Why can't a black man get a cab in this town?
Cabbies explain the reasons for their profiling.
Wed Aug 22 2007
For most cabbies, picking their next fare is a no-brainer: It’s the next person hailing them down. “Legally, if I’m not off duty, I have to pick up anybody,” says Chaudhry Ali, a driver from Southeast Asia who was savoring a cigarette as he clocked off his shift. “You have to go anywhere in the five boroughs.”
Notice he said “legally.” Some cabs don’t stop for everyone, as African-Americans well know.
Cabbie Kwabena Agyeman, from Kenya, is aware of the stereotype that blacks have a hard time hailing a taxi and says it’s true. He feels that fellow cabbies avoid blacks because they give drivers a hard time. “Often a black person just gets in and mentions where he or she is going. There’s no, ‘Hello, how are you doing?’ If you hit traffic, they become very agitated, wondering why the meter is going up,” notes Agyeman (who is black). “Meanwhile, the car hasn’t stopped.”
Other cabbies we spoke to (who asked not to be identified) say it’s not attitude but simply a matter of money. Explains Ali, “They don’t want to drive to neighborhoods in the outer boroughs where minorities are more apt to live. They don’t want to come back without a fare. A lot of them feel it’s a waste of time.”
Heidi Clyde, a black woman from West Harlem, says scoring a cab comes down to appearance and disposition. “It’s simple: You get back what you put out,” she says. “I just think a lot of men in general don’t know how they come across. And that’s the problem.”
Drivers agree bad behavior is not a black-and-white issue, as fare jumpers come in a rainbow of colors. “Whites jump too,” explains Ali. “Whenever we get to where they wanted to go, they say: “I have no money. I’m sorry,” he says. “They’ll say, ‘This is my home. I’ll come right back. I forgot my wallet.’ But they never come back.”
Our drivers also gave us some very unscientific insight into the habits of other ethnic groups in the city. They suggest Asians use cabs only when absolutely necessary, and Hispanics usually have a set amount in their head as to what they will spend. If it looks like it’s going to be more, they’ll often cut the trip short, pay and find cheaper means to get to their destination.
But in the end, this may not be simply a race issue, but a race-and-sex issue. Generally speaking, most drivers we talked to say women of any race are more desirable fares than men. Agyeman adds that if you’re shuttling a couple, “you hope the woman pays, as she’s more likely to be a generous tipper.” And Ali claims that it’s the men who are more likely to mistreat cabbies.
Ali and Agyeman say they survive on the streets by listening to their intuition. They also claim that preconceived assumptions about race usually backfire, as it’s very difficult to determine if someone is nice by the way they look. “Black, white, Hispanics, anyone,” says Ali. “If he’s hailing and I’m on duty, I will pick him up. I never refuse nobody.”