How to Stay Alive as a Cab Driver

Sikh Taxi Driver

This is how I am 57, a cab driver, and stay alive.

  1. For the hours that I am working and while I am in my cab, it is a benevolent dictatorship. This is what a successful rider will do: be on time, get in, be quiet while I drive you to your destination, pay me and get out. Any deviation from this and your ride ends early at a destination of my choosing. The municipalities I serve say I have these rights:
    • Refuse a ride to any passenger who appears to be inebriated under the influence of alcohol and/or drugs.
    • Ask an unruly passenger to get off. Unruly behavior would include yelling, using profanity or swear words or being extremely impolite and rude. Please be polite.
    • Refuse anyone who appears to be carrying any illegal or controlled substances like drugs or drug paraphernalia.
    • Ask you to stop smoking, drinking or eating inside the cab.
    • Request a deposit of the estimated fare in advance in certain circumstances.
    • Deny you a ride if I believe my life is in danger.
    • Ask you to wear seat belts.
    • Refuse making change of large bills.
    • Decline carrying large pets.
    • Decline interstate rides or long-distance rides out of the service area. These I will do as long as:
      • You give me a refundable deposit up front for the estimated cost of the ride.
      • I can accomplish the ride and get back to the cab garage by the end of my shift.
  2. My life is worth more than your money. You can’t afford what my life is worth. You can’t pay me enough to be allowed to break rule #1 Well . . . maybe. The number is $5 million cash paid up front. No, I will not accept less than that. Give me that and we’ll talk about rule #1
  3. I don’t play by your rules. I play by my rules. My rules mean everybody ends the ride happy. Your rules get you out of my cab and maybe into an ambulance. Your rules may mean I am going to jail.
  4. Sex in the cab? No. Get a room. Sex in the cab with me? Still no. If perchance I am that hot and you want me that bad you can wait until you have been home, had a shower, slept and I have finished my shift. Then we will do the usual romance thing–dating . . . you know how it goes.
  5. High dollar or out of town ride? You will pay me up front. No? See rule #1

Richmond VA List of Passenger Rights

The City of Richmond, VA and surrounding counties publish a list of passenger rights. These are rules drivers must follow when servicing a  passenger. It is another example of rules that get ignored, mostly.

  • Your taxi driver must take you anywhere in the Richmond Virginia metropolitan area and nearby surrounding counties.
  • Your taxicab must be clean, which includes clean windows and seating areas.
  • The taxi driver must provide a receipt upon request. The receipt must include the taxi driver’s full given name, proper identification number, tag number of the vehicle, date and times and the exact metered fare.
  • Display the taxi driver ID clearly on the passenger’s side visor.
  • Display the passenger rights on the back of the passenger seat.
  • Turn off any music or radio when you ask them to.
  • Transport small pets provided they are inside a pet carrier, unless the taxicab operator can show a certificate of medical exemption in case of pet allergies and other medical conditions.
  • Bring mobility wheelchairs, assistive-devices, and guide/service dogs.
  • Your driver must take the most reasonable route to your destination.
  • The taxicab driver must follow your directions.
  • Prompt pick up from your stated origin.
  • Your driver must provide a safe ride and follow all traffic rules and statutory speed limits.
  • Your driver must be courteous, polite and speak fluent English.
  • Accept major credit cards.
  • Pay for smaller fares with a debit or credit card. There is no minimum amount for a debit or credit card.
  • Your driver cannot discriminate a passenger based on gender, ethnicity, race or religion.
  • Your taxicab driver cannot pick up other passenger to share the ride with you unless you agree to it.
  • Pay only the actual meter reading and any toll charges incurred.
  • You have the right to get a copy of the toll receipt.
  • Your driver cannot ask you where you are going before letting you in.
  • You have the right to proper working air conditioning (heating and cooling) during your trip.
  • You cannot be charged for extra passengers unless the vehicle is a van. For a van taxicab you can be charged a maximum of $1 for the 2nd, 3rd and 4th passenger.

Bad Script

Robbers plan their crimes. This is what is supposed to happen: robber presents weapon and threatens harm, driver dutifully hands over cash, robber leaves, sometimes after harming/killing driver. This is exactly what must not happen. The robber declares war once the threat is in play. All rules which make it easier for the robber to succeed are bad rules. Everything the driver does that preserves his life and the robbers is fair play. The cops are usually a half-hour or more away. That’s at least $15.00 in lost revenue plus whatever the thief hopes to steal. A half-hour fight that is taking too long.

So . . . make the script fail. Throw coffee in his face. If you smoke, burn his hand/face/something with your cigarette. Punch back. Shoot him/her. Soak him or her in pepper spray. Gin up some story about needing to stand up so you can retrieve the money in your sock, your crotch, whatever. Once out of the cab and on your feet, have fun with it. Run, don’t run, beat his ass, doesn’t matter. The goal is to thwart the robber’s plan and detain him so the cops can take him to jail.

