Friday, April 28, 2006

More vindication

I have to admit I relish this moment. This one's for all the haters out there who love to generalize and say all cabbies drive like shit. Today's New York Times discusses a study that proves this so wrong. In fact, the numbers demonstrate that, if you're wearing your seatbelt, it's safer to ride in yellow cabs and livery cars than it is to ride in regular cars.

That Wild Taxi Ride Is Safer Than You Think, a Study Says

In a city where almost everyone has a story about zigzagging through traffic in a hair-raising, white-knuckled cab ride, a new traffic safety study may come as a surprise: It finds that taxis are pretty safe.

So are livery cars, according to the study, which is based on state motor vehicle records of accidents and injuries across the city. It concludes that taxi and livery-cab drivers have crash rates one-third lower than drivers of other vehicles.

"This is one of the most important studies we've seen," said Matthew W. Daus, chairman of the city's Taxi and Limousine Commission, who said the city had not asked for the analysis by a Brooklyn consulting firm or paid for it, but was nonetheless happy to receive it.

"Our drivers get a bad rap," Mr. Daus said. "Our hats go off to them."

The study was undertaken by Bruce Schaller of Schaller Consulting, a former staff analyst for the taxi commission and New York City Transit who now works as an independent transportation consultant for several cities and transit agencies. He said that he was not paid, that he obtained his state accident records through a Freedom of Information Act request and that he pursued the analysis out of personal interest.

"The public perception is that taxicab and livery drivers are less safe than other drivers in New York City," said Mr. Schaller, citing surveys by New York City Transit showing that riders, when asked to rate "safety from accidents" on a scale of 1 to 10, give private cars a 7.6, and taxis a 5.7.

But Mr. Schaller, pointing to the strict licensing requirements of taxi and livery drivers, their knowledge of the streets and the financial risks they face by driving carelessly, said the results of the study "are not so surprising."

He said the city's own records show that the job longevity of cabbies has steadily increased since the early 1990's, to 9.2 years in 2005 from an average of 5.7 years in 1993. Drivers with more experience tend to drive more skillfully, and more safely, he said.

Some of the findings set off alarm bells about passenger safety. When cabs are involved in accidents the passengers are about twice as likely to suffer serious injuries than the passengers of private cars, the study concluded.

It documented one of the reasons: Relatively few taxi riders wear seat belts, and are under no requirement to do so by state law or city rules. Another reason for the serious injuries is the partitions in taxis, which are designed to protect drivers from passenger attacks, but can cause head and upper body injuries to passengers when the cabs crash or stop suddenly.

And if you are riding a bicycle, watch out. The study concluded that bicycles are about twice as likely to collide with a cab than other vehicles, a danger that experts attribute to the risks of "dooring," in which passengers in parked cabs throw their doors open in front of oncoming bikes.

Still, the overall findings of Mr. Schaller's report are that the safety of taxis and livery cars has improved over the years, and that it compares favorably with other vehicles by several measures.

In a calculation of accident rates per million miles on city streets, it found 4.6 crashes for cabs, 3.7 crashes for livery cars and 6.7 crashes for all vehicles, including public and private conveyances. A livery car was defined as a black car, for-hire livery or limousine carrying fewer than nine passengers.

For a Manhattan resident who takes 100 cab rides a year, Mr. Schaller found, the chance of being injured in a crash is 0.4 percent in 10 years.

On the streets of Manhattan yesterday, the findings provoked a widely varied response from riders and drivers.

"It's not true," said Philip Lee, 42, a delivery driver from Flushing, who drives into Manhattan five days a week and finds the driving habits of cabbies a constant source of irritation.

"They only care about time," he said. "They only care about money. Even at red lights, they cross. They don't care."

But Liz Loughery, a financial executive from Philadelphia who hails cabs several times a week on business trips to Manhattan, said she had no fear.

"The windows were down, and it was fast and furious," she said as she jumped out of an uptown cab yesterday on Eighth Avenue and headed into Pennsylvania Station to catch her train home. "I'm more afraid inside Penn Station."

Charles Bwuah, 50, a cabby from Newark, who has been driving a New York medallion cab for eight years, said he was not at all surprised by the study.

"You see, most people think taxi drivers don't know how to drive," he said. "But that's what they do for a living."

The link is here if you want to read it on the New York Times website.

Thursday, April 27, 2006

Wanna know what sucks?

My car broke down on the way to work today. Which meant that I was no longer going to be working today, and therefore this update is not about anything really taxi related.

In fact, I was lucky. I had to make a detour through Manhattan before heading towards the garage this afternoon and, as I fought through traffic to get on the 59th Street Bridge on my way back to Queens, I just knew my car was about to crap out. It started shaking and shuddering as I got on the bridge so I stepped on it, just hoping I'd make it to the other side before it died. And die it did. When I got to the light at the bottom, it stalled and I had to stick it in neutral and roll it off the exit ramp and on to 21st in Long Island City, just under the Silvercup Studios sign and six blocks from the garage.

