What Cabbies Know Is That They Can’t Win

You may have heard, no doubt to your horror, that a midlevel employee of the Taxi and Limousine Commission is suspected of accepting gifts of cash money in exchange for providing answers to the questions posed in the city’s rigorous exam for would-be taxi drivers. This news created something of a stir, inspiring fear that there are hordes of outlaw drivers out there who may have illegally procured knowledge of the exact whereabouts of Grand Central Terminal, or who might have ascertained through some nefarious means the fact that passengers are entitled to air-conditioned comfort at any time of year.

Radio reports indicated that panic was setting in among the person-in-the-street set. Several people said they would be wary of any driver who seemed just a little too knowledgeable, whose cab was just a little too tidy, and whose demeanor seemed too pleasant. Such drivers immediately would be suspect and reported to the authorities.

As good fortune would have it, Wise Guys has obtained a copy of the questions in question. This column can assure all of you hale and hearty passengers out there that those portions of the examination that found their way into the marketplace are of no concern to the average cab rider, whose laments for the old days of lovable, wise-cracking, street-smart, English-as-a-first-language drivers are proclaimed whenever some immigrant working stiff asks passengers to repeat the phrase “Fawtyfawth-n-lex.”

To reassure good citizens that the purloined portions of the examination will have no effect whatsoever on the lives of ordinary, workaday passengers, Wise Guys has taken the liberty of publishing the questions and correct answers that found their way into the hands of eager would-be cabbies:

Q. Given that the cab business can be dangerous, especially when well-armed passengers insist that proceeds be turned over to them forthwith, what kind of medical benefits are provided to drivers?

A. None. There once was a time, back in the days of lovable, wise-cracking, street-smart, English-as-a-first-language drivers, when cab companies considered their drivers to be employees and thus entitled to certain dignities (i.e., health insurance) pursuant to their station in life. The new economic order, however, has ruled that cab drivers are freelance transportation consultants and thus ineligible for such benefits.

Q. You’ve just finished a 12-hour shift in the rough-and-tumble of Manhattan traffic. You’ve taken in about $125. True or false: You return to your apartment with a grin on your face and a song in your heart, as you have a fine wad of cash in your pocket.

A. False. In the preceding scenario, you return to your apartment with a scowl and perhaps a longing for the land you left behind, for your expenses–including gasoline and the lease of the automobile from the medallion owner or a middleman–average exactly what you have just taken in. You think about that guy who cut you off and nearly mounted a curb to get to a fare ahead of you. In the old days, when the profession attracted lovable, wise-cracking, street-smart, English-as-a-first-language types, cabbies were colleagues, ensured of a day’s wage at the end of the day because they were valued employees. Now, all those other drivers are your competitors, and the more ruthless you are, the greater are your rewards. You wonder why somebody hasn’t noticed that cab-driving has become a metaphor for the new economic order. But, you lament, all anybody seems to notice is the slight trace of curry left over from the meal you ate while trawling for fares.

Q. The morning trains are dispensing passengers at Pennsylvania Station, which is not in Pennsylvania, but is in fact located between Seventh and Eighth avenues from West 31st Street to West 33rd Street. True or false: This is a fine time for an enterprising freelance transportation consultant to display old-fashioned work ethic by rising early and beating the competition to the loads of potential fares.

A. False. The morning rush for cabs outside Pennsylvania Station actually is a terrible time to be an enterprising freelance transportation consultant, as the area outside Seventh Avenue is swarming with specially deployed police officers who regularly pull over cabs for all sorts of minor offenses which often result in hours, and perhaps days, lost in the regulatory maze. Because you are a freelance transportation consultant, you are not paid for the time you spend answering for flaws in an automobile you don’t own.

Q. Who pays for repairs to vehicles?

A. You know better than to ask such questions, as you are a freelance transportation consultant.

There you have it: Four questions and answers that are of no concern to you, the riding public. So fear not. The cabbies who allegedly paid cash money for a peek at the driver’s test no doubt are not roaming the streets of Manhattan. Having been clever enough to obtain the test through illegal means, they no doubt decided to make their fortune in some other line of work. What Cabbies Know Is That They Can’t Win