tuesday early morning was dead. It was very difficult to get orders and I was afraid I would go home with less than $100 take-home — something I haven’t done in a long time. I was preparing myself for a $60 Tuesday.
But, thanks to some great tipping, I eeked out $115 on Tuesday.
- I picked up a radio call in the Marina late Tuesday morning. It was a nice midwestern family heading to the airport from one of the many Lombard Street hotels.
I like families in the cab. The vancabs are great too — plenty of room for their luggage in the back and room to stretch out so the kids don’t start hitting or yelling at each other for violations of the unwritten personal space rules.
This family was heading back to their Pennsylvanian home after a nice vacation in San Francisco.
We talked about the City. We talked about the busses — they really liked SF’s Muni system which is, I’ll admit, one of the better systems in the US. We talked about American’s flight to the suburbs and whether or not we’re going to see a flight back downtown. The dad and I had heard and enjoyed the same great Morning Edition stories a month back highlighting these issues.
We talked about Philadelphia’s downtown resurgence. We talked about life goals, career tracks, the pleasures of not having a boss, my work on a website and past and future travels.
They were a fun crew. The dad gave me $60 for the $40 fare and I thanked him profusely. That is a very nice tip.
- I picked up frequently from the St. Francis Hospital at Pine and Hyde, as they use our cab company as their primary taxi vendor.
I picked up an older lady returning home to the Marina. She was a bit hard of hearing, but that didn’t stop us from chatting about what life was like as a cab driver. She was very frustrated to have had a number of cab drivers that didn’t speak adequate English, at least per her standards. We discussed why this may be the case — for example, potential income from cab driving is decreasing. Keep in mind, income is decreasing not just in real terms (as many jobs do from inflation) but in nominal terms: not only are my dollars earned worth less because of inflation, but I increasingly earn less dollars in the first place because of the increase in gas and gate fees. Unless cab driving pays better, it won’t be able to keep as many native English or native San Franciscans in the profession as they’ll be able to get higher paying jobs elsewhere.
She tipped me very well – $15 on an $8 fare. She said she wanted to “keep me in business.”
Thanks lady, you and the airport family went a long way to making my Tuesday income bearable.
- I am actively working to practice safer driving.
I picked up a mom and her kid Monday from a swanky North Beach preschool. I took them back to their home across town near Duboce Park. I stopped at the first hint of yellow lights and maintained the average road speed (instead of above average as usual). The difference in reaching our destination would have been 1 or 2 minutes at most. Her tip was as great.
Clearly, the risk of fast cab driving is not worth the reward. But, it’s still difficult to fight that instinct to go as fast as possible. Dear readers, tip safe-driving cabbies well and complement them verbally on safe driving to encourage this behavior.
- On breaks and eating during my shift: a lot of friends ask me how I go to the bathroom, where I eat, and how I manage to take breaks.
Since I only drive 3 shift per week, I try to maximize my driving during those 33 hours. I take brief combined breaks for bathroom and eating.
I seek out places with clean restrooms, parking and fast food service. In the City where parking is limited, Starbucks, McDonalds and the CalTrain station are shining stars. At each of these places I can park, order, go pee and come out with a small snack and tea or coffee.
I don’t eat much during the shifts, usually one medium meal (a McDonald’s breakfast) and one snack (a muffin or bagel). I’ll have at most one coffee but lately I’ve been sticking to a black tea or two. I’ll relax and eat a large meal after my shift. It’s a good feeling to pig out after a long day.
- I picked up a French mother and son pair from their SOMA hotel and took them toward Haight and Ashbury. They weren’t really sure what to see in the City, so we chatted a bit about the Haight and Golden Gate Park.
Even though my French is laughable, the Frenchies always seem to enjoy my meager efforts. Whether out of pity or graciousness they tip well when I bust out the French. I’ll keep doing so.
- Most cab companies in the City use a rather old fashioned technology to dispatch call-in orders from customers — a two-way radio.
For the cab drivers, the radios operate half-duplex. Cab drivers can either listen or receive, but not both at the same time. Dispatchers can send and receive simultaneously.
As far as I understand, this means there are 2 distinct channels – a high-power broadcast channel from the cab dispatch garage and a second channel used by each cab to broadcast back, usually at a lower-power, to the garage.
These technological considerations are important as it greatly affects cab dispatch workflow.
The overall flow and operation of the dispatch radio varies considerably from shift to shift and dispatcher to dispatcher. Dispatching is a complex and challenging task, perhaps akin to the difficulties of being an air traffic control operator with considerably less pay.
‘Normal’ operation consists of the dispatcher reading out intersections of calls ‘on the board’, that is, orders called-in (pre-arranged or recently called) waiting to be picked up. “Polk and Green, Lombard and Van Ness, Pine Hyde, St. Marys, 1st and Market, 6th and Brannan van cab.” These are read very quickly and repeated until a cabbie checks in for an order.
If a driver is in range, he or she will pick up the mic and broadcast back their intersection by saying, “Cab 730 at Bush and Leavenworth.” The dispatcher will respond with, “730 check, and who else?” giving the others a few seconds to check-in for the order as well. The closest driver is given the address, “730, you have 900 Hyde for Susan.”
Significant complexity is introduced as there is no specifically defined range for an appropriate check-in distance. It requires a learned fine-tuning by cab drivers and dispatchers depending primarily on the number of empty company cabs listening for orders. When the City is very busy, most cabs are full and are not monitoring the radio. The dispatcher’s board fills up quickly with orders and it’s acceptable to check-in within a half mile or so of an order. It is fun and easy to be a cab driver at these times.
But, in the wee hours of the morning most cabs are empty and no orders are on the board. The instant an order is read aloud there are 10-15 (or more) drivers checking in for the order. Competition is tough — you can be only a few blocks away from an order to have a chance of picking it up.
I’m most amazed at the effectiveness of this system despite its use of rather antiquated technology. Sure, there are occasional frustrating moments of waiting, such as when a cabbie needs a call-out (if an address is incorrect or nobody answers when after ringing a bell) when the dispatcher is busy assigning other orders. But, the majority of the time the system works well. Often it is just as quick and efficient (or more so) compared to computer-based GPS dispatching systems.
I also enjoy how the personality of each dispatcher in our company is expressed in their manner of dispatching. Some dispatchers give out orders very quickly. Others want drivers to be much closer to orders. Some are more like robots — repeating orders on the board quickly and monotonously. Others make it more like an auction, complete with an auctioneer’s trademark closing, “Going once, going twice, cab 730 has it.”
Radio dispatch adds a fun spice in the mix of the already exciting cab driving world.
- I’m still trying to find the best balance between being openly accepting of whatever comes my way, but still feeling my emotions as I drive the cab.
I don’t want to let a slow day and low earnings get me down. But, I also don’t want to be completely emotionally disconnected from the outside world’s goings on. It’s a delicate balance to fully feel and recognize my emotions without letting them consume me to direct my mood.
Perhaps I’m attempting the impossible? I wish to feel sad without feeling sad?
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