This is a problem I've had "fixed" by random mechanics no less than four times already, but clearly nothing has worked, despite the enormous amount of money I've spent on it.

I called Richard at the garage and asked him to send someone to come tow me in, since I was so close, but I knew my chances of working a shift tonight were doomed. I was too late. They were already loaded with too many drivers and I wasn't going to get a cab. At least they were nice enough to send someone to rescue me, and I appreciated that.

Of course, my car decided to start again right when Danny, one of the taxi mechanics, showed up, so he just followed me to the garage to make sure it didn't stall on the way. When we got there, Lincoln, the head mechanic, looked at the engine and disconnected something that he said might help. If it didn't, he told me I'd have to replace some part that I don't remember the name of.

It would probably really help if I knew the first thing about cars. But at this point, it will have to be enough to know a few expert mechanics who will be honest with me and not try to gouge me out of more money than my 1989 piece of shit Buick is worth. I guess this is one of the "perks" of being a taxi driver working out of a garage. Actually, it's when stuff like this happens that I'm happy that I've stuck with this garage. They've been very good to me since day one.

So with the car working again and my day freed up, I stood around for an hour bullshitting with some other drivers before heading home. Those afternoon pre-shift story-telling sessions are sometimes my favorite part of the workday.

And now for some other news: I'm going out of town for the next two weeks, which means this shitty blog update is probably all there will be for a little while. I'll be in LA, though, and I have a feeling I may have a thought or two on the traffic situation there, so if you want to read more non-cab-related posts, check back from time to time. If not, I should be back to work by the end of the second week of May.

In the meantime, another cabbie friend just alerted me to his new blog, so hopefully that will keep you entertained. It's called The Hungry Cabbie and it's about his on-duty discovery of the best food in the five boroughs. It's pretty much all you could ever ask for from a New York cabbie. But be warned: You'll get hungry just reading it.

Friday, April 21, 2006

Just another night

I had a decent shift tonight but there are no great stories to tell. People seem to be behaving these days. So since I don't really have much to write, I will try to illustrate my shift with photos:

I was not pleased when I saw this sign posted at the garage:

$3.15 a gallon? What the hell? Is there another hurricane somewhere driving gas prices up again? It's back to Katrina levels but this time it's for no good reason. At least none that I know about. I spent $40 on gas tonight, and that sucks shit, but supposedly it's only gonna get worse. (UPDATED to say that was only for half a tank, NOT a full tank.)

These two knuckleheads were just waiting to bother me when I showed up this afternoon. That's Merrill on the left and Abe on the right. They're a couple a wise-asses, but I like them anyway. When Merrill gets called over the loudspeaker, John the crazy Romanian dispatcher always calls him "Merrill Salami."

I had a nice late afternoon ride through Central Park when I took an opera singer to the Upper West Side.

There's a huge ad in Times Square picturing that kid Teddy Geiger. He was in my cab once.

Later, I saw a Prius taxi for the first time. It looked small.

At the end of the night, a young drunk guy passed out in the back on the way to Ocean Parkway. He didn't puke, and he tipped well.

Unfortunately I don't have a picture of the very drunk girls who gave me the finger as I was stopped next to them at a red light on my way home. I wasn't even in my cab. One of the girls rolled down her window and stuck half her body out, giving me the finger (for no reason, mind you), while her friends tried to pull her back inside and apologized to me, explaining that she was drunk. The driver looked perplexed. I was just happy I was on my way home and not driving that cab. I'd rather have a dead drunk than a dumb drunk in my cab any day.

Monday, April 17, 2006


As you know, it was Easter. This kid (poorly photographed above) was highly aware of that fact and was getting into the spirit of things with her bunny ears, going for a ride in the back of the cab in front of me. She was fun to drive behind as she seemed to be having a great ride.

Overall, though, my shift tonight was actually pretty boring. Which is a relief. Most of my passengers were in a happy, laid back mood and, most importantly, were tipping nicely. I got stuck in a weird JFK/LaGuardia vortex early on, during which I dropped some tourists off at Kennedy, saw that the taxi lot was filled to capacity and decided to race up to LaGuardia to see if I would fare better there.

I did, in a way. I got to the front of the line at US Air after only 10 minutes, but when my passenger got in he said, "Kennedy airport." This is called a "shorty." Anywhere in Queens from LaGuardia is considered a short-haul ride, and the taxi dispatcher will you a shorty ticket which allows you to return to the airport (within 90 minutes) and cut to the front of the line.

I got him to Kennedy in record time, thanks to light traffic. I dropped off again, passed by the overflowing lot once more, and once more decided to go back to LaGuardia. I used my shorty ticket, which brought me to the front of the line at Delta and I got some passengers right away. Luckily, they were going back to the city.

The night went smoothly after that, and I was busy for a while. People on the streets were at the same level of retardedness, but the aggression level was much lower than usual. The only real asshole I encountered was some guy who was strolling across the street against the light with his family. As I was bearing down on them, I tapped my horn so they would hurry it up and get out of the way before I, or any of the other cars on the avenue, ran into them.

