Tuesday, January 12, 2010

POLL OF THE WEEK: Have you ever had a problem getting cab service to or from River East?

The primary reason I bought my first car 10 years ago was because I got tired of cab drivers rolling right past me to pick up a non-black (usually white) fare. I remember one night after I had been working late in Georgetown and spending a ½ hour fruitlessly trying to hail a cab. I finally gave up and asked a white couple on the street to hail a cab for me - they did and five minutes later I was in a cab and on my way home to Northwest. That night I decided it was time to buy a car. Fast forward three years and I am on a street in downtown DC (wearing a suit and carrying a briefcase) on my way to a business meeting with a white co-worker and we needed to take a cab. I warned him in advance that cabs wouldn't stop for me because I was black and he didn't believe it so I gave him a little demonstration. Right after the fourth available cab drove past me without stopping he was stunned…I was not. He stepped to the curb and a cab stopped immediately and off we went to our business meeting, after that day whenever we traveled together by cab it was just understood I would not be doing the hailing. I remember thinking at the time that when it came to catching cabs in DC things couldn’t get much worse. I remembered my earlier years at Howard University when I would have to hail a cab for my black male classmates, now I needed someone to hail a cab for me. I am sure it is still no where near as difficult to hail a cab as a black woman compared to a black man but it's still a challenge.

In those days I didn't think it could get any more difficult, boy was I was wrong,it could and would become much more difficult to get taxicab service in the District. Imagine being black AND trying to get a cab to drive you to "Southeast", talk about mission impossible. Coordinating a cab ride to Southeast while black becomes a full fledge undercover operation full of psychological analysis, bait-and-switch, and good old fashion moxie. I am fortunate to have a car but sometimes circumstances arise when I just have to take a cab and when I do most times I have to follow the “hailing while black” tricks of the trade. Today I share them with you along with my “traveling to River East” addendum. To be fair, I have non black friends and neighbors who have expressed challenges in getting a cab driver to take them east of the river but there is something about being black and traveling to River East that just makes the process all the more hard.

If you should find yourself standing on a corner trying to flag down available cabs with no success feel free to use my Hailing While Black: 10 Rules of Engagement Game Plan.

STAGE ONE: Capture
1. Identify a sympathetic non-black person (the whiter the better) and ask them to hail a cab for you.

2. Stand on the curb while your front man/woman gets a cab to stop (cab drivers have gotten hip to the game so make sure to look nonchalant…I find that whistling overplays your hand, however, if you have a Blackberry this would be a good time to check your email).

3. Just as your new friend opens the cab door you jump in the backseat quick and fast, making note of the cab company and number (if things go bad you will need it to file a complaint).

4. Now this next part is important. Make sure you are in the cab with the door firmly closed before you tell the cab driver where you are going! Unscrupulous cab drivers have been known to suddenly go off duty right around the time you get in the cab or right after you tell them your destination. If you make the rookie mistake of telling the driver you are going “east of the river” before you get in the cab you may find yourself “east of a cab”… and left on the curb! Never ask a cab driver if he is in service, if he stopped the cab for your front man/woman he is in service.

STAGE TWO: Misdirection
5. At this point usually the battle is already won. You are in the cab and it’s pretty clear that it will take a stick of dynamite and a crowbar to get you out of the backseat so at this point about 95% of cab drivers will just take you to your destination - they might be mad as hell, but they will take you to your destination - assuming your destination isn’t across the Anacostia river. Now if you do live in “southeast” (aka east of the river) then you may have to do some strange things to get home.

6. I’ve learned from experience that the best way to win a fight is to avoid a fight, so when telling the cab driver your destination keep this in mind. Never, ever ask a cab driver if he will take you to Southeast (you might as well get out of the cab at this point); I find it best to deal in a general direction (down South Capital Street) or a landmark (National Stadium) rather than providing a specific east of the river address which may present an opportunity for your cab driver to refuse the fare outright (it’s illegal but it does happen). Don’t get me wrong, there are professional cab drivers out there that won’t have a problem taking you across the river; however, there are more than a few drivers who are not. (FYI – generally if you catch a cab from the cab stand at an airport or a reputable hotel you can usually and again I say “usually”avoid this step, most of those cab drivers know they have to take you to their destination or risk losing privileges at that cab stand)

7. Just before you arrive at your “destination” start giving your driver street by street directions. When I am in a cab with a less than ethical driver, and I need to get home to Congress Heights without a fight, I will generally tell them to either take me to Nationals Stadium (best bet) or Bolling Air Force base (2nd best bet). Once we get close I will give them turn by turn directions over the bridge and to my house.

