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There’s never a dull moment in city cabs

Zook, Nicole | Friday, November 4, 2005

Every Thursday, Friday and Saturday night, thousands of Notre Dame and Saint Mary’s students flood the streets of South Bend, leaving campus behind to forget the stress and rigors of their everyday lives and have a good time.

But what most students forget is that while they are having a blast, many South Bend residents are hard at work – and for some, like the cab drivers who cart the students around town, their work is the students.

Michigan Taxi driver Robert, whose last name has been withheld for privacy reasons, allowed The Observer to ride along with him Wednesday night. He said that while school is in session, almost all the business cab companies do is with students.

“Thursday, Friday, Saturday – regular Notre Dame traffic, you might get 150 to 200 calls a night,” he said. “A home game? Two or three times that.”

Robert, 35, said he moved to South Bend from Los Angeles nine years ago and has been driving cabs for various companies since then. With so much experience under his belt, he has hundreds of stories about driving through town – many of which involve students, and most of which are unprintable.

Robert said he has seen “pretty much everything” there is to be seen inside and outside his cab, ranging from the busting of Boat Club in January 2003, to nudity, to shady characters attempting to harass women he was driving, to disgusting bodily fluids – which he said he sees on a fairly regular basis.

“Don’t be afraid to tap us on the shoulder, let us know you’re going to puke,” he said. “If someone pukes in my cab, I charge $50. A, I have to clean it up and B, I’m done for the night.”

Robert said intoxicated students vomiting or “passing out and losing bladder control” is a common occurrence for cabbies, and once such a situation has occurred, the driver has to stop driving, because no one will want to sit in their cab – least of all the drivers, who are in their vehicles for extended lengths of time.

“I work 15 to 18 hours a day, six days a week,” he said.

Unfortunately for the drivers, Robert said most of that time is spent “sitting and waiting” in the cabs for calls to come in. Drivers wait at Main Circle or at the airport, and Robert said he likes to read to pass the spans of time before calls become frequent.

“They start around 11 p.m., then at 1 a.m. they die down until 2:30 a.m.,” he said. “For parties, it’s four, sometimes five in the morning.”

Robert said one common problem cab drivers in the area experience is that students eager to be picked up will call multiple cab companies and leave with whichever one arrives first, even if the first number they call said the wait would be short.

“They don’t know how annoying it is when they call four or five different cab companies and then they’re not there,” Robert said. “It can really screw you up on a busy night to go [to where the student called from] and somebody’s not there for a cab.”

Robert said most students request to be picked up from campus and delivered to local bars, citing RumRunners, Bookmakers, The Linebacker, Club Fever, Club Landing and The Library as the most frequented.

Robert said many times students returning home from bars will have spent all their money and have problems coming up with return fare, which takes money out of the drivers’ pockets. He also offered suggestions for students who may face the problem.

“Sometimes, you’re lucky to get the whole fare,” he said. “[Students should] always make sure they have at least $2 before you leave that bar.”

Robert also said it would be helpful to drivers if students collected money before the ride was over so that “one person could pay one bill.”

Fares with Michiana Taxi – like other area cab companies popular with students, such as ABC Cab, Checker Cab, City Cab, Express Cab, Minute Cab, Shamrock and United Cab – are generally $2 a head, with a $6 minimum and charges of $8 from campus to Mishawaka and $9 to downtown. One student who rode with Robert, prepared to pay the fee from campus to RumRunners, leaned back into the cab and handed Robert two extra dollars.

“That’s a rare occurrence,” Robert said. “If you get a tip from an ND student or Saint Mary’s student, you’re lucky.”

Robert said “nine times out of 10” students fail to tip, either because they forget or did not bring enough money. He said tips help alleviate the costs of gas for the cab, which typically costs $35 to $40. Robert said he understands that college is a hard time financially, but he wishes students would remember to tip more often for the services they receive.

“They’re students, they’re poor,” he said. “Well, so am I, I drive a cab.”