Ed, the Escondido, Calif. cabby, piqued our interest. As he waited for a fare outside a local Albertson's, we asked Ed a few questions about those who also drive ---- for hire.
Let's put it this way: In New York, Chicago, San Francisco, even Orange County and Orleans Parish, Louisiana, cabbies are more than useful. But Escondido, Fallbrook, and even Solana Beach in suburban San Diego County... taxi cabs? What's the deal? Where are they all hiding?
North County San Diego cabs are expensive to take, for one thing. Plus cab companies come and go, literally. They merge, split, reform and change names constantly. And the bottom line: It's very, very hard to get a cab in North County, and good luck getting one if you are in a hurry.
Now, back to Ed. He was laid off from a computer manufacturer's job and lived near the Escondido Yellow Cab office. Plus, he didn't have a car of his own. So hey, what the heck, he walked on over and started driving passengers for a living.
Apparently, the job has its moments. Ed said fares have run away without paying several times. He has had people pop into his taxi for $160 rides to LAX. Most of his fares are locals, such as the one that found him waiting outside Albertson's for a lady to emerge with groceries. Her car was broken and she needed to stock up. A seemingly short round-trip like that, though, can cost $20 to $30.
Ed had a lot more to say but to make a long story short, I let my fingers do the walking after that. I took to the telephone book and called. And called and called and called.
We called North County Cab. They advertise as "Anytime Anywhere On Time." Good luck with that one. "We're too busy to talk," said the dispatcher who wouldn't even say where they were located. It's 4986 Voltaire St. in Pacific Beach by the way. Not even North County.
Then, we swept through the "color" cab companies. Orange Cab, White Cab, Yellow Cab and something called Pinky Transportation. Then there was Taxi Fiesta, which isn't a color but still a pretty good name.
(Below is a special Ah-Ha Solana Beach taxicab confessional...)
And Courtesy Cab of Vista. At last, a North County cab company worth something.
Courtesy owner John Gazdayka was the only manager of a local cab company to give me the courtesy of some insight into the state of the state of North County taxi cabs. He is a longtime cab company employee and owner in several different taxi-cabal incarnations. He has owned Vista-based Courtesy Cab since 1997, running 11 vehicles that his drivers lease.
"You license with communities to pick up people there," Gazdayka said. "The fees vary. Some places have a flat fee plus a per-passenger. It usually comes out to a couple of hundred dollars for each place.
"A lot of guys who drive cabs operate on their own," Gazdayka said. "They get a (taxi driver) license and the better the company, the more drivers you can attract. The drivers got to make money. If they can't make money, I can't make money."
Cab companies set their own fares which generally are about $2 per mile. However, some smaller, or even solo, operators may charge more and some companies may charge less depending on the competition.
Gazdayka said it was hard to know how many taxi companies operate in North County but three, or four, probably handle the bulk of the traffic.
As for what it takes to succeed in the business: "It's not overly hard," Gazdayka said. "You have to have a certain amount of people skills, take directions well, read a map. But there are some people driving who are over-educated for what they do."
Local taxi traffic consists of business travelers to airports and hotels, local trips and a lot of contract work with school districts, hospitals, senior groups and even the North County Transit District for passengers who can't ride buses, Gazdayka said.
Passengers, by the way, leave all sorts of items behind in cabs.
"Cell phones, wallets, you name it," Gazdayka said. "Cell phones, the most by far. Wild stuff, too. Clothing. You name it."
Hmmm. And what about "Taxicab Confessions" on HBO: Fake or real?
"I think anything is possible in a cab," Gazdayka said with a laugh. "Use your imagination and it happens."
Any North County taxicab confessions?
Gazdayka won't go there from here today.