Taxi Driver Career and Job Highlights
Taxi Driver Career and Job Description
The importance of taxi and limousine services is obvious to anyone who has spent significant time in a large city. Taxi Drivers—often called cab drivers—provide passengers with transportation to and from their homes, places of business and recreational areas, including restaurants theaters, shopping centers, etc. They also provide transportation for visiting tourists and business people who are unfamiliar with the driver’s locale.
Taxi drivers normally report to a garage or taxicab service center at the beginning of each shift. Each driver is assigned a vehicle—generally a conventional, large-sized automobile that has been adjusted to meet the needs associated with commercial passenger transport. Before leaving the garage, drivers fill out a trip sheet that includes their name, the date and the vehicle’s identification number. They also make a safety inspection of the cab, which includes checking fuel and oil levels, as well as ensuring the proper working condition of windshield wipers, lights and brakes. The rearview mirror, side mirrors and seat position are adjusted to the rider’s specifications. A dispatcher or company mechanic is informed of any faulty vehicle parts or equipment.
Taxi drivers cater to three different types of passengers: those who simply waive down “cruising” cabs; those who make prearrangements for taxi services; and those who wait at specific taxi-stands in high-demand areas. Most passengers in urban areas choose the first approach—waiving down a passing cab. Those who choose to prearrange their pickup do so by contacting a cab company and providing information about their location, estimated pickup time, and desired destination. This information is then transferred by a dispatcher from the cab company to a driver by means of a two-way radio, cell phone or onboard computer. This is the most common method of pickup in non-urban areas. Areas that attract high demand for taxi services—such as hotels, restaurants, train stations and airports—often provide cabstands where people can wait for frequently passing cabs.
Some drivers provide transportation for persons with special needs, such as disabled individuals and senior citizens. Paratransit drivers, as they are called, drive vehicles that contain special equipment designed to meet numerous non-emergency needs. Paratransit drivers are not required to have special certification, but specific training regarding equipment use and passenger needs is often necessary.
In order to most efficiently serve their passengers, drivers must be quite familiar with their area’s streets. Specifically, drivers should know the best routes to high-demand destinations, including hotels, airports, railroad and bus terminals, convention centers and other frequented locations. Drivers should also know where fire stations, police stations and hospitals are located in case of an emergency situation.
Drivers calculate each trip’s fare and announce it to the passenger as soon as they arrive at the desired destination. Fares may include a variety of components. Numerous taxicabs have a taximeter, which determines the appropriate fare based on the distance traveled and duration of each trip. Drivers activate the taximeter at the beginning of each passenger trip and deactivate it upon destination arrival. Other components of the fare may include a luggage-handling fee, a surcharge for additional passengers, or a flat fee covering the use of the cab, known as a drop charge. Some fares may also be calculated based on a cab’s passing through a system of different “zones” during trips. The structure and rates of taxi fare systems are determined by each jurisdiction. Fares are usually supplemented by a customer-added gratuity or tip. This gratuity is based solely on customer satisfaction with the services provided, including passenger comfort, driver courtesy and ride efficiency. Passengers may receive a receipt from the driver by request. After each trip, drivers record the time of pickup and drop off, as well as the total fare and other pertinent information, on the trip sheet. These records allow taxi company managers to monitor each driver’s efficiency and activity. In accident situations, drivers are required to fill out an accident report.
Chauffeurs provide transportation services for limousine companies, government agencies, private businesses and wealthy individuals, and may drive limousines, vans or private vehicles. Unlike taxi services, chauffer services provide only prearranged transport. Many chauffeurs drive large vans and provide transportation between airports, hotels, bus terminals and train stations. Others operate limousines or other luxury vehicles, and provide transportation to business, entertainment and social events. Some chauffeurs act as full-time drivers for private businesses and wealthy individuals.
