Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Test driving

We're rude. We're slovenly. We barely speak English, or if we do, we never shut up. We have no idea where we're going. That, or we intentionally take a roundabout route in order to jack up the fare and rip you off. We drive like maniacs, endangering both pedestrians and other motorists. The cars we drive are dirty and cramped. We are ubiquitous except, of course, when you really need us, when, like cockroaches after you turn on the kitchen light, we disappear all at once. Like sewer rats or street bums, we are a part of the city--a necessary evil, and one of the things people most like to complain about. We are Boston's cabbies.

There are 1825 licensed cabs in Boston, and some 7,000 drivers to drive them. As professions go, we rank somewhere between garbageman and a fast-food server, yet every day thousands of people entrust their lives to us. For the most part, we get them to where they are going unscathed. In return, we get a brief glimpse into their lives. That plus $2.80 per mile and, perhaps, a tip. These little anonymous exchanges are the grist for this space.

I'm a newbie at driving a cab. As with most my hack colleagues, driving a cab is not my life's ambition. If asked, I tell people that driving is my job; writing is my career. Unfortunately, writing doesn't pay the bills. That's where driving comes in.

So, how does one become a cabbie?

Other than a lack of marketable skills and a valid driver's license, not much.

In Boston, getting behind the wheel requires one to:

1: Go to the Boston Police Headquarters. There you will submit to a criminal record check, a driving record check and a drug test. You'll then be given brief interview before being sent to...

2: Taxi school, a 3 day course at Roxbury Community College. Here you'll learn the finer points of driving for-hire in Boston, as well as get some handy tips to make your new career more profitable. Such as: "Shower every day" and "do not mumble." After passing the test, you...

3: Get a job. This entails asking around among the local taxi fleets, which generally lease a car at a rate of $700 per week. The car is shared among two drivers, who work 12-hour shifts, either 4 am to 4 pm, or 4 pm to 4 am. I work for one of the few outfits that allow to work part-time, driving two or three shifts a week, and splitting the fares with the owner on a 55 percent to 45 percent basis (I get 45 percent of the fares plus tips).

Most of the real learning, of course, happens on the job. This includes getting to know your way around town, learning what cab stands or streets to play and when, maximizing your time, dealing with passengers as well as other drivers, and protecting oneself (although in some cases the plexiglass barrier in cabs seems more designed to protect passengers from the driver rather than the other way around).

Driving isn't for everybody. It takes a certain temperment. But I for one, find it relaxing. For one thing, it gets me out of the house. Writing is very solitary and mentally strenuous. Driving allows me to socialize a bit and is relatively mindless. How long will I do it? Who knows, but as long as I do, I hope to keep up this space.


  1. Can you clarify the pay structure a bit?

    If you lease for $700/, you have the cab for 12 hours a day and keep everything. If you work part time, you work your hours and split fares 55/45 plus tips for you.

    Is that correct?

  2. If you lease a cab, yes, you keep everything over and above the cost of the lease. Part time, yes, you split the fairs 45/55 and keep the tips, but pay for the gas (fill up the tank at the end of the shift).

  3. welcome to the international community of taxi blogging hacks. many of these blogs aren't all that great. but there are a few that really are worth keeping up with. yours is one of them. i would hope mine is good, but be honest if it ain't. i enjoy constructive criticism. in my opinion the best taxi blogs out there are:

  4. i,m waiting for the city of boston to give out licenses again it been a ahole 9 months already

  5. Hey Hack...

    Splitting the meter is illegal now. IF someone has you doing that report the fucker and get his Tin revoked.

  6. Taxi buisness in Boston is a joke !!!
    Im from Ireland were each cabbie owns his or her own car,taxi plate and is self employed.
    U can get a taxi plate in ireland for about $4000,get a car,insure it and off ye go.
    you also do a knowledge test to prove youve
    a basic idea of the city.
    we had a problem for a while were there was
    too many cabs but their cleaning things up now,and some will go off the road this year.
    if ye use your head and build up a customer base,your laughing.
    u can hire a radio if u want and give a company 100 a week,and they give ye jobs,but this lark
    of paying the medallion owner doesnt exist.
    a cabbie in ireland gets respect.hes a self employed buisness man.i done it in ireland
    and i enjoyed it,and i made a decent weeks wages.feel sorry for boston cabbies.there treated like dogs.

  7. can u tell me how long should i hold my license to start taxi in boston cos some cabs requires how long have u had the license ?

  8. I have a NY hack licenced can I drive boston taxi with NY hack lieneced?

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