Girly Cabbie, a blog written by the charismatic Erin Samuelsen, provides a glimpse into the world of one of the very few female taxi drivers in New York City. Her blog reflects her unique experiences while on the job: ranging from life-changing interactions with passengers to the inevitable frustrations with city drivers and authorities. Her point of view into the industry is very rare – it is estimated that there are only about 170 women who drive taxis out of the 46,000 drivers in New York City! Continue reading our interview to understand how Girly Cabbie takes on the hustle and bustle of New York City from the other side of the partition.
Can you give our readers a little background information on how you started as a taxi driver? What led you to the profession?
I had actually thought about becoming a driver as sort of a fantasy a few years ago while I was going through a stint of unemployment. But I was unsure of the process and it seemed like a big investment for something I wasn’t 100% on. A little over two years ago I met my boyfriend. He has been a taxi driver for over a decade. At the time I was working in a retail job. I was constantly frustrated with my meager paycheck, awful hours, commute and lack of flexibility in my schedule. My boyfriend saw this and suggested I go get my hack license. I was hesitant at first, but he finally talked me into it. I originally planned to keep my retail job and drive as a supplement. But once I realized how much more I was making in a shift compared to retail and the fact that I got to pick when I wanted to work(or not work), I left my other job and decided to just drive.
I haven’t regretted it once.
You are one of the very few female taxi drivers in New York City. Do you find this to be a challenge?
I feel like being a female driver makes things a little more pleasant in the cab. Most passengers are pleasantly surprised to have a woman driver. And for sure, more than other drivers experience, I end up having friendly conversations with a lot of my passengers. If anything, they are all very curious as to why I chose to drive, if I like it and if I am safe.
For safety concerns, do you take any special measures? ….say working specific hours?
As far as safety, I am not really worried. I have always been a night owl: being out and about in the city and riding the subway at night. The city isn’t like the movies – most people taking a taxi are just trying to get somewhere. There are cops all around too. Also, even though some drivers complain about it, I find that the fact that we take credit cards makes things safer. We don’t have a lot of cash on us like we did before the credit cards. So, honestly, it is not as scary. I’ve had one or two passengers make some sexually implicit comments, but you learn to not engage with those passengers and get them out of the car as quickly as possible. My experiences are nothing more than I would face walking on the street or in the subway. As long as I stay smart about it, I feel like I’ll stay safe.
At first I was sure I would only work days. I was a little wary of working nights because of the safety issue, but once I had gotten a few night shifts under my belt, I realized it was no big deal. Now I ONLY drive nights.
What advice would you give to women considering driving taxis?
Don’t let the other drivers push you around! A lot of other cabbies will see a woman behind the wheel of the cab and assume you have no idea what you are doing. They will try and cut you off for that passenger down the street and think they will succeed or that you will just let them because you are too timid. I’ve been driving in NYC for longer than a lot of other cabbies. I don’t take that.
Also, learn quickly where the good bathrooms are. Guys have it a little easier. Women don’t have the advantage of finding a dark alley or using a jar(gross, but a lot of guys do it). The city has a lot of restrooms in various restaurants. bars and stores. Not all of them are easy to park near. I have learned where the good places to go are in various parts of town. Also, be super friendly when asking an establishment if you can use their facilities. A lot of places are usually for customers only, but if you ask nicely and tell them you are driving a cab, they are a little more likely to let you go.
You talk about some of your favorite and least favorite passengers in your blog. Can you share your all-time favorite passenger story with us?
Picking a favorite is a toughie. I really have a lot of wonderful passengers. I once had an adorable Akita named Shiro as a passenger. He was certainly my cutest passenger! His owner had been trying to hail a cab for a few minutes on the upper east side, but most drivers if they stopped for her, once they realized the big dog was going to be sitting on the seat, they drove off. I am a dog lover, so when I saw this I pulled right up and took them. He was better behaved than a good portion of my passengers, and watching his face out the window from my side mirror was a treat.
After Hurricane Sandy, I picked up a gentleman from JFK. He was in town to help with disaster relief. We had a great ride the whole way in with great conversation. I totally appreciated him coming in from Kansas, I believe, just to help people who had been affected by the storm. Passengers like that give you a little more faith in humanity.
Also, who can forget the time I met the fantastic Michael Ruse, retired cab owner and writer of “Travels in a Cab”. He got in my cab and within moments started asking me about what year my cab was. Once he told me he had bought a retired cab and had a blog about it, I knew exactly who he was! I have been known to peruse the Internet looking at other taxi related blogs, and had come upon his on several occasions. He was excited that I had read his blog, and made sure to commemorate our short ride together with a photo. And of course, we both wrote about the experience on our respective blogs. I thought that was way cool.