Chauffeurs must provide conscientious customer service and possess an awareness of details. Chauffeurs hold car doors open for their passengers—managing umbrellas in the rain—and load luggage and packages into the vehicle’s trunk. Employers may request that chauffeurs run specific errands, such as picking up clients at airports or delivering packages. Chauffeurs often equip their limousines with conveniences and luxuries that cater passenger comfort; such items may include magazines, newspapers, televisions, music, telephones and drinks. Increasingly, chauffeurs act as executive assistants, providing secretarial and itinerary planning services in addition to their transportation responsibilities.
Working Conditions for Taxi Drivers
Chauffeurs and taxi drivers are occasionally required to handle heavy packages and luggage. Extended driving trips—particularly in crowded urban areas—can be wearisome and uncomfortable. Drivers must be constantly aware of road conditions, particularly in poor weather and heavy traffic. Drivers must avoid passenger-jarring maneuvers, such as sudden stops and turns, and must be aware of potential accident-causing situations. Because they work alone and frequently carry a significant amount of cash, taxi drivers are also at risk for robbery.
Taxi drivers and chauffeurs work widely varying hours. Jobs may be either full-time or part-time, and may offer consistent or variable day-to-day work hours. Drivers are frequently called to work on short notice. Chauffeurs may spend much of their time on-call if they work for a private employer. Taxicab and limousine services often require weekend and evening work.
Chauffeurs’ schedules are largely determined by their employer’s specific needs. Taxi drivers tend to follow a significantly less structured schedule. As they are largely left to their own supervision, taxi drivers may take meal and rest breaks whenever they don’t have passengers. The independence and self-supervision associated with taxi driving and chauffeur services are highly valued by many drivers.
Taxi driving and chauffeur work are especially attractive occupations for people who desire a flexible work schedule (college students, for example), and for anyone seeking a supplementary source of income. For instance, persons who work in other service areas—such as police officers and ambulance drivers—frequently contemplate earning secondary income as chauffeurs or taxi drivers.
Most full-time taxi drivers work one 8-12 hour shift each day. Some part-time drivers work a half-shift each day, while others work one or two full shifts each week. Because most taxi companies offer 24-hour-a-day services, drivers may work at any time during the day or night. Drivers frequently work late night and early morning shifts. Periods of heavy demand for transportation services, such as weekends and holidays, often require drivers to work long hours. On the other hand, independent drivers frequently establish their own work schedules.
Newer cabs often come with significant design improvements over older models, and have thus increased driver efficiency and comfort, as well as reducing driver stress. General vehicle upkeep and standard amenities such as air conditioning are required by a large number of taxi and chauffeur service regulatory bodies. Some modern taxicabs are also equipped with advanced fare meters, dispatching equipment and tracking devices. Many of these high-tech vehicles are linked to company headquarters by satellites and tracking devices. Dispatchers are thus able to instantly communicate important information to drivers, including traffic and weather advisories, as well as driving directions. Dispatchers are also able to use the satellite connection to monitor engine performance, fuel consumption and vehicle location. In the case of mechanical problems, drivers and dispatchers can easily discuss necessary procedures. Automated dispatch systems, for example, are able to minimize lost time due to mechanical failure by locating the available driver who is closest to a waiting customer. Vehicles may also be equipped with special “trouble lights” which alert authorities of emergency situations, such as threats of crime or violence.
Chauffeurs and taxi drivers encounter a wide variety of character-types and personalities in their day-to-day work. A certain degree of patience is necessary when waiting for passengers and when responding to rude customers. Taxi drivers are often required by their company or municipality to be clean and neat in dress and appearance. Chauffeurs often dress formally, wearing such attire as a tuxedo, a coat and tie, a cap and uniform or a dress.
Taxi Driver and Chauffeur Training and Job Qualifications
Although specific license standards—including minimum training and driving experience qualifications—are established by local governments, a large number of taxi and limousine companies establish their own, higher standards. Companies will generally evaluate prospective drivers’ criminal, medical, credit and driving records. Employers often favor high school graduates, and frequently require a higher minimum age than is required by law.
