Thursday, June 20, 2024
Hans Wienhold at Johnny’s Esso Station 415 Main West, 1978. Photo: Hans Wienhold
Guest ContributionsOpinion/ColumnTaxi industry news

Busy as Hell

by Hans Wienhold

It was a Friday night, near the end of my career. I was sitting in my cab in the Augusta Nightclub zone, watching all the bar patrons jumping into the unmarked Uber cabs in front of me, beside me, behind me, and across the street.

As the tripless minutes ticked by, I started to feel increasingly desperate for a trip. My Mobile Display Terminal (MDT) started beeping at me with a dispatch order. Ordinarily, I would just let the MDT time out and recycle me to the end of the line. But it was getting late, and I wanted to gas up and go home, so I pushed on the “Accept” icon.

When the trip popped up, I scoffed. It was for the Corktown, at Ferguson and Young. “This one will be dead for sure,” I thought, but I decided to go for it anyway. Live or dead, I was going home directly afterward.

The Corktown was five and one-half blocks from where I was parked in front of the Pheasant Plucker. A distance of 650 meters and about a two-minute drive.

Two minutes might not seem like a long time, but at two o’clock in the morning, when the entire zone is crawling with about two thousand taxis (inclusive of the Ubers,) all sniffing around like hungry piranha swarming a drowning cow in the Amazon River, it is an eternity.

I started the car and started moving. Before I got to John Street, someone flagged me. A bird in the hand being better than two in the bush, I pulled over of course, and let them in, confident that whoever had called a taxi from the Corktown was already long gone. This one was a good trip going far away to the east mountain.

After clearing the trip, my spirits having been somewhat buoyed, I decided to try for one more trip in the Augusta zone. As I planned my route, I opted to check out the Corktown, in the infinitesimal chance that someone might still be waiting there.

“Confessions of a Hamilton Cab Driver” is now available on Amazon.

Well, I’ll be a monkey’s uncle. Two guys were there, patiently waiting. When they got in, one of them commented, “Boy! You guys must be really busy! We’ve been waiting for forty-five minutes.”

“Oh, fuck yeah!” I told them. “It’s just like New Year’s Eve.” That was a good trip too.

One more story

In a feeble attempt to “compete” with Uber, the two taxi brokerages in Hamilton got their own apps, similar to the Uber app.

One feature of the app was that the customer could watch the progress of their taxi on their smartphone screen.

One evening, I was driving a walk-in passenger from the GO station to the far east end of the city. As I made my journey eastward, my computer automatically booked me into each zone as I passed through it.

Oh, before I go on, I need to explain something. Ordinarily, with the computer dispatch system that was in place at the time I was running this trip, you would not be automatically booking into the zones as you proceeded. That is because the meter was integrated into the mobile data terminal. When the meter was activated, the computer would automatically book your cab out of the zone. You would not be able to book in again until your trip was completed and your meter turned off.

Some drivers would evade this limitation by negotiating flat rates (illegal in Hamilton,) and running the trips without using the meter.

I took a different approach. I downloaded a meter app onto my old smartphone. It was a very good app that allowed me to install the meter settings specific to my jurisdiction. I kept the smartphone on the dash right beside the MDT.

The reason I installed this app was not to try to rip anyone off. It was to prevent the broker’s computer from knowing what I was doing. I was for privacy. I was not their employee. I was an independent operator. I was their customer.

Whether or not my meter was running, and any amounts that were running through it, were none of the broker’s business.

I was an “old stock” cab driver with the motto, “Whatever happens in a cab, stays in a cab.”

I could have used that meter to get a leg up on the other drivers by booking into subs out of turn but that was never my purpose. In fact, at that stage of the game, I was barely accepting more than two or three office tips a week.

Even with my private meter, with business as slow as it was at the time, the odds of getting a computer trip while driving through any given zone were about the same as the odds of getting hit by a flying manhole cover.

As luck would have it, the computer beeped me as I was traversing 16 area. I just couldn’t let it go, so I accepted the trip. It was for someone at Centre Mall. Unfortunately, I still had a passenger in the cab. I had to drive him home first.

It was only a few kilometers out of the way, and as soon as I cleared, I turned around and deadheaded to the pickup location. When the guy got in, he told me he was puzzled by the app. He said that once the app had notified him that a cab was on the way, he saw that the cab was traveling in the wrong direction on the map.

Instead of bullshitting this passenger, I decided to explain to him just how poorly conceived this app was in considering the grim reality for drivers on the road. Driven to the point of starvation by City of Hamilton taxicab policy, and ill-conceived apps, drivers would resort to extreme measures to survive.

The city’s decision to flood the market with supply, while enriching the brokers, ended up hurting not only the drivers, but the customers as well.

A few weeks later, it happened to me.

My personal car was in the repair shop, so when I parked my taxi at Highway 8 and Fifty Road, I decided to try out the app and summon a taxi home.

Blueline’s app told me there were no cabs available. In the old days, a telephone call to the dispatch office would result in a taxi being sent, even if it meant chasing a cab over some distance. But in this new world of  “disruptive technology,” it simply resulted in no cab. Period.

So, I loaded the Hamilton Cab app and placed an order from them. It was pretty snazzy. Not only was there a cab in the area, but I got an instant text message telling me that car # such and such was on the way, plus an estimated arrival time.

I loaded the map, and yes, I could see the little icon representing my cab. There was a problem though. Like the guy who was waiting for me to pick him up at Centre Mall, the icon was traveling in the opposite direction.

Unlike the poor bloke at Centre Mall, I knew exactly what was happening.

I decided to just walk the two kilometers home.

I had just started walking when my phone rang. It was the cab driver who was supposed to pick me up. He told me he wouldn’t be able to make it, but not to worry.

He said, “A friend of mine is coming to pick you up.” Then there was the kicker…. “Maybe.”

So, being in a bit of a bind, he had called one of his cabbie buddies and asked him to pick me up.

I continued walking.

But his friend showed up about a minute later and drove me home. Someone with no knowledge of the back story might have been irritated or angered by this rigmarole. I was just amused.

The trip ran about six and change. The driver, perhaps feeling a bit guilty, said, “just give me five.” I gave him ten saying, “Don’t worry about it. I know you’re busy as hell.”

Not long after that, my son decided he wanted to try driving a cab. In order to get his license,  he had to get one of the brokers to sign a form from City Hall.

I took him to see Anthony Rizzuto.

As Anthony was signing the form, he looked at my son while pointing at me and said, “Whatever he tells you to do, do the opposite.”

Little did Anthony know that that was already the established protocol between my son and I.

*****

This story is an excerpt from Hans Wienhold’s new book “Confessions of a Hamilton Cab Driver,” available on Amazon in hardcover or paperback.

Wienhold identifies as a Welfare Recipient at Senior’s Welfare; Self-Employed; and also, a Climate Scientist at BS Detective Services.