Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Day 8: bus strike, medical malpractice

Last month I needed something to do, and my non-physical helpers 'suggested' that I drive a cab. I have decided to join your fine community so that I have a record of the interesting people I meet. (note: this was originally posted to

Independent contractors like myself lease a car from the company, and pay for the lease and our time by picking up fares that the company sends our way. Fares are first offered to cabs in the passenger's zone. If there is no cab to offer the fare to, the system will announce its availability so that any driver in the system can pick it up.

I tried to lease a car this morning, but there were two waiting lists. The hybirds disappear on week days by 4:30am, but I've always been able to get a Crown Victoria at 6:30am.

Valley Metro's bus drivers are striking, which is probably why more drivers than usual took out a lease.

Poll: Should bus drivers be allowed to strike?
My first passenger yesterday was a woman who was taking herself to the emergency room for a migraine. She said her doctor was of no use, and wanted the test that he wouldn't order done.
The cab company has a contract with some of the state's AHCCCS (Arizona Medicaid, pronounced "Access") plans, and this woman was one of those passengers. Those contracts pay a flat rate based on the distance from the patient's home to the doctor's office, hospital, or pharmacy. The minimum such fare is $6, which is okay if you only have to go a 1/2 mile, but which sucks if you have to take them a full 4 miles, or get stuck in traffic. Some patients live a really long way from their doctors ($70+) - those fares are nice to get.

We hadn't gotten very far when she realized she'd forgotten her credit card, and wouldn't be able to get anything for lunch. I'm not out to make every dollar I can, so I turned around.

Yesterday was the fourth day of the Valley Metro bus drivers' strike. I picked up some bus refugees last Saturday and Sunday, but there was a flood on Tuesday. My second passenger would have taken the bus to the center for the blind, but didn't want to risk spending 4 hours getting there.

The bus strike is rather cruel because of the type of people who use the bus. Some of these are people who can't drive because they're blind or disabled, or because they cause accidents. Then there are those who take the bus because it's all they can afford.

The blind guy cringed at $14.65, so I gave him a "bus strike discount" and reduced my charge to $10. He was very appreciative. A later bus refugee was going to work at Walgreens, and she added a $5 tip to her $10 fare, so that came out even.

The secret to making money as a cab driver is being in the right place at the right time, to pick up the high-dollar fares, or at least not drive 20 minutes for $5.

Yesterday I had perfect timing. After dropping the blind guy off I headed north, hoping to find an area with more fares. My intuition said to turn west on Bell Road... Then the computer buzzed... Fare, 300 yds, ACCEPT/REJECT?

They were going to highschool. I told them they should've taken a bus holiday. The next fare was a mile away - this was the one who was going to Walgreens.

After dropping her off I sat around in the parking lot, looking at the open fares (that anyone can grab) to survey activity in the system. After a few minutes I decided to go west again. I was offered a fare, but it was 2.4 miles behind me, so I rejected it.

A minute later I was offered a fare that was 100yds away. I was pleased with myself for having rejected the 2.4-mile fare. This guy was also a bus refugee, and was going to work a ways down Bell Road, at the grocery store. He'd been suspended from his old job at Circle K (convenience store) for helping his co-worker keep his PSP from being taken in a cigarette robbery.  They're supposed to just let the beer and cigarette thieves go...

The bus refugee at McDonalds' apparently got a ride from someone... Wasted 10 or 20 minutes looking for her. But that set me up perfectly for my next fare, which was $xx to take a woman to her 6 days/week "art therapy".  Fare after that was $6 to take a woman home from the hospital. But the next one was a nice one taking an epileptic home to the south-east valley.

I had some trouble finding the two asian women, as I haven't updated the maps on my GPS yet. They were new to the valley, and didn't know where anything was, but at least the cross street they gave was enough to allow me to "guess" where their building was. They first asked to go to the nearest Bank of America, and the GPS offered a branch that was just down the street. Then I took them across the street to the open air market, 'cause they wanted food. They paid the fare and left a nice tip.

After I left, I thought that I should really tell them where they were, so when they called for another cab they could be found. I called dispatch and left the address, then went and looked for the two ladies. But they were nowhere to be found. Oh well.

There are not a whole lot of fares in this part of the valley, so I decided to head back to central Phoenix. Got on the freeway, and my computer buzzed. Now my trainer said he never accepts a fare on the freeway, but I'm a noob, and I'd rather have someone in my cab for that return trip than go empty.

That was a decent AHCCCS fare. After dropping her off at the apartment complex, I sat for a bit thinking about where to go next. But before long I had another offer: Fare, 15 yds. ACCEPT/REJECT. Sweet!

She was a little pudgy. Looked pregnant, but I wouldn't presume. She was going to the emergency room, said she really was quite pregnant. Are you on AHCCCS?  Yeah, but didn't think you could schedule AHCCCS cabs for her doctor visits on the same day. I told her about my first passenger's AHCCCS-supplied to the emergency room, and wondered if I was going to get paid. But we got to the hospital and she pulled out plastic for her $6 fare.

The first pregnant  woman I had was going back to the hospital to have labor induced. Her blood pressure was through the roof, and she had toxemia. She said, "What's Toxemia?" I said that doctors like big words.

I figure my guides arranged for me to get her fare because no one else could have told her about Tom Brewer, M.D.'s pregnancy diet. Dr. Brewer figured out years ago that pregnancy doesn't kill women if they're properly nourished. The Blue Ribbon Baby diet mainly calls for large amounts of protein and salt to taste.

I told that first pregnant woman that "doctors tend to be arrogant, and sometimes they're stupid." Then I asked what she'd been eating. Her diet for the last few months had consisted mostly of saltine crackers, because she was so nauseous... Didn't have any problems with her first kid.

Sometimes doctors are indeed stupid. The system trains them that way, so that the system can extract as much money from Medicare/Medicaid and private insurance as possible.

I happened to have a little box of the best kind of protein powder in my cab for that first pregnant woman. She promised she'd eat it, so I gave it to her.  

After that day I restocked my protein powder, in case I met another woman who needed it. And here she was, going to the emergency room. Sigh.

There were a few other fares yesterday, but these were the notable ones.

Oh, the blind guy called me as I was leaving the cab company, cabless, this morning. He wanted to know if I was close and could take him to the blind center again. I said I was without a cab, but that I'd be happy to take him. It was kind of on my way to the coffee shop I was headed towards. He said he only had $7, which was fine by me.

But I don't have the "weights and measures" sticker on my car, nor a meter, and there are certainly laws about running an unlicensed taxi service. When I dropped him off I said the ride was complimentary.

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