Taxi drivers, also known as cab drivers, operate automobiles and other motor vehicles to take passengers from one place to another for a fee. This fee is usually based on distance traveled or time as recorded on a taximeter. There are currently about 144,280 taxi drivers and chauffeurs in the United States.
History of Taxi Driver Career
Today’s taxis are the modern equivalent of vehicles for hire that were first introduced in England in the early 1600s. These vehicles were hackneys, four-wheeled carriages drawn by two horses that could carry up to six passengers. By 1654, there were already 300 privately owned hackneys licensed to operate in London. In the next century, hackneys were introduced in the United States. Around 1820, a smaller vehicle for hire, the cabriolet, became common in London. At first it had two wheels, with room only for a driver and one passenger, and one horse drew it. Some later cabriolets, or cabs, as they were soon called, were larger, and by mid-century, a two-passenger version, the hansom cab, became the most popular cab in London. Hansom cabs were successfully brought to New York and Boston in the 1870s.
Toward the end of the 19th century, motorized cabs began to appear in the streets of Europe and America. From then on, the development of cabs paralleled the development of the automobile. The earliest motorized cabs were powered by electricity, but cabs with internal combustion engines appeared by the early 20th century. Along with the introduction of these vehicles came the need for drivers, thus creating the cab driver profession. In 1891, a device called a “taximeter” (tax is from a Latin word meaning “charge”) was invented to calculate the fare owed to the driver. Taximeters found their first use in the new horseless carriages for hire, which were soon called “taxicabs” or just “taxis.”
The use of taxis has increased especially in metropolitan areas, where there is dense traffic, increasing population, and limited parking. Modern taxis are often four-door passenger cars that have been specially modified. Depending on local regulations, the vehicles may have such modifications as reinforced frames or extra heavy-duty shock absorbers. Taxi drivers may be employees of taxi companies, driving cars owned by the company; they may be lease drivers, operating cars leased from a taxi company for a regular fee; or they may be completely independent, driving cars that they own themselves.
The Job of Taxi Drivers
Taxicabs are an important part of the mass transportation system in many cities, so drivers need to be familiar with as much of the local geographical area as possible. But taxicab drivers are often required to do more than simply drive people from one place to another. They also help people with their luggage. Sometimes they pick up and deliver packages. Some provide sightseeing tours for visitors to a community.
Taxi drivers who are employed by, or lease from, a cab service or garage report to the garage before their shift begins and are assigned a cab. They receive a trip sheet and record their name, date of work, and identification number. They also perform a quick cursory check of the interior and exterior of the car to ensure its proper working condition. They check fuel and oil levels, brakes, lights, and windshield wipers, reporting any problems to the dispatcher or company mechanic.
Taxi drivers locate passengers in three ways. Customers requiring transportation may call the cab company with the approximate time and place where they wish to be picked up. The dispatcher uses a two-way radio system to notify the driver of this pick-up information. Other drivers pick up passengers at cabstands and taxi lines at airports, theaters, hotels, and railroad stations, and then return to the stand after they deliver the passengers. Drivers may pick up passengers while returning to their stands or stations. The third manner of pick up for taxi drivers is by cruising busy streets to service passengers who hail or “wave them down.”
When a destination is reached, the taxi driver determines the fare and informs the rider of the cost. Fares consist of many parts. The drop charge is an automatic charge for use of the cab. Other parts of the fare are determined by the time and distance traveled. A taximeter is a machine that measures the fare as it accrues. It is turned on and off when the passenger enters and leaves the cab. Additional portions of the fare may include charges for luggage handling and additional occupants. Commonly, a passenger will offer the taxi driver a tip, which is based on the customer’s opinion of the quality and efficiency of the ride and the courtesy of the driver. The taxi driver also may supply a receipt if the passenger requests it.
Taxi drivers are required to keep accurate records of their activities. They record the time and place where they picked up and delivered the passengers on a trip sheet. They also have to keep records on the amount of fares they collect.
There are taxis and taxi drivers in almost every town and city in the country, but most are in large metropolitan areas.
Taxi Driver Career Requirements
Taxi drivers do not usually need to meet any particular educational requirements, but a high school education will help you adequately handle the record-keeping part of the job. You should also take courses in driver education, business math, and English.
Certification or Licensing
In large cities, some taxi drivers belong to labor unions. The union to which most belong is the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, Chauffeurs, Warehousemen, and Helpers of America.
