Taxis in Philly, part 1: Why drivers feel overworked & underpaid

By Randy LoBasso
Add Comment Add Comment | Comments: 9 | Posted Feb. 25, 2014

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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.” 

This is the first installment in a series on taxicabs in Philadelphia. Follow
PW at or on Twitter at @phillyweekly for Part II, forthcoming in March.

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Comments 1 - 9 of 9
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1. Nikki W said... on Feb 26, 2014 at 01:06PM

“I attempted to use Uber a couple of weeks ago in Manayunk and the car never showed up. There were plenty of cabs but none of them would stop. The one that I ended up riding in was illegal and and he charged $65 for a $20 ride.”

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2. Steve Chervenka said... on Feb 26, 2014 at 07:09PM

“The indignity discussed is worst than reported. 100% of the risks of driving a cab are on the drivers, and the owners get a free ride. This is why the medallion is so expensive.”

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3. vrb0322 said... on Feb 26, 2014 at 08:14PM

“Here are my issues with some cab drivers the language problem with too many of these drivers. Not being able to use the GPS effectively because they can't spell or understand a word ) But they sure know how to count that money.Getting a cab after hours has become a chore. Most of these drivers do not want to go outside the city limit unless you are at the airport. Two New Year's Eve ago I spent a good part of 2 hours trying to secure a ride from Ole City to my home outside the city.No one wanted to stop because once they found out they would have to go outside the city limits and could not pick up anyone till they reached the city limits on the return trip that 32.00 trip was not worth it. I lesson learned I no longer stay in town pass the time the el is running and I no longer come in town to celebrate New Year's Eve.”

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4. Anonymous said... on Mar 3, 2014 at 12:53AM

“Every taxi driver has to go through a training class and a drivers u c on the street they already have the certificate from PPA, SO I wud say it is their responsibility to have a standard training class and most importantly every drivers shud go through a mandatory drug test , I doubt PPA CAN AFFORD IT, U KNOW WHY THEY WILL LOSE MONEY BY DOING THIS, the catch is they charge $125.00 from every new drivers for the class and every single week there r 15-20 new drivers r coming on the business!!! Where there r already 4/5 thousands drivers allready in the market, on top of that they charge$80.00 from each drivers every year to renew the license! So u tell me if PPA START cracking down on those bad drivers who r on drugs! And who ever has language problems they gonna start losing money!! Which they cant afford it....its easy to blame the drivers but think about the good drivers who work hard every day and stil ppl blame them and no one seems to understand their problems.”

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5. Anonymous said... on Mar 14, 2014 at 07:32AM

“the problem is not drivers on drugs the problem is the high lease rates and long hourse drivers have to work to make a fair living if i lease a cab for a weekly lease i can drive a maxium of 14 hours under the law i pay 90 bucks a day to rent the cab and 50 bucks in fuel so if i average 15.00 an hour during my 14 hours i make 210.00 minus the 90 minus the 50 i am making 70 bucks for 14 hrs work”

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6. Anonymous said... on Mar 18, 2014 at 01:34AM

“All I have to say it's all ppa fault I hot million n 1 thing to say abt ppa n put the out off this taxi business”

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7. Anonymous said... on Apr 17, 2014 at 01:24PM

“How about mandatory spell check before you post a comment?”

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8. Blue Dog said... on May 31, 2014 at 03:02PM

“It is the reason we need to tax fairly ... not break the backs of the working class... a hedge fund manager that makes 500 million dollars a year only pays capital gains taxes , not income tax......

Big business and people like the Koch Brothers dictate to keep the little person exactly that....Little with no say.... They intend to spend $125 million dollars on the 2014 midterm elections .... a mere drop in the bucket of their $100 billion dollar ill gotten fortune”

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9. Brandon said... on Aug 14, 2015 at 01:05PM



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