By Ron O’Clair
For the 11’th anniversary edition of the InCity Times, I thought that I would write about an issue that is near and dear to the heart of this former taxi driver who recently was contacted via my published internet address at the end of my recent articles in InCity Times by a fare that remembered me from 20 years ago when I used to pick her up regularly on Vernon Hill and take her out to her home in Auburn. She and I have been having an internet romance similar to the one between Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan in You’ve Got Mail. Renee and I have hit it off quite well, and I for one am hoping that it progresses like in the movie into something more than a platonic internet friendship.
She tells me that one of the reasons that she remembered me after all these years had gone by was the fact that I was polite, considerate, and put her at ease about the fears that she had about getting a ride with a stranger. She has fond memories of the conversations that we had between ourselves back then, and likes our internet friendship now. We have told each other things about ourselves, our families, and our feelings. Quite similar to the conversations she remembers so fondly from the past. I generally treated all my clients with the utmost in courtesy and deference, not only because it led to bigger tips, but because that is the kind of guy I am, I care more about other people’s feelings than my own as a general rule.
Renee when you read these lines, I hope you consent to meet with me for coffee face to face, such as my face is these days after 20 years have passed since the last time I saw you.
When I first acquired a license to drive Taxi-cab in 1987, the business was booming, day and night, 24/7/365. There were 108 licensed Taxi-cabs in the City of Worcester, and they did an amazing job of meeting the demand for rides no matter what weather was like outside, rain, snow, sleet, unbearable heat, fog or whatever, the Taxi-cabs picked up the fares with regularity and people usually did not have to wait very long. There were of course extremely busy periods where people had to wait sometimes inordinately long, but generally the got their cab in a reasonable amount of time.
I had a plan when I first got my license for a book about the City of Worcester and its underbelly, and I thought there was no better avenue than driving cab available to me to get the true pulse of the heart of the commonwealth than to get up close and personal with a large cross section of its inhabitants than driving people around in an enclosed space and communicating one on one with various ethnicities, cultures, and attitudes. Was I ever right about that. Unfortunately for me the book never got off the ground and I am still as yet an unpublished author who keeps plucking away at the keyboard hoping to one day be able to generate a publishable piece long enough to be worthy of publication as a book.
So I set aside my chosen career as an auto mechanic, a trade I had first learned from my own father who owned and operated several different service stations here in the city while I was growing up until his early demise one day when he opened up his “John’s Chadwick Square Globe Texaco” on West Boylston Street, had a cerebral hemorrhage, and died that very day when I was 18 back in 1979.
I applied for my first Taxi-cab license through the Independent Taxi Operator’s Association (I.T.O.A.) garage owned and operated by Donald and Antoinette Donovan which was located at the old Public Oil building on Grafton street which used to stand just about across from Penn Avenue where there is now a driveway to what later became a supermarket, which also is now no longer there, which goes to show how things change here in the city. Antoinette Donovan survived the death of Donald some years back, may God rest his soul he was a good person if you ask me, and now owns and operates Red Cab out of her property on Prescott Street. The city, for reasons that I plan to divulge in the book I plan to someday get launched, (Chewy never did get over the limp I caused when I broke his leg in two with my Air Force issue low quarter dress shoe which I still have in serviceable condition) issued me a provisional license and put me on a type of probationary status which if there were no problems would become full status at some later date. I held a license for more than 20 years so I guess I passed the probation.
I worked for them all at one time or another, ironically after getting my license from I.T.O.A., I first drove for Yellow Cab due to the simple fact that I was too embarrassed to tell the Donovan’s that I did not have the needed amount of money to pay in advance to take out an I.T.O.A. cab, and instead worked for Marco and Michelle Carvajal then of Yellow Cab on a straight 60/40 percent, with me getting the 40%, and them getting the 60% minus the fuel consumed which they paid for. It worked for me, and I started driving and doing my research for the book I intended to write.
I stayed with them long enough (6 years) that they paid off the lease on their second cab, #72, and had an argument one day with the owner’s wife, quit, and went to work for Arrow Cab, where I drove for several more years, mostly for Harry Gorgodian in cab #1, which I thought suited me just fine, seeing as how I thought of myself as the number one driver anyway, and apparently so did my new “hot babe” Renee. Then when Arrow got merged into Red Cab, I had come full circle, right back where I first got my license.
In all these intervening years, for most of them there were no such things as gypsy cabs, and no established Livery cars masquerading as Taxi-cabs, as the City of Worcester simply would not allow the rights of the medallion holders to be violated like they ended up being in recent years with the proliferation of these so called “Spanish Cabs” which operate exactly like regular Taxi-cabs, doing on demand pick-ups, and flag downs in strict contravention of the rules and regulations promulgated by Police Chief Gemme in 2008, which highly placed sources of mine in the Taxi industry say are “Fair and equitable” as the Chief laid them out.
