Car 6

Car 6

Monday, August 25, 2014

Part 2: Why I Won't Go to Tinley Park Anymore!

In Part 1 I wrote about my experience in Tinley Park at the First Midwest Bank Amphitheater. A place and a town I have been in many times without incident.

Before I go into details of the laws and the overreach, I wanted to tell you about other regulated cities and a disclaimer.

Chicago is a heavily regulated city for taxis and limos. They are a city that even has a shield program. A shield is something some cities enact to limit the number of taxis operating in a city. The reason for this is to ease the burden on traffic and infrastructure. Operating a taxi in Chicago and obtaining a chauffeur's license in Chicago is much more expensive than surrounding suburbs. Those companies that operate legally there potentially lose money when we enter their city limits. We are allowed to drop off in the city of Chicago. We are allowed to do pre arranged round trips in the city of chicago. When we do that we are not allowed to flag there and we have to pay a tax when we enter the city limits. This applies regardless of the vehicle having Taxi, Livery or PT plates. It is a small price to pay to pick up in the airports and keep things fair to the local companies and drivers who have invested time and money to operate there. Further, when you pick up at the airports in Chicago, the tax goes to things like tourism and airport infrastructure maintenance. Not a bad cause and when you consider the sheer volume of taxis and limos picking up at the airports, that is a huge burden liften from residents and businesses. I am okay with this tax and respect the rules.

In smaller cities like Joliet. A non Joliet based taxi or limo company can enter the city limits and perform pre arranged pick ups, drop off in our city, etc. What they cannot do is pick up a flag unless they invest in a sticker giving them permission to do so.

Now. The days following my nightmare in Tinley Park. I talked to other drivers from not only my cab company but other drivers I know from other taxi companies. They have all had nightmares lately. I did some research and found out Tinley got negative press in several media outlets in 2010 because a woman was overcharged by a taxi going from the amphitheater to a hotel. They reacted swiftly to the negative press by swiftly enacting laws that seemed to have been employed without much research into the industry or a comprehensive understanding of the problem. They seemed to have used a guillotine to treat a headache. In 2011 they already started getting negative press on these new laws. While they warded off the gypsy cabs gouging passengers illegally, many legitimate companies have stopped operating there making it difficult to pick up a taxi or limo. Further, the security measures employed have contributed to traffic nightmares and excessive waiting times warding many companies and contractors away. The response by representatives of village to this negative press was  lackluster and lacked the same concern as the original negative story they received.

The most catastrophic aspect of this law and the affect of lack of transportation options is that people who are drinking may be more likely to drive impaired.

Before I go into specifics of their law. Let me tell you what I would have to do to be in compliance of the law to have permission to drop off, pick up and even drive through their city limits (as per the representative in the City Clerks Office I was told the definition of operating a taxi meant anytime I had a paying a passenger in my taxi within their city limits, even if I am passing through and not stopping there, I am operating within their city limits.

Now. The company I am contracted with would have to get a business license for Tinely Park. Effectively making the entire operation under their complete authority. Secondly, the company would have to agree to the rates of Tinley Park for all operations regardless of their situs. The law states specifically the rate structure and this is the rate structure that is displayed and used at all times and subject to audit. This rate, by the way, is BELOW industry standard in this area making it harder for a taxi driver to make a livable wage and harder for a company to make ends meet on already narrow margins. Further, the company would have to have the vehicle inspected at their expense by Tinley's assigned and designated private mechanic auto shops even though we already have the vehicles IDOT (state government-Illinois Dept of Transportation) inspected. Then they would have to pay another fee to have the sticker.

Now for the driver. I would have to go to Tinley Park and pay them a fee to have my criminal background checked and fingerprinted....again. I would have to present a clean motor vehicle report at my own expense...again. I would also have to pay another processing fee and receive another chauffeur's license.

My company would have to incur hundred of dollars per vehicle with duplicated efforts and I would have to spend more then a hundred dollars annually and spend almost an entire day of my life annually in not one, but two cities.