The stated threat is a chance to make havoc for the robber. Take it as a challenge to see how much of a crazy asshat cabbie you can be. Victory comes when the robber complies with your order to lay flat on the pavement and stay down until the cops come. Or after you have injured him so he can’t get off the pavement. Or he is dead.

Dominate the interaction between you and the customer way before the threat is revealed. Enforce Rule #1. It’s way better for everybody.

Don’t Wreck

The Smith System® is a recognized, easily learned method that sets up professional drivers for success. I’ve listed their five keys to safe driving (sort of) below. I strongly recommend you take their class. Just having the words isn’t enough.

  1. Aim High Steering
  2. Keep the Big Picture
  3. Keep Your Eyes Moving
  4. Leave Yourself an Out
  5. Make Sure They See You
  • Also . . . when changing lanes pay attention to the cars two lanes over. In heavy traffic there are usually cars trying to weave lane to lane to get ahead. Make sure you see those guys.
  • Give yourself time.

Making Money

There are two basic algorithms to cab driving. One optimizes for the maximum dollar per trip. The other optimizes for the maximum number of trips. Pick the one that suits your personality.

Big Money

A driver that seeks to optimize for the maximum dollar per trip is willing to wait as long as it takes to get a trip of the amount he or she hopes for. These drivers can be found at hotels, train stations, airports, events and convention centers. They make money, sometimes a lot of money. And they spend a good portion of their shift waiting for that big trip. The guys I knew at the Oakland Airport made more money gambling among themselves than they did taking fares.

Big Numbers

I’ve never been that guy. I am too impatient, too fidgety to sit somewhere for a couple of hours waiting for a big dollar ride. I maximize for the greatest number of trips. On a busy shift in Richmond, VA I can exceed 2 fares per hour. When I worked in Oakland I could double that on a good day. Working on big numbers means I average a larger number of fares per month at a lower dollar per fare. I’d rather have a more predictable, smaller cash flow than rely on a few big fish to make ends meet.

Because I work on high numbers, I also end up doing a larger number of less than copacetic rides. A lot of my revenue comes from old people and poor people. I do a lot of business in public housing projects and the ghetto. My customers go to the laundromat, grocery store, doctor and commute to work. One thing that has been different in Richmond is the distance between public housing projects. They are spread out so there is more business carrying people between public housing projects than I remember in Oakland.

It’s Just Business

The big mistake/choice a lot of cab drivers make is to stay a cash business and work in the grey and black markets. They create a paper trail that makes it appear that they are destitute/crazy and have no visible income. They are perpetually broke on paper. The choice to chase cash becomes self-fulfilling. You can’t have a checking account because the activity is reported to the IRS. Without a paper trail you can’t get credit. A lot of guys live this way. But, once you are in you can’t get out easily. Most guys that set themselves up this way get out with a John Doe toe-tag.

We are headed toward a nation that rewards ownership. The past century of socialist policies that included massive debt as a way to create a material fantasy of success is ending. Heir Gropenfuhrer is in office because Frau Kuckuck was trying to tell us she had a pimp hand and we didn’t believe her. Whether Cheeto Satan is able to marshal us through our debt crisis and inflated equity bubble remains to be seen. Either way, the future is bad for those who hold debt and are renting. This includes cab drivers who are living on a knife edge in the black market.

On the Radar

The right way is by well-known practices for running a high-cash flow small business. Cab revenue runs in waves. Sometimes you are hot and there is a lot of cash and sometimes you are spending money. It’s topsy turvy. In good times you save and live lean so that in the lean times you have money. Your accounting method should be accrual. Pay your quarterly estimated taxes.

Set up an LLC or other legal entity that pays you a fixed hourly wage and benefits. Give that LLC it’s own EIN so the money is attached to it and not to you. Keep at least a month’s worth of costs saved in that LLC. Even better is 3-6 months of operating cash in the LLC. Buy good insurance, not just for the car but for yourself and general liability for the LLC. Work 10 hours instead of 12. Use the first and last hour to take care of the cab as needed. Own the cab and the hacks license. Pay cash for these. Drivers are brutal to their equipment so count on needing more than one cab to keep one hacks license on the road. Keep your mechanic happy.


  1. Say what you will about the habits of millennials and Uber users, but they are a huge potential customer base that is only going to get bigger. The taxi industry needs to figure out how to get these people to switch over. So what should cab companies do to address this market?

    1. You compete by working the fundamentals. Deliver a clean, pleasant smelling late model cab in good repair. That cab should have an am/fm car stereo that customer’s can connect their phone to. Make it a silent cab. Meaning the driver uses iCabbie or similar to get rides and so on. Have the driver take care of himself. Clean, smells good, is polite and professional, and knows the city. Be on time. When dispatch or the app says 20 minutes make it 18. Take care of the drivers. Don’t let them work over 60 hours in a 7 day week. Offer programs where they can participate in retirement savings, health care savings, insurance and so on. Give preference to drivers who do these things. These are just a few ideas.

  2. Well done. I like the rules. Reads more fluidly, if that’s a proper sentence. Your writing offered more pictures, a better feeling of your cab driving strategies. I don’t see that it stifles creativity, contrary, it helps it flow.

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