STAGE THREE: The Handoff
8. So you have finally made it home but you aren’t exactly home free yet. If you haven’t already make sure you have the cab information recorded somewhere. Even if you don’t have a cruddy cab driver it may come in handy if you leave something in the cab.

9. Pay the posted fare and get a receipt. It is illegal for a cab driver to ask for your fare in advance  and if you pay with a credit card it is illegal for the driver to access a credit card surcharge (or require a minimum amount).  If a driver accepts credit card payments they have to have a notice posted in the window.
10. Before exiting the cab if the cab service was to your satisfaction please tip the driver accordingly, they appreciate it. If you have complaints or commendations please contact the DC Taxicab Commission with the driver’s information.

Mission Accomplished!

There you have it. The Advoc8te’s “Hailing While Black: 10 Rules of Engagement”. It may not be pretty, it may not be politically correct, but until the District of Columbia really does something about this bias it is an unfortunate reality of a person of color living in the District of Columbia and those living in River East. This all leads to this week’s Poll of the Week: Have you ever had a problem getting cab service to or from River East?

Please vote in the poll in the header and include any comments on this post.


LittleLoco said...

Yes. You do have to okie-doke these cabs. I've seen it done for too long. But you know many times it is folks of color behind the wheel who won't pick up a similar person of color. I can't remember every seeing a white cab driver in the city, maybe Mo. County and Barwood, but not the city.

This is a great analysis and better advice!

Thanks for the post CHOTR!

Urban Architect said...

You forgot to mention overcharging. When I lived in NW and asked them to take me to First and O street the cab driver refused ("what's a nice lady like you wanting with a place like that?"). But I was in the cab and the door was closed, I knew my rights. Unfortunately when we got to my house, he told me the fare was $30. This was back in the day when we had zones and I knew for a fact I worked $7 away from home. Dear old cabbie locked me in the cab and refused to let me out when I wouldn't pay him $30. But I guess he didn't think I'd actually call the police..like I said, I have rights. I hope dear old dude learned his lesson after he got cuffs slapped on him....

The Advoc8te said...

@LittleLoco. You are absoutetly right! I have never been refused service by a white cab driver, to be honest I am struggling to rememer ever being picked up by one. I always had issues with cab drivers of color.I remember one BLACK cab driver who picked me (and then was refusing to take me home) telling me how "lucky" I was he picked me up at all because most cab drivers dont pick up black people because we don't tip - I was flabbergasted. I let him know he had two options 1) take me home and charge me the appropriate fair or 2) I will call the police and let them sort it out.

He took me home.

Ms. V said...

Getting the cab isn't the issue for me... it's getting them to go to SE. I think I mentioned this before in one of your comments. But I stay calm, turn up the "black girl bougie" voice, and inform them that I am aware of my passenger rights. If they attitude continues, I dial 3-1-1 and inform them that I'm reporting them. Usually the cab starts moving before I press send.

DC Debutante said...

I never have an issue with cab drivers. Weird.

The Advoc8te said...

I would love to hear a comment from a black man who has tried to get cab service, especailly to or from SE.

Calling for a cab from SE is hard too. I've had to call all the cab companies and hope that one actaully shows up.

NOLA Cola said...

Is it the mother of irony that the DC Taxi Commission is located in Anacostia on MLK? Maybe we should tell cabbies to take us there and see if they have a problem.

glyn6@yahoo.com said...

I am a black male born and raised in Washington, DC, over 35 years old. I absolutely refuse to patronize any cabs!! This bias has been going on for years and I've done everything in the book from going to hotels or having white folks hail one for me, even calling the police occasionally. Like everyone else has commented, the cab drivers are always persons of color.

Sonya Wins said...

I gave up on DC cabs a long time ago. UberX has become my go to for every cab run now in DC, especially if I have to go east of the river. The only time I deal with cabs now is in PG and then I do my "Sir I have the ability pay and will do so with a tip" small talk just to disarm them.