The women of the group quickened their step but the man slowed down. I guess that meant he was tough or something. He really showed me.

But this kind of thing really annoys me because it's almost as if he expected me to not only see him there, crossing when he shouldn't be, but he also seemed to trust that I'd be able to stop in time to avoid hitting him. Having been hit by a car once as a pedestrian, I know first-hand just how easy it is to get knocked down and royally hurt by a moving vehicle. It's not fun. And when guys do stupid macho shit like this, they're not only fucking with their own lives, their fucking with mine.

So when I saw this guy slow his pace to show what a big tough guy he was, I made sure to lean on the horn to express my disapproval. He, of course, gave me the finger. My passenger at the time read my mind and said, "I hate guys like that." I said, "Yeah, he wouldn't be so tough and brave if he got hit." She replied, "You're so right. I'm a nurse at New York Hospital and it's exactly that type of guy who comes in every day all full of bravado. But it all disappears the second you have to give them an injection. Then they're not so tough."

I understand getting angry at a driver because you got scared, even if you were the one in the wrong, but the above type of behavior is different. It's got nothing to do with fear and everything to do with ego. It's dangerous, completely unecessary, and utterly stupid. This guy wanted to prove something, and boy did he -- he proved that he is a total idiot.

Monday, April 10, 2006

More assholes

This drunk fuck really pissed me off. He and his friend hailed me in Williamsburg on Bedford Ave and wanted to go to Grand and Graham. I started driving but then stopped when I realized this guy was still smoking a cigarette. I myself am a smoker, but I don't like people to smoke in my cab because the smell lingers and non-smoking passengers get mad when they get in after. Plus, it's illegal and I can get a huge ticket for allowing it. So I said, "Hey, are you smoking? Can you throw it out?"

His hand was still out the window, but when I said this, he drew his hand in, took a long obnoxious drag off the cigarette, and then blew the smoke out all inside the back. The whole cab was full of smoke now and I was pissed. It was too late in the night for me to have any reserves of patience left so I said, "That was fucking rude. You know what? Get the fuck out of my cab. Now." The cab was already stopped but they didn't feel like getting out just yet. Instead, they started cursing and yelling at me. I yelled back, telling them to just get the fuck out and so on, and finally they said, "You're a CUNT!"

I said, "That may be so, but it's the most cunt you'll ever have in your life. Now GET OUT."

They jumped out and slammed the doors as hard as they could so that the whole car shook.

But apparently the drunk fuck with the cigarette didn't get enough of me because he ran up to my window and started yelling some more. Which was good, because I was able to shoot a few pictures of him.

I finally left and circled around, looking for a different fare. They were still standing there when I came back around and I had to resist the urge to run them over. Farther up the block, I got hailed by two Indian guys going to Queens. I dropped one off in Long Island City and, after he got out, the remaining guy said, "Would it be okay if I smoked a cigarette?"

I almost said yes, just to spite those stupid drunk guys but, realizing the pointlessness of that, I said, "I'm sorry, you can't. But I appreciate you at least asking."

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

An announcement

So. Some exciting news, though for some reason I seem to be having trouble figuring out a way to announce it.

Basically, I went ahead and got myself a book deal! And a real live, not-imaginary book deal, at that. It's with Villard, an imprint of Random House, and I'm still not even sure how to contain my disbelief and excitement over this.

Here's what happened: After the AP story came out in January, I got approached by a few literary agents and started seriously considering whether or not I wanted to write a book. To be honest, I wasn't sure. After meeting with some people and stressing myself out about it, I decided to go ahead with it. I chose an agent and began writing. That was two months ago, and I haven't been able to stop ever since.

When I felt I had enough pages to show, I put together a book proposal which was sent out to publishers last week. Villard offered me a deal and I gladly accepted it.

Needless to say, I'm fucking thrilled.

I want to thank you all for reading and responding so positively to this blog. Many of your comments and emails are what gave me the confidence to actually go ahead with this. Who ever thought I'd go from cab driver to "blogger" to soon-to-be-published author in just a year and a half? I still can't quite believe it myself.

Anyway, I plan to continue driving the cab and doing the blog, so if you keep reading, I'll keep writing.

Monday, April 03, 2006


Spring has officially begun in New York. All the blossoms are out and daylight savings took effect. I, of course, completely forgot about the time change and showed up at the garage an hour later than I intended. Luckily, I still managed to get a cab by 4:30 pm. The day was warm and I pulled out with my windows down for the first time in months.

And with the nice weather came the people and the cars. The traffic report kept telling me that the Holland Tunnel had an hour delay from all approaches. This meant that every street near there was utter hell and, as has been my luck lately, every person who flagged me needed to go in that direction. At one point I happened to pull next to another cabbie from my garage while we were stuck on Broadway for about 10 minutes. His passenger had given up and gotten out mid-block, and I said, "Now you get to sit in this by yourself." He replied with a smile, "That's what we do. We sit and we suffer."

With this weather also comes the OTB guys lingering outside between races. They're fun to look at while stuck at nearby red lights.