As he ended his shift on Tuesday at a gas station in Midtown Manhattan, Alderete Faustino, a New York City cabby for 25 years, squinted warily at the receipt that laid out his earnings for the day.
Alderete Faustino has been driving a cab in New York City for 25 years.
He had made $141 in cash fares, plus another $150 from credit cards, for a total of $291. Not bad for 12 hours of work.
Then, he ticked off his losses. He had paid about $110 to the garage upfront, just to rent his cab. Drivers pay out-of-pocket for gasoline, and it cost $38 to fill up his tank. Another $15.50 went to the state, for a transit tax.
The grand total: about $127, or $10.58 an hour, which Mr. Faustino deemed his average wage. “That’s more or less what I do,” he said, sounding a bit resigned.
Cabbies do not make a lot of money in New York. The Taxi and Limousine Commission estimates that drivers earn an average of $130 a day, down from $150 in 2006. Adjust those figures for inflation, and the pay cut comes out to nearly 25 percent over six years.
And even as the city prepares to raise taxi fares by as much as 20 percent, many drivers are skeptical that they will see any benefits.
“Every time they raise it, it’s for the garage,” Mr. Faustino said, as he headed off to collect his day’s pay from the dispatcher. “Everything goes to the garage.”
His skepticism, echoed by several drivers interviewed on Tuesday, is understandable. Almost every time the city raises fares, it also raises the so-called “lease caps,” the maximum amount that a fleet can charge a driver to rent a car for a 12-hour shift.
For the driver, higher fares and higher rents can result in little or no net gain. Securing a taxi for the most lucrative time slots — evenings, from Thursday to Saturday — can leave a cabby in a $133.77 hole before a single fare has been collected.
That pattern could change this time around, if the Bloomberg administration gets its way. Officials at the Taxi and Limousine Commission, facing a protracted negotiation with the notoriously feisty yellow cab industry, are reluctant to discuss their strategy publicly. But one person with direct knowledge of the city’s plans said the commission was reluctant to raise lease rates, saying the industry had not presented a strong case for a change.
The city is also looking at ways to eliminate part or all of a fee on credit card transactions, widely despised by drivers, that allows taxi fleets to collect 5 percent of any fare paid on a card. Some of that money is used to pay credit card companies and vendors; the rest tends to be pocketed by the garage.
“The fee has become a profit center for the fleets,” said David S. Yassky, the taxi commissioner, in an interview on Tuesday. He described the current fee as “generous.”
Those who remember “Taxi,” the classic television sitcom, may wonder what happened to the bohemian cabby of the 1970s. Back then, garages and drivers split the proceeds down the middle, and shifts were shorter, lasting 8 hours rather than a grueling 12.
The industry has long since shifted to a more feudal system. Drivers pay upfront to rent their cab, and receive no benefits or options for disability payments.
Drivers often face other hidden — and possibly illegal — fees, like a tip paid to a garage dispatcher in order to begin a shift sooner. Bhairavi Desai, founder of the New York Taxi Workers’ Alliance, said that cabbies could lose another $20 on these charges, and that garages could add a $25 fee if a cab is returned late.
The tight margins of the hack trade can leave cabbies feeling frustrated. “Sometimes, I don’t like it, because I have the potential to lose money,” said M. D. Islam, a cabby from Queens who has been driving for six months. He often earns less than $100 a day, he said; if his cab breaks down, or he can’t find passengers, he may end up in the red.
Still, pay can vary by experience, skill, or just plain luck. Gifty Ofosu, of New Jersey, has driven for more than a decade; she said she could make $200 on a good day, especially if she catches a few trips to the airport.
Many fleet owners, for their part, say they deserve a raise in the lease rates, which have stayed constant since 2004, citing higher costs for insurance, vehicle maintenance, and new technologies mandated by the city.
“Fleets have a tremendous amount of financial obligations and responsibilities,” said Michael Woloz, a spokesman for the Metropolitan Taxicab Board of Trade, a fleet owners’ group. “A garage runs 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. It doesn’t happen by magic; it’s a costly operation and a lot of garages employ 50 or 60 people.”
Source: The New York Times