Those interested in becoming a taxi driver must have a regular driver’s license. In most large cities, taxi drivers also must have a special taxicab operator’s license—commonly called a hack’s license—in addition to a chauffeur’s license. Police departments, safety departments, or public utilities commissions generally issue these special licenses. To secure the license, drivers must pass special examinations including questions on local geography, traffic regulations, accident reports, safe driving practices, and insurance regulations. Some companies help their job applicants prepare for these examinations by providing them with specially prepared booklets. The operator’s license may need to be renewed annually. In some cities (New York, for example), new license applications can take several months to be processed because the applicant’s background must be investigated. Increasingly, many cities and municipalities require a test on English usage. Those who do not pass must take a course in English sponsored by the municipality.
If you plan on becoming a taxi driver, you should be in reasonably good health and have a good driving record and no criminal record. In general, you must be 21 years of age or older to drive a taxicab. While driving is not physically strenuous, you will occasionally be asked to lift heavy packages or luggage. If you work in a big city, you should have especially steady nerves because you will spend considerable time driving in heavy traffic. You must also be courteous, patient, and able to get along with many different kinds of people.
Taxi drivers who own their own cab or lease one for a long period of time are generally expected to keep their cab clean. Large companies have workers who take care of this task for all the vehicles in the company fleet.
Exploring Taxi Driver Career
Visit your local library to find books about taxi drivers and other transportation careers. Ask your teacher or guidance counselor to set up a talk with a taxi driver. Take a ride in a taxi to experience the career firsthand.
Taxi drivers are often employed by a cab service and drive cars owned by the company. Some drivers pay a fee and lease cabs owned by a taxi company, while others own and operate their own cars.
Usually people who want to be taxi drivers apply directly to taxicab companies that may be hiring new drivers. Taxicab companies are usually listed in the Yellow Pages. It may take some time to obtain the necessary license to drive a cab, and some companies or municipalities may require additional training, so it may not be possible to begin work immediately. People who have sufficient funds may buy their own cab, but they usually must secure a municipal permit to operate it.
Earnings for taxi drivers vary widely, depending on the number of hours they work, the method by which they are paid, the season, the weather, and other factors. Median hourly earnings of salaried taxi drivers and chauffeurs, including tips, were $9.60 in 2005, according to the U.S. Department of Labor. Hourly wages ranged from less than $6.68 to more than $15.23 an hour. This range translates to an annual wage range of between $13,900 and $31,680 for full-time work.
Limited information suggests that independent owner-drivers can average anywhere between $20,000 to $30,000 annually, including tips. This assumes they work the industry average of eight to ten hours a day, five days a week. Many chauffeurs who worked full time earned from about $25,000 to $50,000, including tips.
Many taxi drivers are paid a percentage of the fares they collect, often 40 to 50 percent of total fares. Other drivers receive a base amount plus a commission related to the amount of business they do. A few drivers are guaranteed minimum daily or weekly wages. Drivers who lease their cabs may keep all the fare money above the amount of the leasing fee they pay the cab company. Tips are also an important part of the earnings of taxi drivers. They can equal 15 to 20 percent or more of total fares. Most taxi drivers do not receive company-provided fringe benefits, such as pension plans.
Earnings fluctuate with the season and the weather. Winter is generally the busiest season, and snow and rain almost always produce a busy day. There is also a relationship between general economic conditions and the earnings of taxi drivers, because there is more competition for less business when the economy is in a slump.
Many taxi drivers put in long hours, working from eight to 12 hours a day, five or six days a week. They do not receive overtime pay. Other drivers are part-time workers. Drivers may work Sundays, holidays, or evening hours.
Taxi drivers must be able to get along with their passengers, including those who try their patience or expect too much. Some people urge drivers to go very fast, for example, but drivers who comply may risk accidents or arrests for speeding. Drivers may have to work under other difficult conditions, such as heavy traffic and bad weather. Taxi drivers must be able to drive safely under pressure, and for long periods of time. In some places, drivers must be wary because there is a considerable chance of being robbed.
Taxi Driver Career Outlook
There will always be a need for taxi drivers. Job opportunities for taxi drivers are expected to grow faster than the average through 2014, according to the U.S. Department of Labor. The high turnover rate in this occupation means that many of the new job openings that develop in the future will come when drivers leave their jobs to go into another kind of work. In addition, as the American population increases and traffic becomes more congested, the need for taxi drivers will increase, especially in metropolitan areas. At present many drivers work on a part-time basis, and that situation is likely to continue.