Understand. I do NOT have to do this in Chicago. I do NOT have to do this in ay other city or municipality. In other cities there are things I am not allowed to do. In other cities there are sometimes taxes I have to pay when I drop off or pick up in their municipality, but nothing like this.

I recently had the privilege to talk with taxi drivers in Washington DC, Maryland and Pennsylvania. They deal with regulations in heavily regulated locations like Baltimore, Harrisburg, Washington DC and Manhatten and none of them. NONE of them have ever heard of anything like this. When I showed the documentation of the regulations, some of them got infuriated.

Some of the other drivers I know in the area have not only had experiences similar to mine, but they have even been profiled with PD going on the radio to tell other officers to be on the lookout for them and their vehicles.

Additionally, when I told the City Clerk's office my story to learn what I would need to be in compliance, the woman told me that I should have been fined and the officer in her opinion failed in his duty. I told her the reason he did not was because my dispatcher and operations manager educated the PD in the law.

So yeah. I won't even pass through their precious city. The risk is too high. The hassle is not worth it. I do not like being threatened. Officers with hands on their hips upset my digestion.

My disclaimer. I am not a lawyer. I do know this though. If I were to comply with Tinley. It would put me in conflict with the pricing structure on file that I adhere to in the City of Joliet and put me in a position of price dumping.

One last thing. The law is allegedly to prevent price gouging. In their law if you are traveling more than 25 miles outside of the city limits, the fee goes to meter and a half. Even with my out of radius pick up fee to go to Tinley, the fare is more expensive to residents of the western half of Joliet to use a Tinley Park compliant taxi service on a round trip.

So long story short. I will not go to Tinley Park on a professional level. I will not go through Tinley Park on a professional level. I will not go to Tinley Park on a personal level or shopping or entertainment either. There are wonderful venues in Joliet and the City of Chicago for dining, entertainment and shopping. I do not need them. With my involvement with Mothers Against Drunk Driving. With my love and passion for this industry. With my appreciation for my own safety and well being. I do not need them. Neither does my digestion.

Part 1: Why I Won't Go to Tinley Park Anymore!

I am breaking away from the normal stories for a spell to do some tub thumping. Some of this will be rants on Uber, education into my industry and in this case, regulations gone amuck.

First, a little background. In our fleet we have three different classifications of vehicles. We have taxis. Taxis are vehicles that have meters and can pick up "flags" for business. We have Livery Plated vehicles. Most of them are minivans. A livery plated vehicle are mostly thought of as limos, but it does not have to be one. A livery plated vehicle is meant to do non-metered, pre arranged pricing transportation. You book, or make an appointment, for one of these. Finally we have two larger vehicles. A club van and a bus. These have PT (personal transportation) plates on them and run similarly to livery, but require different plating due to the amount of passengers they can accommodate.

Second. As a Taxi driver you are an independent contractor and if you do not own your own taxi, you lease a taxi. In my case I am under what is called a co lease. A portion of my fares pays the lease for my taxi. Other models have you pay a flat rate per day or per week and you get to keep all your fares. I prefer the method I am under because even on a slow day, it is VERY rare to run in the red. To drive a taxi as an independent contractor I had to get a chauffeur's license. To get one I had to go to the City of Joliet and present them a clean motor vehicle report and pay a fee for them to do a criminal background screening. I also had to pay for a photo to be taken and a processing fee. I then got a license from the City of Joliet and recognized by the state of Illinois and neighboring states (sometimes you have interstate trips as we are near the borders of Indiana, Wisconsin and Iowa).

Third. I am an independent contractor who has a relationship with a taxi company and I have to adhere to the standards they have to adhere to. To operate in Joliet they had to get a commercial license to operate. Each vehicle has to be inspected annually. Each vehicle has to have a certain level of licensing and bonding. Since we do medical transportation I am trained under HIPPA laws. They require I take a defensive driving course. They have to have their regulated rates on file with the city of Joliet and I cannot charge over or under the posted rate without special permission or arrangement. To charge more would be price gouging and unfair to consumers. To charge less would be price dumping and unfair to other taxi drivers and competing companies.

