NY Times: Stepping Into a Cab and Back in Time

AFTER almost 60 years of driving a cab and collecting fares in New York City, Ray Kottner decided to do something different.

Now he drives a cab and collects no fares.

“People get in and they say ‘Where’s your meter?’ and I say that I don’t have a meter, I give free rides,” Mr. Kottner said. He was driving his 1982 Checker cab down Ninth Avenue at a modest 10 miles an hour.

Free, of course, is a state of mind. Riders are free to tip, and tip they do.

There was a time when hundreds of Checkers like Mr. Kottner’s prowled the streets. Back then, pedestrians waiting to hail a taxi would ignore “newer” cabs in the hope that a roomier Checker would come trundling along.

Because the manufacture of Checkers was discontinued and it became illegal to pick up fares in old cabs, they went the way of smoke-filled bars and affordable housing. Still, as Mr. Kottner knows, the allure remains. And tipping for a trip is quite different than paying a fare.

This story made me smile because it reminded me of my own days working for tips as a pedicab driver in Austin. I think we legally could have charged fares (unlike the guy in NYC driving the old Checker cab) but it was kinda hard to calculate since we didn’t have a meter. If it was a really long ride I would quote $60/hour, but normally I just said “pay whatever you want, I just work for tips,” which normally worked out well. The average tip (for maybe 5-10 blocks) was $5, but it wasn’t unheard of for it to be more, sometimes much more (particularly for drunk bachelorette parties going from one club to another… hehehe, that was the first and only job that I had women I had never met before pinching my butt on a regular basis. You really can’t beat that.) Of course some people tipped me very little, but normally I at least got a dollar, and if things were really slow and I was bored I would give homeless people a ride for free. Anyway it was a fun time, and I miss it. So very much has changed in 5 years.