Drivers get none of the money from advertising displays on top of or inside the cabs. Rather, they accept a $35 fee when the ad infrastructure is installed in their cab, then watch the revenue go to their dispatch company and communication system. Yet they’re required to maintain the backseat video screens fully, including fixing the screen if a drunkard accidentally, or otherwise, kicks it in—which is rare, drivers say, though when it does happen, it’s between 2 and 5 a.m., typically known as the most dangerous times to drive.
One cab driver in Southwest Philly says he’s been trying to take a vacation to his home country, Nigeria, for more than a year. But he can’t afford to lose his medallion—nor can he afford to continue renting it over the several weeks he hopes to take off. And the medallion’s owner, he says, will not hold it for him.
The most frustrating numbers for cabbies might be these: There are 1,600 medallions for rent in the city. The PPA says 150 more will be added over the next decade. Meanwhile, there are about 5,000 licensed taxi drivers.
So, as with plenty of other jobs, drivers today find that having work at all has become more important than whether they’re being treated properly while doing it.
Despite the obstacles, taxi drivers see hope for the future. Because the industry’s current status quo doesn’t account for what’s on the horizon: new technology that customers want.
Blount says he and other drivers were upset last year when the city kicked Sidecar, an app-based company dispatching cabs via mobile phone, out of Philadelphia for operating illegally. Many felt that Sidecar—and other online-era car companies like Uber, which still operates a mobile app-based limousine service in the city—offered drivers a fresh, alternative approach to their work, and, perhaps, an easier way to bring in money.
“In Philadelphia,” says Blount, “unless you’re in the structure [already], you can’t get in. But I think it’s only temporary. The technology is coming.”
Election Day 2014: Tues., Nov. 4