Fourth. In joliet you need a specific sticker to flag in joliet. If I am in another city that has requirements like a sticker or a shield, I can drop off there and I can do pre arranged pick ups and round trips, but I cannot (and will not ) flag there. Other companies and drivers have done their due diligence in that area, it would be disrespectful and illegal to flag there.

One night I was assigned a livery plated vehicle and I had a round trip from Joliet to Tinley Park for a  couple and their friend who were going to a Toby Keith concert at the First Midwest Bank Amphitheater. The rate was pre arranged as was the time to pick up and drop off. I was specifically requested by the party booking the ride. The couple is a husband and wife with teen kids and they were so happy to get out of the house for a night. The husband is a Cook County Investigative Officer who has a demanding job with a weight of responsibility on him all the time. He just wanted to get out and relax. His wife is a bus driver and I know that her job has similar pressures to mine. Their friend is retired and saved up for this night out on his limited income. They were in a good mood, they are good people and I also know that they are good tippers.

When I drop them off, I talk to security and ask them where I should pick up my passengers. They tell me to go with the taxis outside of gate 1. I tell security I am a livery vehicle. They tell me to go to gate 1 anyway and arrive at least an hour and a half before the show ends. My passengers are present when this occurs so we are all on the same page. Gate 1.

I leave, head back to Joliet and swap out for metered runs for a few hours. When the time is right I get the minivan ready to pick them up. I pull through security and get into the taxi line outside of gate 1 as instructed by security. I parked in line, rolled down my windows, and started reading a book knowing I had at least 90 minutes to kill.

About 30 minutes in a cab driver from another company came over to me and introduced himself. He told me I did not have a sticker to pick up in Tinley. I assured him that I was on a prearranged pick up and was not flagging in his turf. He appreciated that and then went on to tell me to watch myself because drivers from MacNamara Taxi were likely gonna drop a dime on me and call the police anyway. I told him they are welcome to do what they want. I am not flagging, my log is in order and I am not even in a taxi. I am in livery. He tells me that in Tinley Park, that does not matter and to be careful. MacNamara and the police did it to him all the time and finally ticketed him $750 and impounded his vehicle. Even though their laws were an overreach, he had to spend a small fortune to operate there. Then he told me that livery vehicles are supposed to be in gate six. Now THAT got my attention.

I approached the security officer at the taxi line and explained I was livery and a cab driver told me that I should be in a lot by gate six. The officer looks at my minivan and says to stay parked where I am at and NOT to relocate or I will be removed from the premises. So I remain. When I walk back to my vehicle there are two MacNamara guys by my minivan jotting down information. I look at them and ask if I can help them with something. The tall one walks away fast and gets in his taxi and locals the door. The one with the mohawk dressed like an extra in a mad max film stares me down for a moment and walks away chuckling.  I get on the radio and advise dispatch of my situation and they informed me that the driver who drives the club van had some kind of trouble last week and when they pointed out to the police that he was not a taxi, all was well. I gave a ten 4 to that and went back to my book and noticed mohawk man walk by my vehicle every so often.

Ten minutes later three squads pulled up and surround my vehicle. I get on the radio and tell dispatch that I a have attracted multiple police attention and will advise as to the situation if I need assistance. One officer took point and approached the driver side window while the other officers surrounded the vehicle with their right hands on their hips by their holsters.

I roll down the window and the following convo happens.

Me: Can I help you officer?

Officer: I notice you do not have a Tinley taxi sticker.

Me: No, officer, I do not have a Tinley taxi sticker. I'm not here to...

Officer: You will follow us off the premises and we will escort you to the city limits.

Me: Officer, I am not here to flag and I am not a taxi. I am in a livery plated vehicle on a non metered run.

