I wonder what rideshare drivers' experiences are like with the police? Is it any better than it is for cabbies?
This is a chapter from Where To?
About a month ago I was taking a passenger home to Lakeview from Midway Airport and got pulled over for speeding. It was 9 pm or so and we were on Lake Shore Drive nearing North Avenue. There was a good amount of traffic. The cop lights came out of nowhere. Cab drivers develop a radar for cops the way dog owners develop a radar for dogshit but this one got the drop on me. Perhaps it was the pleasant conversation with the passenger that distracted me. He was as dumbfounded as I was at the officer’s sudden interest.
The gray-haired officer marched up to my passenger-side window and asked,
“Is there an emergency? Is your passenger going to the hospital?”
“No,” I answered, trying to keep my voice as calm as I could.
“TURN THE METER OFF RIGHT NOW!” he bellowed, though I’d paused it the moment I saw those angry blue lights.
I had my driver’s and Chauffeur’s licenses ready, as well as a bond card to hand over so as not to lose my license while the ticket was being processed. He took the licenses but sneered at the bond card.
“Don’t bother. I’m pulling your Chauffeur’s License,” he announced and walked back to his cruiser.
The city has a special set of fines reserved for cab drivers. There’s a room at the traffic courthouse at 400 West Superior just for us. This was where I’d be going in a month’s time. In the interim every time I renewed my cab lease or had to show my chauffeur’s license for any other reason I’d have to show the ticket instead. The shame of it was part of the punishment.
As we sat waiting the guy in the back told me he didn’t understand what was going on.
“You didn’t do anything wrong. In fact this is the calmest, safest cab ride I can remember. Don’t the cops usually give you guys a break?”
I stifled a laugh and explained that cops hate cab drivers and that when ticket quotas need to be filled we’re prime targets. We’re out on the city’s streets all the time. I was going with the flow of traffic. In fact another car had passed me right before the cop stopped me. He picked out the cab on purpose. The bright paint job and toplight must be hard to resist for the men in blue. I apologized to my passenger for holding him up. Before we were rudely interrupted he’d been telling me how tired he was from his trip and how much he was looking forward to getting home and having a beer. He just sighed and said he was sorry I was going through this.
When the cop came back his mood had lightened considerably. In fact, he was whistling a happy tune as he gave me the ticket and instructed me to turn the meter back on.
Later I went to 400 West Superior for my court date. The queue of sad sacks waiting to take their lumps was good and long by the time I arrived. The city has a lot of leeway with these cabbie infractions. Depending on the mood of the court administrator the charge can be dismissed or it can be upgraded to a suspension. The last time I was here—to pay twice for a lightbulb that had burnt out—the administrator had recognized me from an article in the Sun-Times about my book. He asked that I not write about him and that the next time he’d give me a break. I brought a copy of my book in with me so he’d remember. He greeted me warmly and asked about how everything was going, saying that mine was a great story and that I should be on TV. He looked the book over, obviously impressed. I reminded him about his promise but he shook his head sadly as he looked at my ticket, saying there wasn’t much he could do when it was for speeding on Lake Shore Drive, though he did knock the fine down from $250 to $125. I thanked him and went out to the court room to wait for the judge to make the deal official.
The judge read out my admission of guilt and handed me a document to present to the cashier, who relieved me of $165 ($40 added for “court costs”) and sent me onto my next stop, the Department of Consumer Affairs, to retrieve my Chauffeur’s License. About an hour later I was at the Yellow Cab garage paying my weekly lease as if nothing out of the ordinary had occurred. The cashier took my IDs and cash without comment.
The police harassment and exorbitant fines are just the price of doing business. The city wants and needs revenue and we contribute.
After the extractions the city performed that morning, I looked forward to my dentist’s appointment later in the afternoon.