Gerry Cunningham, who is the boss at Dover, says Rank and File doesn’t bother him. “You’d figure there would be a lot of those types here, the way I see it. Big unions represent the median sort of guy, so you’d figure that with the general type of driver we have here, there would be a lot of Rank and File. Look, though, I’m not particularly interested in someone’s religion as long as he produces a day’s work. If the drivers feel a little togetherness, that’s fine with me.” Gerry, a well-groomed guy with a big Irish face, is sifting through a pile of accident reports and insurance claims in his trailer-office facing Hudson Street. It seems like all cab offices are in trailers or tempo-rary buildings; it’s a transient business. This is the first time, after a year of driving for Dover, that I’ve ever seen Gerry Cunningham. I used to cash the checks too fast to notice that he signed them. Cunningham smiles when he hears the term “hippie garage.” “Oh, I don’t mind that,” he says. “We have very conscientious drivers here. We have more college graduates here than any other group … I assume they’re having trouble finding other work.” Gerry is used to all the actors and writers pushing around Dover hacks and thinks some of them make good drives and some don’t. “But I’ll tell you,” he says, “of all the actors we’ve ever had driving here, I really can’t think of one who ever made it.”
Gerry Cunningham thinks that’s kind of sad, but right now he’s got his own problems. “Owning taxis used to be a great business,” he says, “but now we’re getting devoured. In January of 1973 I was paying 31 cents for gas, now I’m paying 60. I’m barely breaking even here. It cost me $12.50 just to keep a car in the streets for 24 hours. Gas is costing almost as much as it costs to pay the drivers.”
It’s no secret that fleets like Dover are in trouble. They were the ones who pressed for the 17.5 per cent fare rise and still say it’s not enough to offset spiraling gas costs, car depreciation, and corporate taxes. Some big fleets like Scull’s Angels and Ike-Stan, which employ hundreds of drivers, are selling out; many more are expected to follow. There is a lot of pressure for change. The New York Times has run editorials advocating a major reshaping of the industry, possibly with all cabs being individually owned.
But Gerry Cunningham, who is the president of the M.T.B.O.T (The Metropolitan Taxicab Board of Trade, which represents the fleets), isn’t planning on packing it in. He thinks he can survive if the fleets institute “leas-ing,” a practice the gypsy cab companies have always used. Leasing means, according to Cunningham, “I keep all my cars and lease them out to drivers for about $200 a week. That way only one man drives the car instead of the six or seven who are driving it now, the car lasts much longer, and you cut away a good deal of the maintenance and things like that.” Cunningham thinks leasing is the only way the fleets can make it right now. “It’s got to be,” he says, “because for the first time in my life, it’s hard to come to work.”
Leasing could really shake up the cabbing and crabbing, although Cunningham claims it won’t affect the “part-time actor and writer types” and the guys “who think of cabdriving as a stop along the way.” These people, he says, can always “sublet” taxis if they can’t come up with the $200.
A couple of Dover drivers who are really actors and musicians are talking about leasing while waiting in line at the La Guardia lot.
“What a drag leasing would be,” says an actor who has only $12 on the meter after four hours out of the garage. “If that happens, I don’t know, I’ll try to get a waiter’s job, I guess.”
“Yeah man, that’ll be a bitch all right,” says the musician. “I hate this goddamn job. Hey, I’d rather be blowing my horn, but right now I’m making a living in this cab. I won’t dig it if they take it away from me. Damn, if the city had any jobs I’d be taking the civil-service test.”