Officer: You are in a fucking taxi asshole. It says so right there on the side of your TAXI!

Me: That is the name of the company. We also have PT plated vehicles and Livery vehicles. If you look at my plates you will see that this is livery and if you look at my dash you will see that I have no meter.

Officer: You are in this line you are a taxi.

Me: I am in this line because that is what security instructed me to do.

Officer: Because your a fucking taxi.

Me: No, I am not.

Officer: Yes you are. You are going to be escorted out now.

Me: Officer, I really hope you don't do that. I have customers that pre paid for me to take them here and take them home. They are counting on me to be here and I am not breaking any laws.

Officer: You will follow me off the premises and outside the city limits now.

(Even though I was in the right, I saw this battle was being lost. I needed to call in reinforcements)

Me: Officer, before we leave the premises, I need to advise dispatch of the situation on the radio. May I have a moment to do that.

Officer: I tried to do this the easy way for you. Here's what's gonna happen shit for brains. You are getting a $750 fine, your TAXI is being impounded and you are going to be arrested. Give me your license and do not leave the vehicle or make any sudden moves.

Me: Do you also want my City of Joliet and state recognized Chauffer's license and log book showing the documentation of my pre arranged livery and the license certification and insurance documentation that shows this is not a taxi?

Officer: It's too late for all that shit. Gimme your license and your chauffeurs license.

As he walked away I heard him say "See how smart your fuckin mouth is in jail".

At this point I got on the radio with dispatch and informed them that the officer told me my vehicle was being impounded and I was getting fined and arrested. She wakes up our operations manager and both her and the ops manager are calling the Tinley Park watch commander and actually telling him what the state laws are. Me? I want to take my customers home. That is all I want to do, but I am also resigned to the fact that I am getting arrested for the first time in my life. I am okay with this because I know I will have my day in court and I am in the right. I never raised my voice. I never used vulgar terms and I tried to explain my situation.

Ten minutes went by and I was still sitting in my vehicle. I looked in my rear view mirror and saw the team of officers huddled in a conversation. The almost arresting officer approached my window and starts talking to me again.

Officer: I don't know whatever the hell you think you are, but you cannot be in this lot. You have to go over to gate 6 and they'll charge you for parking there. This lot is taxis only.

Me: Thank you officer. What is the best way to get to gate six?

Officer: Turn left out of the lot. Turn right at the end. Take it all the way around to the other side and and turn right again.

I started to leave the lot and two MacNamara Taxis pulled out in front of me to block my path out. I looked to the officers for help in leaving the lot as instructed and two of them turned their backs on me and went into a huddled conversation. I had to drive through a muddy field to get out. It had been raining earlier and the area was flooded and it was tricky not getting stuck. I pulled around to gate six and a security guard approached me.

Guard: What are you doing here?

Me: Parking to pick up a passenger.

Guard: Check in was over an hour ago.

Me: I was told to go to gate one by security and Tinley PD sent me over here.

Guard: $50

Me: Here. May I get a receipt.

Guard: Your lucky I let you in. Park over there by the stretch.

I park. I advise dispatch as to where I am and they give me the phone number of the passenger. I sent him a text informing him that I am at gate six instead of gate one. He responded okay.

A few minutes later a man from security with a different color jacket than the rest comes over to me and tells me I am not supposed to be parked where I am at. I tell him the whole story including the $50 fee without receipt and he asks me which guard took my money. I tell him. He went away and a few minutes later came back to my window, gave me $50 and told me to stay where I was at. "You've been through enough for one night."

I got my passengers. I took them home. They still tipped well.

In part 2 I will cover their regulations and the overreach on their laws and my conversations with police and city officials as well as Taxi drivers from the East Coast.

Monday, August 18, 2014

Helping a Kid Get Home By Lying to the Cops

With the things going on in Ferguson I decided to crawl out of my hole and write another post. I have had to take a break from the blog because I am in the midst of two book projects. One is based on this blog and the other is a collaborative effort.