Least favorite passengers are the ones who are rude for no reason. It doesn’t happen a lot. Most people are friendly, or at the very least, neutral. But sometimes you get people with a chip on their shoulder who decide to take it out on the cabbie. The worst is when you get a fare, go 80 blocks and are almost at the destination when they give you attitude about how they would have taken a different route, even though you know that the way they wanted to take would have traffic. But, seriously? If you have a certain way you want to go, TELL ME BEFORE WE GO! I have no problem taking the desired route of a passenger (heck, half the time it’s longer and means a larger fare), but you gotta tell me before the end of your ride!
…and your worst?
The worst is probably the puker I had a few weeks ago. Driving at night, I’m a little surprised I didn’t have a puker sooner, but it’s inevitable. The girl was placed into the cab by someone else. Was coherent enough to tell me where to go, but then once we got over the bridge to Queens something in her stomach churned. She was at least able to give me warning and I was able to pull over for her. She did get MOST of it outside of the cab, but not all of it. I’m not a squeamish person, but cleaning someone else’s upchuck is not my idea of a good time. I have since started carrying a roll of paper towels and a few plastic bags in my work bag for future occurrences.
You mentioned some frustrations with the NYC Taxi & Limousine Commission and we have certainly heard other cab driver’s complaints…If you could implement one change in the TLC, what would it be?
For starters, the NYPD should focus a little less on busting cabbies for small nothing violations, and focus on the guys who are really doing bad things. The guy who is stuck in a crosswalk by a few inches because they got stuck behind another car isn’t the problem. The guy who refuses fares or makes dangerous moves are the ones the police should be looking for.
The TLC itself could be a little less confusing. For applications and renewals, they require you to go to this place and that place and have all this paperwork. Their website certainly does not make things clear and I am a native English speaker. I can only imagine how confusing it could be for non-native English speakers.
Then there are all the little rules that they implement and policies they change. A lot of things they change affect the comfort and convenience of the customer, but rarely if ever do any of these changes affect drivers positively.
Driving in New York City must be quite an experience; what insights do you have on the city that others may not?
Driving the cab, I get little glimpses into the lives of all of my passengers. I really get to see what a mix of people this city is made up of. From the tourists who are totally amazed by the lights of times square, to the Park Avenue ladies on their way to the opera and the drunk couple from Greenpoint breaking up or making out in the back of my cab. I see it all and hear it all. A lot of people assume that cab drivers don’t speak English, are uneducated and oblivious. I have the unique perspective of being a native New Yorker who is very much English speaking and educated (I actually went to one of the city’s top private high schools, something most passengers are shocked to learn). So I do know what is happening in the back of my cab, whether the passengers intentionally shares with me or not. This city is full of characters and I love meeting them. That’s part of why I drive nights – it’s way more interesting!
Do you have any advice for taxi riders in NYC?
I could write a book on advice for passengers. But since I only have a little space here I’ll stick to a few things. For starters, if the roof light isn’t lit, it means a taxi is unavailable. Either there is already a passenger or the driver is off duty. So no matter how much you wave your hand at me, don’t expect me to stop.
When you are in the cab and your driver gives you good service – makes more than one stop, goes to an outer borough, helps you with your bag, or simply gets you where you are going quickly and safely – TIP! And tip well! Seriously, I cannot tell you how many times I’ve gone to the outer reaches of Queens or Brooklyn, and on a $25 or more fare been given a one dollar tip. That is less than 5%. Sometimes, even less or none at all. And it wasn’t because of bad service. I am not saying that a tip is mandatory. Obviously if you receive poor service, your driver is on their phone, gets lost, or is rude, by all means, withhold a tip. But if your driver does what they are supposed to, is friendly and all around satisfactory, then TIP. The suggested tip, just like in restaurants, is between 15-20%. Tourists, I’m looking at you!
What are your future plans? Do plan to continue to driver? And write?
As of now I am certainly planning on continuing in my taxi driving adventure. I love what I do. It allows me so much more flexibility to pursue other interests, while still enjoying going to work. The pay isn’t bad either. So at least in the foreseeable future, I’ll be behind the wheel. And I’ll probably keep the blog going as long as I am driving. In addition to sharing stories with others, it keeps me engaged in driving and serves as a journal to look back on the good and bad experiences I’ve had while driving.
We would like to thank Erin again for her willingness answer our interview questions; we really appreciate the support! Erin is a truly unique, great person – be sure to check out her entire blog at: http://girlycabbie.blogspot.com/.