TLT's Cab Crusade

Cab Ride #1: It’s cold. It’s snowing. I have no cash on me, but my bank’s ATM is half a mile away. I’m running late, so I do what any city gal would do. I hail a cab and ask if he takes credit cards.

“No.” And he drives off.

one pulls up and I try again. “Do you take credit cards?”

“No.”

Fine. I walk into the convenience store and use their ATM and agree to pay their fees and my bank’s fees and and sign a 10-part form that says I’m paying for 2 percent of the rental of the machine, and yes I accept these terms and conditions. I walk back outside, hail a cab, grumble my way downtown from Belmont and Sheridan when he takes LaSalle to Ogilvie Station, when any local knows that Lake Shore to Lower Wacker is about 10 minutes faster. Still, I tip him $2 on a $12 fare.

Cab Ride #2: This time I had 3 teenage boys with me. Being teenage boys, they have no concept of seasons and appropriate winter attire and therefore would freeze at a bus stop and the other two mothers would probably be a little ticked if I let that happen, so I flagged down a cab and we piled in.

A friend had informed me after Cab Ride #1 that my first mistake was asking if they take credit cards. “I just get in and give ’em my credit card at the end. They are required to take it, after all.” Since I’d tried several times in the past to be “considerate” and ask if I could use plastic and had been left standing on the street, I decided to take his advice. Besides, once again I had no cash and my bank’s just not that convenient. So this time I didn’t ask.

He turned right when he should have turned left and dropped us a block away from our destination in the middle of a snowstorm. I pulled out my American Express and, although he had one of those contraptions you slide a credit card through on his dashboard, he sighed. Loudly.

“You don’t have any cash?”

“No.”

“The machine’s broken.”

“I’m sorry. I don’t have any cash on me.”

He grabs a stack of manual receipts. If you’re over 30 or make purchases in places where the lights flicker and the cash register still has push buttons and the drawer flies out with a loud “brring”, you’ve seen them. They’ve got blue boxes to put the numbers in, and the carbonless paper never transfers the information to the bottom copy. Anyway, they’re folded over and he wags them at me. “I’ve already got all these unapproved cards,” and he starts to flip through them.

“I’m sorry. I don’t have any cash on me.” Maybe he thought if he complained enough money would suddenly appear in my wallet. That’s never worked for me or anyone else I know, so still no cash.

“You should have asked first.”

I tipped him $2 on $9.50. Don’t ask me why.

Cab Ride #3: Cab driver’s response when I handed him my credit card?

“Shit.”

My tip?

$2 on $7.50.

As I exited the cab into the blustery cold, I knew that I had over-tipped, again. Heck, with the attitude these guys were giving me they didn’t deserve a tip at all. Still, I wanted to be absolutely positive that they were required to accept credit cards before going into a complete hissy-fit. On Cab Ride #1 I’d written down the number posted on the back of the front seat for the City of Chicago, so I called and the nice lady (which was a pleasant surprise in and of itself) informed me that yes, cab drivers in Chicago are REQUIRED to accept credit cards. She also volunteered that if they say the “machine is broken”, then they need to call it into dispatch to get it repaired. It is not the fare’s responsibility.

Cabbies have to pay a fee to their company for each credit card, but she told me the main reason they don’t want to accept them is they’ll have to declare that tip. That logic fails me. They’d rather turn down a fare than have to declare it? What also escapes me is why you’ll get attitude if you don’t have any cash on you. These guys make their livings off of gratuity, which should be based on service.

Oops.

My last three experiences had been awful, and yet I still tipped 20+ percent. I was guilty of reinforcing their negative behavior for no other reasons than I felt expected to tip and I’ve spent years in the service industry. (B. F. Skinner would have a heyday with that reflex.)

No more. I know there are positive, service-oriented cab drivers out there. Unfortunately, those with negative and entitled attitudes are so pervasive that, as a proponent of Chicago and someone who encourages tourism, I’m embarrassed to think my city is being represented in this fashion. It also just plain ticks me off. So, I’m instituting a set of rules to follow whenever I need to take a cab.

  1. I will not ask if he takes credit cards. He has to. Period.
  2. If he gives me attitude about the card, no tip. Nothing. Nada.
  3. If he also takes me the wrong way, or is on his cell phone, or curses, or shoves hand-written receipts in my face or is in any other way inappropriate, rude or disrespectful, I will call and file a complaint.
  4. If there’s no attitude, I’ll tip at least 30%. If possible, I’ll even tip with cash.

Join me, please, on my little crusade to reward those drivers who are good at their jobs, and to refuse to encourage those who aren’t. Just imagine if cab drivers knew their income rested solely on the merits of the service they provide.

City of Chicago: (877)244-2227


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