Christopher Kroh has been a Tucson taxi driver since 1996. He said he's seen the business change from a decent way of making a living to a nickel-and-dime job that is in need of change. Kroh has started the Tucson Hacks Association, "hack" being a term for a cab driver. The association started meeting last month, with drivers from four local companies represented. Kroh hopes it's a first step toward creating better treatment for drivers. For more on the effort, go to visit their website, or email them.
When did you become a hack?
I have been driving a taxi since 1996, so I've seen a little bit of everything. ... This industry used to be one where you could make a reasonable living ... but we're independent contractors, and that's a challenge. Sometimes, they just keep stepping on our rights.
So in Tucson, most of the drivers are independent contractors?
Yes, and by law, most taxi companies across America operate the same way. With independent contractors, the companies don't have to pay FICA or insurance, yet we're not given the ability to completely operate as independent contractors.
What's the goal of the association?
We want to represent everyone in Tucson from all the companies. At the last meeting, we had drivers from (the big companies in Tucson)—we're talking about everybody. We're not allowed to have a union, but this is a start to working together, to work with both sides—drivers and owners.
What do you see as one problem right now?
Some companies, their bread and butter is indigent health transportation. ... The companies get these contracts through the state, and drivers are reimbursed per voucher, but it doesn't come close to what they should be making per run. ... You see so many of what we call the scab cabs, especially around the university. Compared to us, they charge outrageous rates, and there are safety issues, especially late at night. They don't do background checks on drivers like we do.
Are you worried about possible retaliation from the companies you drive for?
We're very worried about it, to tell you the truth. We have a board of directors, and (board members) are also a little bit concerned. What we want to do is become an association that represents all the cab companies. We started a blog, and we're hoping to get all the drivers involved. (Cab companies) have created such an atmosphere of fear. Some drivers have to work 80 hours a week or more. ... Most cab drivers are a week away from being homeless, and most have no life at all, because they are always working. We're just trying to get together and come up with a way to make things better for the drivers.
How difficult is it to make a living nowadays?
The companies make so much money off of us and through what I think are illegal contracts. With credit cards we get that must be processed through them, some companies are charging us a 10 percent fee. I do it on my cell phone for 3 percent. ... It is crazy all the way around. Right now, a lot of drivers won't do voucher calls, because they pay (such a) minimum. Now, some companies have an airport special rate, which is a 30 percent reduction of what we were always getting before—not good to do when gas costs alone have gone up 24 percent since December.
Some cities have cab registries and requirements, so that everyone has the same experience.
Here, we don't have that. In Arizona, all you have to do to drive a cab is put up some signage. The only regulation is that you have a meter that is accurate (and rates) posted on the door. ... I can tell you I've picked up people to retrieve their cars and have heard them tell me how they had to pay twice as much to get home the night before. We also hear about cabs that don't have meters.
If your company can retaliate, why organize?
If they were to claim they were terminating my contract, and they never did before in 16 years, that would be interesting. But, look, all of us are struggling right now. I wouldn't want to test them, but we are all at the point where we have to fight back. ... So, we're starting an association and hoping at the same time to build a relationship with the companies. They want to monopolize medical-care runs, but they don't pay drivers properly. We're at a disadvantage, and at the same time, there are lots of us who really do like doing this type of work.