The Real Poop
Is picking up a hitchhiker your idea of fun? Do you enjoy navigating busy streets and gridlocked traffic, and love to honk your horn for absolutely no reason? Well guess what? You might be a natural taxi driver.
A taxi driver is someone who navigates the city (or town) streets, taking otherwise helpless passengers from point A to point B—for a small fee. They call it a fare, but customers aren't always going to like it.
Money is the name of the game here. The more fares you have, the more dollar bills that'll be thrown into the front seat. Unfortunately, at a yearly average around $25,000, drivers aren't going to be making an exorbitant (or even decent) amount of money (source). Still, it's a fine option for a lot of people. You get to sit and drive all day and get paid for it—for some that's a lot better than working retail or in a restaurant.
It's a fairly good backup gig too. This job offers flexibility for students, parents, and those with other careers looking to pad their income. Working shifts at odd times allows a lot of drivers to keep up with the hobbies they most enjoy doing, like game night or dance class or whatever else revs their respective engines.
So you apply and they just, like, give you a yellow car with a light for a hat, right? Not exactly. Most taxi drivers lease their cab from a cab company or fleet—although the more industrious cabbie will own his or her own vehicle (source). The lease cost includes insurance, communication equipment, and maintenance on the car.
To make money for the day, drivers have to take in more money than the combined costs of gas and their lease. Hopefully after those bills they'll have enough left over to pay for a few extra "luxuries" like food and shelter.
During the typical shift, you'll spend your time picking up and dropping off various people in diverse locations (or is that diverse people in various locations?). Dispatchers will relay pick-up points to taxi drivers, or they can also find random passengers by cruising popular places in town or standing at a taxi stand (so that's where they get that name for those things).
Once you've got riders in your cab, you gotta get them somewhere (and fast). Unless you have a hovercab in your driveway, you're also going to need a basic understanding of the road systems and traffic patterns in your particular area of service. Asking your customer for directions to the massively popular sports stadium downtown probably isn't going to get you the biggest tip in the world.
Customer service is a big part of the gig. You don't have to be a people person to be a taxi driver, but it does help to keep you sane. Drivers meet people from all walks of life; they might drop off a few corporate types going to a black tie affair, then pick up a group of college kids going to a party (probably not at the same place).
Passengers don't like waiting in traffic while their fare continues to climb, but sometimes there's nothing to be done about it. So you do what any parent with a crying baby does: distract them. Many taxi drivers have what your grandparents called the "gift of gab," or the ability to small-talk about almost nothing for hours on end.
You'll need something to make the time go by (and for some reason the police aren't too crazy about you reading or watching a movie behind the wheel).
Of course, this gig isn't all bells and whistles—er, car horns and air fresheners. Driving a taxi is one of the most dangerous jobs in the United States (source). If you spend ten hours or more a day driving through a congested city, you'll find lots of opportunities to get into accidents with other cars, pedestrians, or guardrails.
Taxi drivers also tend to carry a lot of cash, so it's not a good idea to pick up that shady dude with the creepy smile and the hatchet in his hand. He might not have the best of intentions.
The taxi driving industry has been a pretty consistent deal for the better part of the last century. However, thanks to GPS and the rise of ride apps, the industry is in a complete upheaval. Taxis themselves are changing by becoming more like small comfort pods, while non-licensed, privately-owned, ridesharing services are now eating into professional taxi businesses in a major way.
You can probably still be a cabbie in the future. You just may never see one of those iconic yellow cars again.
For those looking for driving challenges and adventures with strangers, a taxi driving career is a good fit. No two days are exactly the same, and you'll get to know every side street in your town, meeting a slew of unique characters along the way. Always keep in mind that passengers are entrusting their lives to you, so while it's important to get them to wherever they're going in a timely manner, you also don't want to take too many chances.
And please clean the insides of your cab on a regular basis. No one wants to drive around in a vehicle that looks and smells like a dorm room.