A taxi will be the first impression many DNC attendees get of Charlotte and the city has gone to great lengths to make sure it's a good one. Last year, most cab companies were kicked out of the airport and strict rules implemented for those that remain. |
Angry taxi drivers unsuccessfully sued to block the move and complained they would lose their livelihoods. WFAE's Julie Rose reports on the outcome of that controversial change.
The other night, Charlotte Aviation Director Jerry Orr found himself without a ride home from work at the airport. So he hailed a cab. The driver knew exactly who he was.
"I could tell he was a little nervous," says Orr with a chuckle. "But you know, he opened the door. The cab was immaculate. He knew right where to go. He was perfect."
That was a payoff moment for Orr who took a lot of criticism when he decided last year to whittle the hodgepodge of 12 cab companies doing airport business down to just three - Crown, Yellow and City Cab.
Orr promised that working with fewer companies would make it easier to monitor quality and enforce things like a dress code.
The view from the curb proves he was right. The cabs are all nearly new. Many are even hybrids. They're buffed to a shine and equipped with the latest credit card technology. They're also being dispatched more efficiently, says Orr.
In the old days, airport taxi drivers basically worked whenever they wanted. There were often too many of them on duty, so it was common to see them sitting in the holding lot, playing backgammon or watching TV while they waited a turn at the baggage claim curb.
Now, airport staff meet regularly with the cab company owners and assign driver schedules based on flight traffic.
Over in the taxi holding lot, a TV blares to an empty break room and drivers are dispatched back to the curb almost as fast as they arrive.
"It's so nice," says Yellow Cab airport driver Ali Adem. "We have more time for our family now."
Adem says he works just eight hours a day but makes the same money he made before the taxi changes at the airport.
"With more time for our family," Adem emphasizes.
The good hours and predictability of the airport driver's job does come with some higher costs.
Cab drivers in Charlotte typically own their own cars and pay for their own insurance, maintenance and gas. Most were required to buy new cars in order to keep operating at the airport. They get to keep their fares and tips, but pay a weekly fee to the cab company. Those fees have doubled to more than $300 a week for many airport drivers.
The DNC should be a lucrative time for them, but probably not for the rest of the city's cabs.
"We may make less, I don't know," says King Cab driver Abdullahi Hirsi.
One reason Hirsi thinks profits may be worse during the DNC for street drivers like himself is that road closures will limit where he can cruise for passengers Uptown.
Plus, most Charlotte hotels don't call taxis for their guests - they use limo companies that are bringing in more than 100 extra cars for the DNC.
And then there are the free shuttles.
Once delegates catch an airport taxi to their hotels, they'll have private DNC buses to shuttle them around town.
There's an extra sting in all of this for cab drivers who worked at the airport for years and looked forward to the DNC before they were displaced by the new contract system.
Abdul Rajak is one of several dozen trying to make the most of things by forming their own company - United Cab. Rajak's minivan has a new paint job and a tablet computer with the latest dispatch technology.
Rajak says all the dire warnings last year from drivers who said they'd lose their shirts if forced out of the airport turned out to be overblown.
"It has not turned out that way," says Rajak. "Because most of our drivers are experienced drivers which have been driving this town more than 20 and 25 years."
They know the streets. They have loyal customers who call them for rides. They've recovered quickly, says Rajak.
And they're looking beyond the DNC, back to the airport.
Charlotte Aviation Director Jerry Orr recently renewed contracts with Yellow, Crown and City Cab, but says next year he may let other companies bid.
United Cab plans to be ready.