Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Taxi lingo and a few tricks of the trade

I want you all to understand that I don't do any of the dishonest things I discuss below. Seriously. I may be the only completely honest cabbie in San Diego.

Bells and flags

A bell is when the dispatcher calls on the radio and sends a driver for a pickup. A flag is when someone on the street flags you down.

Stretching your hood

Lying to dispatch about your location. Examples include saying you're closer to an incoming call than you actually are. Another is saying you're clear well in advance of clearing, which lets you get in line (virtual line maintained by dispatch) earlier. Also, drivers will claim to be entering one of our pickup zones when they're still miles away -- same reason, we get in line upon returning to our pickup zones.

Ghost ride

Calling dispatch and announcing you've just picked up a flag, when you haven't. This is used when a driver suspects the next call from dispatch will send him to a bad customer (a drunk, short ride, etc.). Drivers would rather give up their place in line than pick up some of these creeps. He'll wait 10 minutes, then call dispatch saying he's clear, and get back in line at a cab stand.


Driving customers without notifying dispatch. A driver can get a free ride this way, without losing his place in line. Most drivers dishonest enough to smuggle will only do so if no other cabs are in sight, for fear of getting busted. Some do it anyway, and if another driver complains on the radio, they radio in, "I forgot to mention I got a flag going from A to B" or "Didn't I call that in?"


Similar to smuggling. Driver makes up an excuse for refusing a call (which riles the cab company owner to no end). Examples include flat tires, returning a forgotten cell phone (or medication or a hat) to a customer. Sometimes a driver will simply ignore the radio. He'll call in later asking if dispatch has been trying to reach him, then apologize for accidentally having his radio volume too low.

I've seen people get burned by claiming a flat tire because HQ wants to get involved.


Picking up a flag in a city or zone you're not licensed for. San Diego and certain suburbs have banded together to offer a single pickup license, but the airport has its own license, as do some suburbs. A cabbie can only pick up where he's licensed; he can drop off anywhere except Mexico (for insurance reasons). Slightly off topic, we had a new guy drop off in Tijuana, then spend three hours in the car line getting back across the border. Nobody was amused.

The fine for wildcatting is $2400, issued by the San Diego Metropolitan Transit System (MTS). I've heard that you can bargain down for a first offense. Cops can catch you, enemy cabs can turn you in, and the MTS has undercover agents watching for it, especially in the Gaslamp Quarter and the airport. People look around carefully before picking up.

A few of us have a novel way of dealing with airport security. A few times a year San Diego gets so busy that airport security begs you to pick up. They've run out of cabs! "MTS suspended the rules for today, we need you to pick up," they whine. "In your dreams," we say. I'd rather give up a ride and whatever money might be had just to screw them. They watch us threateningly 363 days a year, then beg us for help. Forget it! The airport can fuck off for all I care.

With licenses starting at around $20,000 (lasts a lifetime, and is transferable) for small suburbs, and going up steeply from there, cities don't want unlicensed cabs picking up. Cities want their slice of the pie.

Every driver I've spoken with wildcats every day. Our guys pick up illegally, and I see enemy cabs picking up in my zone constantly. I only bust enemy cabs if I see them wildcatting routinely.

Ride theft

Stealing a fare from another cabbie. A driver will hear a bell come across the radio, know the position of the car who got the bell, and beat him to the pickup. Obviously, this is a smuggled ride.

When I first started driving we had one driver steal a ride from another, and he got his nose broken as punishment. The pugilist ended up losing his job.

Lying to dispatch

Lying is involved with many of these tactics, but there's one specific lie that's funny. A driver might pick up a fare who says he's going a short distance, but you lie to dispatch, saying it's a long ride. It is done to ram home the awful luck of the Town Clown (see below), hoping he'll get frustrated and leave for the day. Fewer cabs on the streets means more money for the rest.

Town Clown

The unlucky guy who gets one short, local ride after another. This is really frustrating, especially when other drivers are getting great rides all around you. I have a general rule: four locals in a row and I'm done for the day.

Give 'em the tour

Driving people the long way round to pump up the meter. This is the age old problem with taking taxis in a city you're not familiar with. As I stated above, I never do this, but we have drivers who do. Our Polish drivers take people on half hour rides just to get them four blocks down the road.

This happens because some cabbies are animals, but also because customers almost never lodge complaints. By law, all cabs must have a car number and cab company name in the car, visible to the customer. If you think you've been given the tour, make the complaint, or shut your lobster hole.

Radio tricks for thwarting enemies and increasing income
  • Click the mic to disrupt transmissions.

  • Impersonate dispatcher or driver voices.

  • Use a rubber band to hold down the mic button, killing all communication. Town Clowns and victims of theft use this one sometimes because they're so angry. One time somebody did this while playing The Flintstone's theme song on the CD player.

  • Stretch your hood (see above).

  • Give bad directions to the new guy. It's common for new drivers to ask for directions on the radio, and a lot of veterans like to frustrate these guys so they'll quit -- fewer drivers means more money for the rest.
Racing back to the stand (or zone)

If two cabs drop off at the same spot, they might race back to our zone to get in line ahead of the other guy. Racing poses an interesting challenge, as the car is yellow and easy to see, plus the boss's phone number is on the side. Civilians like to call that number and complain. I've been passed on the freeway by two racing cabs doing what seemed like twice my speed.


Roy said...

you've listed all the reasons I gave up radio work in favor of the streets.
very funny , brought it all back

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Anonymous said...

I drive in the Chicago burbs. Same games, different names. Stretching your hood is known as 'shortblocking'. We call ride theft 'hotloading'. Give em the tour is 'longhauling'. Also first up on the post or dispatch list is 'being on the head'

Skyring said...

All cabs have GPS in Canberra, so base knows exactly where everyone is. In the old days there were some very long cars around - the bonnet would be in one suburb, and the back wheels would be on the rank in another.

We're not supposed to pass another cab when both are empty, but a lot of the newer guys do.

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Alfie said...

- The new gps dispatch sytems are much better as teh dispatcher can see on his screen which way a driver is heading. This way the dispatcher can suspend a driver that is telling lies.
- And fixed prices given to the client means the driver can't scam or overcharge.
- Also the dispatcher can give the cell phone number or plate number of the cab that will be collecting them.

So if the clients gets into the right cab he will not get ripped off.


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Anonymous said...

Everything your mention happens daily on the central coast of new south Wales Australia and our own operators are the real offenders in 60% percent of the illegal activity of holding jobs back or floating the shitty job to the driver they do not like because of the drivers complaint against the network.

Also do you have a system call MTData if so what issues have you found with it.


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Kathleen Wallace said...

Fairbanks Alaska where we can flag from the street, tip our dispatchers and do the speed limit at the airport. Taking another one of our driver's trips is called "high flagging" (from the old radio days when taking fares without dropping the flag), lying to new drivers is called picking a virgin's cherry and taking a fare from another company is just sport.

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Bingo said...

In San Francisco "Bingo" had a different meaning...if your dispatcher called out who's at Jones and Sutter and you were right there you would respond..."Bingo" and you would get the call.

"Deadhead" meant you were riding empty.

"Riding and Ready" meant you were going to take the call no one wanted to ride to.

"Gates" were the fee you rented your cab for.

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Anonymous said...

These are hilarious! I didn't realize there was so much to the taxi business. I am glad I've never been "given the tour." The taxi drivers in my state are all very honest.

Anonymous said...

Taking another cabs call is known as scooping here

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