Friday, 24 January 2014

If you ain't broke, don't fix the rate.

"A fixed rate? About 600 sek. But if that's too hefty for you, we can run it on the meter."
"And how much would that cost?"
"90 sek."
"Oh... Let's go with the meter then."

I've mentioned before that I don't get paid by the hour, but by fares. As a cabbie, I am entitled to about 40% of the total amount racked up by the meter. After taxes and various surcharges, I go home with about 33%. On a decent night, I get about 3000 sek, out of which 1000 sek are mine, not including the tips. In essence, I only get paid for the time that the meter is actually ticking.

Thus, every minute is precious to me. There's nothing as stressful as a slow night, because slow nights mean less pay. Conversely, if business is booming and there's no end to fares, I find myself at my most serene. I can pick and choose, because no matter what happens, there will always be another fare. I call it the Inverted Pyramid of Stress.

Most people don't know this. Most people think I have some kind of fixed income, plus whatever comission I make. I always smile at this. What a lovely dream! If I had any kind of fixed ground income, there would be nights where I'd simply find a cheap parking spot and leave the car there overnight. Either that, or I'd be mandatet to sit in the car a certain amount of hours. Since the total control over my work-hours is main thing that makes this work bearable, I am, if not happy, at least content with this arrangement.

But as I said, most people don't know this. Most people think I get paid regardless, and so a lot of people will try to haggle with me, try to get me to accept that hated, HATED concept of the Fixed Rate. And if I were a less than honest man (or an indie, though the difference between the two is a matter of philosophy), I'd accept every time and pocket the money without registering it on the meter. After all, 200 sek on the meter will net me 60 sek, whereas 200 sek off the meter will net me 200.

The only times I accept fixed rates is either on extremely long fares that will take more than an hour (and those are extremely rare), or if I'm feeling charitable. And while I'm at bottom a big softie, rarely do people merit charity. 

Some people will demand a fixed rate for other reasons. A lot of people think (often with good reason, sadly) that cabbies will try to scam them.. As I've explained earlier, there are reasons why this is a thing. I don't know how many times I've cursed over a Taxi K driver or an indie crawling down the street in front of me, crawling in order to milk as much cash they can out of the meter. It's disgusting. Understandable, but disgusting nonetheless. So, demanding a fixed rate is a sensible way of assuring yourself that your cabbie won't rip you off

Whenever people opine that I might be scamming them by taking a longer route or refusing a fixed rate, I say:
"This is Taxi M. The amount of money I make per fare is  pittance. Even if I wasn't as honest as I am, I'd have to drive through half the province and back before I'd make a profit from ripping you off."

People usually accept this with a laugh. 

But sometimes I don't feel like engaging in a discussion on the subject. So I offer them a ridiculusly high fixed rate, one so high that only an idiot would accept it. And most people do not consider themselves idiots (regardless of contrary evidence), and decide to go by the meter instead.

But every once in a while, they fail to understand what I'm trying to do. And that's where I skirt dangerously close to dishonesty.

I got two stories. One in which I did something borderline illegal, but morally acceptable. The other where I did something totally legal, but morally debatable. 

This happened last summer. I had just dropped off a flock of drunken 20somethings at a club on Grand Street. I leaned back in my seat and took a deep breath. Business was booming tonight. I could afford a short break. 

Suddenly there was a knock on my window and a couple were looking at me. The girl was dressed in some sort of gaudy sequinned top and hot pants, wobbling like a tree in a storm. The guy was, like so many guys, dressed in clothing so bland that it either meant he had no fashion sense, or counted on his own manly charisma to ooze through his sweatpants and hoodie, rather than copious alcohol fumes. Whether or not he succeeded, I leave a mystery. 

"Heeeeeey," said the girl when I had rolled down the window. "How much for Victoria street?"
"Victoria street? You mean, Victoria street that's barely a five minute walk down the block?"
"Yeah! How much! A fixed rate!"
I decided not to fight the urge to roll my eyes (I did, however, fight the urge to call her out for being a lazy ass). "Look, miss. I'm not going to drive you. I'm sorry."
"Oh come ooon! How much!"
I sighed. "If I'd drive you there, while running the meter, it'll cost you barely 40 sek, if that."
"40 sek! We'll take it!"
"However, if I decide to drive you, I'd want cash up front. And I wouldn't accept any less than 100. So just to be clear, if I drove you, I'd be overcharging you by 100%. So I suggest you save that 100, and walk the three minutes it takes to get there."
"Noooo! 100 it is!"

And 100 it was. I'd like to say I'm not proud of that moment, but really... I made the premises clear. She accepted them. In the end, to make it legal, I typed in 5 sek on the meter. 95 went into my pocket, officially as a tip. 

Second story happened about two years ago. I was way out in Short Valley, a low-income suburb in the eastern part of town. THey were headed to the south, a bunch of kids barely into their 20s. Young, pretty and kings of the world. Sadly, they have yet to learn that the world is a republic.

"Hey man, can we do a fixed rate?"
"Sure! Six hundred sek!" (this for a trip that would cost around 200)
"Oh man, that's a bit too much. How about 500?"
"Five hundred?" I asked, not really believing what I was hearing.
Suddenly one of his friends pushed him aside and climbed into the cab. "Get out of here, you idiot. Motherfucker's trying to overcharge you."
He then looked at me and gestured. "you and me, we both know how this works."
"Oh do we now?" I said, smiling thinly.
"Yeah. I know that you're trying to gyp us. So we won't pay any more than 450."
This is where I could've informed him of what I was doing and why. But by now, I had decided that I despised his drunken arrogance. 
"Wow... you got me, sir. You drive a hard bargain. 450 it is."

Down the line, I'm going to write a survival guide on how to avoid getting scammed by taxi drivers. But until then, I leave you with this: The meter is your friend. The meter is there to assure that the driver doesn't overcharge, and that you don't underpay. This is the age of smartphones. It's a minority that doesn't have a fully functioning GPS navigator in their pockets. If you don't 100% trust your cabbie (and again,  there are often good reasons not to), trust google maps, and make sure your driver stays on the right path. Fixed rates are only for when company policy prescribes it, the driver offers, or if you in no way, shape or form trust your driver. 

Because in the end, we get paid by the fare. We have every reason to make it as expensive as possible.

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