Driving a taxi in the Big City was too cutthroat for Ed Biaggi.
“You worried about getting stabbed - and not just by the customers,” says the San Francisco native, now night manager for Coeur d’Alene’s Taxi By Hall.
“It was the other cabbies fighting for your fares.”
A move by Coeur d’Alene to open its regulated cab market likely won’t lead to San Francisco-style bloodshed. But the competition just as effectively will drive cabbies out of the city’s two-horse taxi market, Biaggi predicts.
“There’s not enough business for us to make a living here, let alone a bunch of others,” he says.
Tonight, the city’s general services committee will consider a new cab law. It would allow unlimited competition among cab companies for the first time in 33 years.
Existing law requires potential new cab companies to prove the city needs more taxis - a difficult task. Without that proof, new companies can’t start up.
The issue will go to the City Council next week.
The move was prompted by a request from Hayden resident Gordon Andrea, who wants to offer cab service here. He declined comment.
The existing ordinance has been in force since 1962, said City Clerk Susan Weathers. It was designed so that excessive competition doesn’t drive all cabs out of business.
“The city should not be involved in blocking free enterprise,” says City Councilman Kevin Packard. “This will open it up.”
That’s what scares Biaggi and his partner, Roy Tucker, 53.
“They’ve got this idea that there’s a lot of money in it,” Tucker says. “There’s a lot of something, but it’s not money.”
Lower back pain, perhaps. Cabbies for Taxi By Hall and its competitor, Sunset Taxi, typically work on-call, put in 12-hour days and get paid commission. That’s not much money when fares are few and far between.
“I just finished payroll, and there’s barely a check in there for over $100,” says Sunset owner Jerry Anderson.
Biaggi’s most recent check was $197 after taxes - and that was for two, 60-hour weeks.
“I’m 30 years old, I’m not married and I have no children, but I have to have a roommate to survive,” Biaggi says. His roommate is Tucker.
Competition now is fierce, but respectful, Anderson says. He is cordial with his alter egos.
“We speak. We have lunch. We steal each other’s customers,” he says. “We’re not buddies.”
Of course, the life comes with some benefits.
No passengers? Drivers can go home, watch television, visit friends or run errands. They can take a nap.
But they have to be available to drive on a moment’s notice.
“It’s not like you can be in a bar drinking,” says Biaggi, who works nights. “When you drive a cab, you pretty much get married to it.”
Drivers get to know most of their passengers. Some regulars become familiar as relatives.
“Parents will call sometimes and have you pick up their kids at school,” Tucker says. “Sometimes we’re actually like parents, signing for kids at day care and stuff.”
That’s why city law requires background checks and special licensing for cab drivers: “We haul children so we don’t want any weirdos driving,” Tucker says.
It’s also a way to work when you no longer can do manual labor. Biaggi, for example, has a bum knee. He and Tucker both have bad backs.
“Most cab drivers are exsomething-elses,” says Tucker, a one-time contractor. “I don’t want to be ex-something again.”
He and Biaggi plan to argue their case before the committee tonight.
Anderson, however, won’t bother.
“You can’t keep out competition forever,” he says. “It was bound to happen sooner or later. I’m not going to cry about it.”
The meeting begins at 6 p.m. in City Hall, 710 Mullan Ave.