Anyway. With Metra PD and most local PD we have good relations in the night and we often rely on the police to protect us when we have an assault or someone refusing to pay or someone trying to rob us. That said, there have also been times where I have been threatened arrest for reporting criminal activity (no, really) and then the officer decided to follow me for a few miles as opposed to looking into the matter I called him about. Then there was a time I was surrounded by three officers and threatened with arrest when I was breaking no laws and the only thing that kept me from being arrested was my dispatcher. Now, to be fair, that was in another city and it is fascinating story and I will tell it on a different post. 

Long story short, those who think that cab companies are buddy buddy with the municipalities have never seen a cabbie get pulled over by an officer who sees you as a bottom feeder. NYC Cab driver Melissa Plaut in her book,"Hack: How I Stopped Worrying About What to Do with My Life and Started Driving a Yellow Cab" covers this beautifully with many stories of her harassment.

One night I am driving one of my regulars home from the East side. He is a young black man trying to make it from temp job to temp job in the hopes that something becomes permanent. He has a rap sheet, but nothing terrible and he has been keeping his nose clean for over two years and even taking some night classes at the local Jr College. He's trying. Frankly, he's busting his ass off. He's a good kid.

I picked him up on the east side. He took a cab. Why? He had been drinking while he was hanging with his buddies. We were going to his apartment the next town over. We pulled up to his neighborhood and there was a cop parked in the apartment entrance as we were pulling up. I recognized this officer and I know his MO. He can be a hard ass.

He was blocking my path. He looks at me and asks,"Who do you have in the cab?" I can see the eyes widen from my regular in the back seat. He gets tense. "Don't tell him nothing." He's defensive. He's also scared. He has also been 4 miles and the other side of the river from this area for the last few hours. But I also know that does not matter to this guy.

"Your gonna have to trust me here," I whisper.

"Just one of my regulars, officer. Taking him home from the warehouses."

"Who?" He asked.

"Officer, my logs per your own regulations are privileged information. Can I get into the drive here so I can get this guy home and get on to my next fare?"

"What if I take a look at your logs anyway?"

I get out of my cab with my clipboard in hand and walk over to him.

"Look, I gotta a time call in ten minutes, I don't have time for this and your already killing my tip here."

"Where's your time call?"

I named the bar that the police like to hang out in his town and said I was taking 4 to a popular strip joint.

"You know I can't be late for that call."

"So the n***** you got in there ain't a fucking banger?"

"I don't know what he does on his spare time. I just take people home from warehouses."

"Whatever, I got my eye on you."


I got back in the cab.

"You all right man?" I asked my passenger.

"Yeah, but see this?"  He pulled up the back of his hoodie and showed me bruises that were healing.

"I see it."

"He did that to me almost a week ago. Know what I did?"

"What?" I asked.

"I had a taillight out. I bet you don't believe me."

"I do."

"Why?" he asked.

"Because he threatened to arrest me and followed me when I was training a black driver."

"Did you complain?" He asked.


"What happened?" He asked.

"No one returned my emails."

"Shit. You're white." he said shocked.

"I'm also a cab driver." I said.

"So you know what it's like?" he asked.

"Hell no. I have no clue what it is to be you and I am not gonna insult you and say I have any idea what it is like to deal with the shit you have to deal with. I listen to 2Pac and Marley and I have been harassed by a few cops, but I have never dealt with what just happened here. I'll never know what it's like to be in your shoes."

"You the coolest cab driver ever."

"Well, that I won't argue with."

"You know I ain't got money to tip."

"I know, you never do. Go up there, hug your girl and kiss your kid, how old is he?"

"He'll be two in 4 days. Think the world will be better for him?"

"No," I said, "but I like it when I am wrong."

"I don't think so either. Maybe we're just dumb men. My baby mama says it'll get better."

"Be safe, man" I said as he left.

"Thanks to you, I was tonight."

This conversation should not have happened. But it did.