My source tells me that if the Livery cars would stick to the rules, and only do their manifested 2 hour prior notice work, there would not be much of a problem with the fact that since the first one got licensed there are now over 100 Licensed Livery cars,(Not to mention the unlicensed gypsy cars roaming the streets in direct violation of ALL the rules of both sides.) and it was put forth by one of the Livery car owners at the last City Council meeting to have the city put a moratorium on issuing any more Livery car Licenses. They have dominated the business to such a degree that they are now having a difficult time finding enough illegal on call pick-ups to occupy their fleet, as the Taxi business has been being squeezed out of existence for years now since this all started, and the Taxi Companies are surviving basically on their charge accounts which make up a large percentage of the volume that they are sorely lacking from years ago.
Worcester is not the transit hub it once was in the heyday of passenger rail service, and Worcester Taxi companies derive the majority of their business now from the poor and elderly segments of the society we find ourselves in today which is nothing compared to the society as it was when I first started driving back in 1987.
As part of the research for this story, I conducted an experiment to see if the Livery cars were sticking to the provisions of Chief Gemme’s rules and regulations regarding on demand fares which are strictly the property of the Taxi-cab side of the business, and the rules are that Livery car companies are supposed to have a two hour advance notice to pick up fares. So I called ECUA Livery to find out how much, and how soon I could get a “Taxi” to take me to Webster Square Plaza from the Spanish Grille Restaurant. I was told that if I had $8.00 and was willing to go in 5 minutes or less I could have a “Cab” sent to pick me up. I told them I did not have the money and hung up. So I called the other large Livery car service, New Worcester Limousine and asked them the same question, and received the same answer, 5 minutes, and $8.00. I also told the lady that answered that I did not have the money and hung up.
A few minutes later my telephone rang, and the lady from New Worcester said my “Cab” was outside the Spanish Grille waiting for me to take me to Webster Square Plaza. I again told her I did not have the money, and she hung up. I called them both back, and asked if it would be cheaper to go instead to the Family Dollar store on Chandler Street. They both told me that it would cost $7.00 to go there, as that is their minimum fare for any ride no matter how short it is. Now, both of these two livery companies were able and willing to operate as defacto cab companies without batting an eye, or telling me that there is a two hour advance notification required for pick-up.
I did not actually take the rides, as I had all the evidence I needed to have for this story, and the $14.00 round trip to the Family Dollar from my house would be better off in my gasoline tank as I am living on a very small amount of money as it is. I must disagree with the Chief of Police’s contention that there is not enough manpower or resources to proactively enforce his own rules and regulations. How much would it take to periodically have a plainclothes Officer call like I did for a ride, take the ride, and cite the owner and the operator of these livery cars breaking the rules? The fines collected could more than adequately fund the cost of enforcement, especially when they found the stash of liquor in the trunk that I have it on good authority that the drivers sell to their passengers in direct contradiction to all known laws regarding the sale and consumption of alcohol in a moving vehicle, they don’t have those blacked out windows for no reason you know.
The City of Worcester administration, by allowing the police to ignore the situation and allowing the Livery operators to act as defacto Cab companies is not only driving the stake into the Taxi industry, but they are actually doing a disservice to the riding public in the process. Taxi Cabs. due to the nature of the on-call aspect of the business are required by law to carry far higher amounts of liability insurance to protect the riding public, and compensate them for any injuries resulting from loss arising out of any accident that may befall the passengers in transit.
For an example, as it is now, the average cost to insure a Livery car is $2,500 per year, while it costs on average $12,000 a year per Taxi-Cab. There is a reason that the insurance requirements are stronger for Taxi-Cabs, and that reason is the on-call aspect. Nothing else justifies it. Both types of vehicles are engaged in the picking up and dropping off of passengers for hire, and the Livery companies are ignoring one of the ironclad rules of the business to act in a manner reserved for Taxi-Cabs, on demand service. Livery cars are supposed to schedule their trips in advance and carry a manifest listing all the calls they are scheduled to pick up pre-printed before they even leave the garage.
Instead the Livery cars are being dispatched via two way radio, and writing down their calls as they do them, which in the transportation industry equates to a “waybill” not a manifest. The second most troubling aspect is the two-way radio communication. Livery cars are not supposed to be radio equipped for the purpose of acting in a manner reserved for Taxi-Cabs and making it possible to do on-call service. Cellular telephones can also circumvent this rule if used inappropriately to facilitate on-call service.
Protecting the public is the Police Departments job, and the City of Worcester Administration needs to ensure that they do what needs to be done to correct this problem of Livery cars doing Taxi-Cab business without having to carry adequate liability insurance. All Livery car excuses to the contrary, the riding public deserves to have their interests and rights to compensation protected by enforcing the law as it is written.