The world of television is inhabited by a vast number of cabbies. One of the most beloved characters of 1970s TV was Louie DePalma on the show titled, appropriately enough, “Taxi.” That show is entirely populated by the drivers, dispatchers and mechanics that make up the world of cab service. One of the underlying themes of the show is that the inhabitants of that world are only temporary visitors waiting for that big break in the career they really desire. That may be the way you view the idea of becoming either a cab driver or taxi dispatcher for a taxi service. But keep in mind that taxi service has been around a long, long time and seems to be one of the few industries that can only be helped by the rise of the internet and wireless communication .
Taxi dispatchers can learn one very important thing by watching this 1950s show starring Oscar-winner Celeste Holm. And that is to make sure they equip their cabbies with apps for smartphones or tablets that provide constant updates of breaking news. Well, really, any kind of app that would be of service to taxi drivers. Celeste was a journalist who always seemed to be able to find her cabbie friend Marty driving his taxi nearby just when she needed a lift to cover a breaking story. (Not clear whether Marty was simply one of the earliest stalkers to appear on a sitcom or not!) A decade later saw a cabbie named Artie regularly dispatching Danny Taylor, the titular character on “The Reporter,” throughout New York City to scoop rivals on the biggest news of the the 1960s.
The world of journalism in the 21st century has expanded beyond these images of the traditional newspaper reporter to run the gamut from TV broadcasters to YouTube uploaders to bloggers to, and may God have mercy on my soul for typing this, I-reporters. Which is basically just the 21st century name for the new breed of unpaid stringers. The point being that the potential client base of taxi service customers looking for the quickest transport to the location of breaking news is bigger than ever, especially in large metropolitan areas with an undependable public transit system. Cab drivers and taxi dispatchers should be prepared to become masters of social media, Google alerts and all other resources in the Age of Information that put their cabs exactly where they need to be in order to get this new breed of (often surprisingly gleefully unpaid) breaking news reporter to the scene quicker than any competitor.
It would be more than a year after the sitcom “Wings” premiered that Antonio the cabbie became a regular character. “Wings” was a show set mostly inside a small airport on Nantucket Island that seemed to have just two commuter airlines, one waitress, one mechanic and one taxi driver. What cabbies and taxi dispatchers can learn from “Wings” is almost the opposite of the lessons to be gained from “Honestly Celeste” and “The Reporter.” Taxi services in those situations need to make sure their cabbies are always on the prowl for the most needy customer no matter where in the city he may be or need to go.
But what if you run a taxi that is servicing a much smaller and centrally contained population? In that case, your cabbie needs to remain within quick access of the people who need him the most. If your cabbie seems to be the only game in town, no problem, but competition tends to exist even within smaller customer bases. So that means looking to Antonio on “Wings” for guidance on how to look for any way possible to brand your service as a friend who is always there when you need him. If you can get your cab drivers to become a friendly staple among a group of people who need reliable transport, that untapped source of revenue is more likely to call upon your taxi dispatchers than rivals once rivals start getting wise to an overlooked opportunity.
Not as easy as it sounds. Where is the dividing line between friendly availability and sloth? Well, if you are a taxi dispatcher in doubt on that issue, try tracking down a copy of the few episodes ever made of “The George Carlin Show. ” This sitcom provides a valuable TV lesson in where you don’t want your cab drivers to become a friendly face. The cabbie played by legendary comedian George Carlin was more likely to be a part-time philosopher cracking wise inside the bar that was the central location of the show than to be dispatching customers inside his cab. Taxi dispatchers need to learn the infinite value of always knowing the location of your drivers when they are not inside their cabs. It is one thing to develop a friendly relationship with a customer base like Antonio in “Wings.” It is entirely different to lose revenue when a cab driver is knocking back drinks when they should be on the streets.
The taxi driver on the cult British comedy series “The League of Gentlemen” is named Barbara and is introduced as a pre-operative transsexual with a distinct baritone voice. I can’t tell you where Barbara winds up because spoiling anything about the weirdness that is “The League of Gentlemen” should be punishable by death. The little that I have told should be just enough to provide the final lesson that can be gained about operating a taxi business by watching TV. Transporting customers for a living is not a job for anyone who allows judgment to get in the way. Cab drivers see a lot of weirdness . And taxi dispatchers must deal not only with weird customers, but weird drivers. If you can’t be accepting and learn to live and let live, the world of cabbies is probably not for you.