Possession of a standard car driver’s license is a preliminary requirement for all prospective limousine and taxicab drivers. In addition, applicants must obtain a chauffeur or taxi driver’s license, also known as a “hack” license. To obtain a hack license, applicants are normally required by local authorities to either complete a classroom-based training program (as long as 80 hours), or to pass a written exam. Both methods of qualification require applicants to demonstrate customer service aptitude and a knowledge of motor vehicle laws, safe driving practices and local geography. Proof of English proficiency through completion of a listening comprehension exam is also often required; those who are unable to pass such an exam may qualify by completing an English course in addition to the required driving instruction. Additional classroom training may include map-reading, route-management and skills for serving disabled passengers. Even before completing the formal training program and passing the required tests, applicants are occasionally offered a temporary license by their sponsoring taxicab or chauffeur company. But this practice has been discontinued in many areas, including New York City, where all taxicab and chauffeur drivers must complete the licensing program before driving.
New drivers will often receive on-the-hob training from their employers. The taxi or limousine company teaches the driver to properly operate their vehicle’s equipment—including the taximeter and communications equipment—as well as how to correctly fill out necessary paperwork. Drivers may also be trained on driver safety and popular local destinations. Taxicab and chauffeur companies often provide non-emergency transportation for elderly and disabled persons, working by contract with social service and transportation service agencies. Accordingly, new drivers may also be trained to operate special equipment, such as wheelchair lifts.
Chauffeurs and taxi drivers must be able to work well with a wide variety of personality types. Drivers must exercise patience with slow or rude passengers. Drivers should also maintain a calm and respectful demeanor when dealing with difficult or frustrating traffic conditions. Because they must adhere to a strict schedule and follow specific passenger instructions, drivers should be dependable. Successful drivers demonstrate sufficient responsibility and self-motivation to work effectively without much supervision. Drivers are often encouraged by their employers to improve business by developing a personal, loyal clientele.
A large number of chauffeurs and taxi drivers work as lease drivers. Lease drivers lease a vehicle from a taxi or limousine company on a daily, weekly or monthly basis. Drivers who lease limousines also receive access to the leasing company’s dispatch system. The leasing fee may include insurance, maintenance and vehicle deposit charges. When not on duty, lease drivers may keep their vehicle at home.
Taxi drivers and chauffeurs have relatively few opportunities for advancement. Preferred shifts and routes are frequently offered to senior drivers. Some drivers become dispatchers or managers, while others may establish their own limousine service.
Drivers in small and medium-sized communities occasionally become self-employed by purchasing a taxi, limousine or other vehicle and starting their own company. Such owner-drivers must obtain a special permit to operate their vehicle as a business. Large cities frequently limit the number of these permits. Prospective owner-drivers in big cities must often obtain their permit by purchasing it from former owner drivers who have left the business. Owner-drivers are frequently successful, but some are unable to break-even or make a profit, and subsequently lose their vehicle and permit. Owner-drivers who have good business sense and who have taken courses in accounting, business and business-arithmetic generally experience more success. Owner-drivers can also cut expenses by learning how to perform routine maintenance and minor repairs on their vehicle.
Job and Employment Opportunities
There is generally a high demand for new taxi-drivers and chauffeurs, as many people work in the industry for only short periods of time before moving on to other occupations. Notwithstanding, economic and regulatory conditions create wide variations in earnings, work hours and working conditions for taxi drivers and chauffeurs. Individuals with good driving records and flexible schedules have the best prospects.
As local and suburban travel grows with the population, taxi driver and chauffeur employment is expected to grow faster than the average for all occupations through 2012. Federal legislation requiring transportation services for disabled persons should also spark growth in the industry. The best employment opportunities will be available in fast-growing metropolitan areas.
Because taxi and limousine companies largely depend on the travel and tourism market, job opportunities may fluctuate with cyclical, overall economic changes. Drivers are rarely laid off during recessions, but they may experience decreased earnings and increased work hours. Economic upturns create many new job openings, as large numbers of drivers find new and different jobs. Holiday seasons and other peak travel and tourism periods often create extra demand for drivers.
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