The Globe reporter, who had previously worked as a cabbie during his college years, is familiar with fatigue as an occupational hazard when he slips behind the wheel of one of Boston Cab’s Camry hybrids. He knows the industry’s unforgiving economics: making money means hustling, squeezing every nickel out of a shift.
He works no more than 12 hours a night, including the wait for a taxi. Boston Cab charges him the standard shift rate of $77, plus an $18 premium for a newer cab, as well as a city-sanctioned, 30-cent parking violation fee. Factor in the sales tax ($5.96) and optional collision damage waiver ($5), and his cost per shift is $106.26, not including gas.
Over eight nights, the Globe cabbie takes home about $965, or about $11.35 an hour, before taxes.
His moonlighting produces an array of vignettes, from the humorous to the haunting:
On Halloween night, six female medical students squeeze into his cab on Mission Hill. Dressed as the 2012 US Olympic women’s gymnastics team, they’re bound for Lansdowne Street.
When the taxi turns onto Huntington Avenue, it is engulfed and gridlocked by more than 150 costumed, college-age bicyclists on a mass Halloween ride. The meter ticks, and a couple of the future physicians — drinks in hand — hang out the taxi windows, shouting at the revelers: “Move it, you losers!’’
Other customers are more genteel. A working-class couple going home to Everett after celebrating their wedding anniversary insist, over the driver’s protest, on a generous tip. The husband says, “We know how hard it is for you guys.’’
There are moments of catharsis: A woman, on her way home to Cambridge, has just received word from her doctors at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center that she is near death. From the back seat, she reflects on her life, expresses concern about her children, and looks forward to cuddling with her dog. She seems to draw a measure of comfort from her exchange with a stranger.
And there are moments of trepidation: After midnight, three young men near the Bromley-Heath housing development flag down the cab. One asks for a ride to Franklin Park — for a discount rate of $5. Refusing him could trigger a conflict, so the man is welcomed in. At Egleston Square, he changes his mind — and the driver’s pulse quickens. Now, the man wants to go to Grove Hall. Fares like this can lead to trouble, but this ride ends without incident, the man disappearing into the darkness.
Over time, headaches develop as the cabbie’s back door opens and passengers come and go. There are drunks who want a pop radio station’s volume cranked to deafening levels. There are college students who use the taxi as a moving van. Their expectations are high — Driver, could you help us with these things? — and their tips are low.
And there are fare evaders. Near the Museum of Science, a woman hops in, bound for the Prudential Center. She is pleasant despite a traffic jam that has choked Storrow Drive. She pays with a credit card, but moments after she has slipped out of the cab and melted into the sidewalk crowd, the computer flashes “unauthorized.’’ Her free ride costs her cabbie $13.20, more than an hour’s wages.
Four nights later, it gets worse.
At 12:30 a.m., with taxi business scarce, two security guards at Massachusetts General Hospital approach the cab. They are pushing a wheelchair carrying a disheveled man in a dirty hospital johnny.
The man is headed for East Boston. He asks for a cigarette before the cab leaves.
“Sorry,’’ he is told, “we’ll be there in five minutes.’’
Boston cabbies are commonly criticized for spurning fares to East Boston, a destination dreaded for its $5.25 return toll. Taxis are permitted to assess a $2.75 surcharge for passengers traveling through the Callahan Tunnel to any location but the neighborhoods of East Boston.
When the cab reaches Jeffries Point, the customer says he needs to go inside for his money. He returns smelling of liquor and says he is locked out.
“Do you have a screwdriver?” he asks. He wants to break in.
“OK, take me to the fire station. They’ll let me in.”
At the Maverick Square firehouse, several firefighters come to the door. They have seen the man before.
“Richard, we can’t keep doing this,’’ one says. “This is the last time.’’
“I know,’’ Richard, wobbling, replies.
It’s back to Jeffries Point, Engine 9 trailed by Boston Cab 870. The firefighters jimmy open two doors and usher Richard into his apartment, but he can’t find the money.
“It’s under the bed,’’ he says, cigarette smoldering. Continued...