We all know that nightmare that’s at the dead end of the beggar’s road you travel when you realize you need a ride home from the airport. The first 2-3 stops on that road are hypothetical ones, when you decide which friend you’re allowed to subjugate to your will. Do they owe you for that free kidney? Will you have to adopt their baby now to pay them back?
Then you settle on the person you have the balls to inconvenience by making them your personal chauffeur. If they say yes, now you owe them a baby adoption. And if they say no, you’re confronted with the worst non-death-related decision you could ever make: either going Jalopnik and building a suitcase car, or paying for a ride from the airport.
If you don’t live in a real city (read: anywhere in the South, the plains, or anything 50 miles inland from a water source), chances are your public transportation sucks: No trains, and they’re 10 miles from your house if you have one, buses come only every few hours and you have to walk five miles in a 95 degree swamp to get there, etc.
Great news in the last few years: Uber and Lyft exist, and can pick you up wherever you are. Bad news: except your airport, which probably bans them picking you up.
Why? Because traditional taxi cab companies, plus airports and local governments, have banded together to stop them. As stoned-out partiers at SXSW this year discovered, the airport wants its cut of cab fares, and if it doesn’t get it, you can’t operate there.
Goodish news: There’s a possibly illegal way around it.
But if your friends have bailed and you’re not willing to do quasi-arrestable things to get an uninflated price on your ride home, you only have one option: the dreaded taxi cab - you know, that thing you never used before Uber and Lyft existed, and which you likely still avoid like a flaming gilded garbage barge on wheels.
Before the ridesharing economy was a thing, taxis, despite the breadth of brands out there, seemed to have eerily similar pricing, almost as if they were fixing prices instead of competing against each other for the sake of consumers.
Despite the introduction of far cheaper options, they’re still trying to maintain that stranglehold. Take a walk down a row of seemingly competing cabs in Central Florida (my example, because I live there) and you’ll see they’re all still about $2.60 for the first 1/4 mile and 60 cents for every 1/4 mile after that. It’s not because $5 is as cheap as they could afford to drive you the first 1 mile down the road, and $2.40 each mile after that.
It’s because more money means mo’money.
Considering the fairly generous work-related-driving reimbursement rate that the IRS gives drivers (about 50 cents per mile), it really begs the question of where the other $1.90 per mile goes. Considering the government thinks it costs a regular Joe $12 to drive from Orlando International Airport to Disney World, should it really cost $65 for a one-way taxi ride? Of course not. That’s literally more than it costs to rent a car for nearly a week in Orlando. Sure Orlando has ludicrously cheap car rentals, so it might not be a fair comparison, but you’d hope taxis would take that into account. They also know you have to find a way to bring the car back. With a cab, you just step out. But UberX and Lyft charge half the cab rate, and if you use UberPool, it’s even cheaper.
The two most popular ridesharing services also have a few other advantages:
1) The drivers (mostly) actually speak English.
2) The drivers usually know how to drive above third-world standards
3) The drivers actually know where they’re going (or at least their iPhone does)
Those three don’t really apply to cab drivers.
I entered that curbside hellscape this week. Coming back from a nightmare flight from Reno to Orlando which started Monday morning and ended Tuesday at 10:30 a.m., I needed a ride home. Everybody nearby was at work or school, because of course. Whip out the phone and Uber and Lyft are both banned for airport pickups.
So what’s left: A cab ride. The price to get me home (alive, in theory) was much more than the case of beer that anybody whose name I knew would receive: $58, plus tip. For the amount of time it’d take to get me home — roughly 29 minutes — that’s $120 per hour, which is the going rate for the services of your dentist, lawyer, or apparently any lunatic who paid $20 for a driver’s license and walked into a cab company office.
You’ll note two of those require doctoral-level degrees, as opposed to the cab driver’s nominal threshold of owning human hands.
René Préval, which is the name of the most recently ousted president of Haiti...
...and the name I will assume for the Haitian expatriate behind the wheel of the Toyota Camry hybrid cab that screeched to a halt in front of the B terminal taxi stand and lurched and wheelspun its way to my house in sauna-like conditions, despite possessing a fully functioning air conditioner and it being about 85 degrees with 100% humidity outside his inexplicably open windows.
When I asked René if he could make it colder, he turned off the air conditioner.
Now I hate Florida weather enough as is, so fresh off two weeks in cool and dry California, this tropical aggression would not stand, man. When my face went from sweating to raining and it became apparent he thought I’d actually requested to die, I adjusted my vocabulary and asked him to turn the AC “more cold”, at which point he turned a 10-notch AC fan to notch 1. Several clarifications later, I was no longer my own personal swamp.
Now the reason I refer to him as President René Préval, aside from not catching his name, is he’s probably been forced to change his identity a few times since leaving Haiti. Based on his performance there’s no way he still has the first driver’s license he got here.
After the president peeled out the first two times he took off from a stop, I told him “that’s cool, I do that on purpose all the time.” Little did I know he’d do that on every takeoff, and in between he’d vary between seemingly 0 and 100 percent throttle as if it were a binary input, freeway cruise included. It’s as if every other moment he was either preparing for a panic stop or to run away from the cops. Maybe one of his ankles was broken. I don’t recall looking at them.
Oh, and the entire time he was driving, the seatbelt he was wearing was also being kindly shared with the shifter. I have no idea why.
By the time I looked up from my phone to stop joke-texting friends about what was transpiring in front of me, it was too late to notice he’d taken the surface street route through traffic, significantly increasing the drive time and reducing his hourly rate (sure, most of it probably goes to Stupid Ripoff Cab Company, but still) to a mere ~$90 or so.
By this point I had established a casual rapport with René wherein we didn’t speak, I noticed more alarming things about his driving, said nothing, and he continued doing them.
Every single direction change required my navigation, which was a huge barrier to progress when I realized he didn’t really know what the words “left” and “right” meant if I said more than one of them before he completed the former action first. If I said two of them in the same sentence, he seemed to believe that the second direction always canceled the first, and then just went that direction instead of doing them in sequence. If two turns were very close together, this turned into a near-disaster.
Eventually through a confluence of events I have yet to reconcile we arrived in my driveway, but only after he mistook the word “left” for “right” several more times and became baffled when I said “house with the big tree” out of desperation, then the president finally responded correctly to the word “stop.”
All of this happened because the cheaper, frankly safer option is somehow the worse option to anybody in power.
I’ve taken Uber plenty of times, in strange cities I didn’t know, with strangers who were never checked out by a cab company to make sure they sucked at driving and didn’t speak English, yet they’ve always been pleasant, reliable and, best of all, cheap. Cabs should die already.