Read the original story in Spanish at El Diario
Translated and condensed by Carlos Rodríguez Martorell
Dominican livery driver Ramón Camacho likes the holiday season for more than just the lights and celebrations related to Christmas and New Year’s: For him and others in the struggling industry, the holidays offer an increase in dispatcher calls and a chance to earn more money.
“These are very good days for us. As we say, this is Three Kings’ Month, because they come early. You always get customers on New Year’s Day and New Year’s Eve,” said the driver, who works for Super Class Radio Dispatcher in The Bronx.
“You work these holidays because the community needs it, and we are here to offer this service,” he said. “Another good thing is that people tip well during this time. Many customers behave. Others, not so much, but it all depends on how you treat them.”
Like the taxi industry, it’s been a tough few years for livery car drivers, who’ve faced increased competition from the emergence of car-hailing apps such as Uber and Lyft. But the holiday months help make up for some of that loss, those in the business say.
“The apps have had an impact on the service we traditionally offer, which has decreased in the general sense. However, the demand grows so much and the influx of calls is so large during the holidays that there is plenty of business for everyone,” says Fidel Farrel, owner of Super Class Radio Dispatcher, which has operated for more than 23 years. “There is more activity across the industry. We could say that it doubles: If we normally get 500 calls on a regular day, we could get 1,000 on those days.”
Carlos Vásquez, who has been a livery driver for 12 years, said that while a large number of his colleagues take time off during the holidays, others have no option but to keep working.
“We have no choice. One needs to pay rent, and times are tough right now, so we have to do something to cover those expenses. What better way than working on those days?” said the cab driver, adding that this does not stop him from celebrating. “I do take some time off to be with my family. I go to work for a bit, but I also find the time, because it’s tough out there.”
Drivers say they’re hoping 2020 will bring positive changes to the industry. While ride-hailing apps have caused turmoil for livery workers, some say the situation has improved in the last few months.
“Uber has recently been losing steam,” Vásquez said .”We have a different clientele: The people who use our cars do not get on an Uber. People tell me that they do not want Uber because their prices vary, while we have a fixed rate.”
The increased competition also forced livery car companies to make upgrades to their dispatch systems, which has helped the industry improve overall, according to Camacho.
“In some ways, yes, they have hurt us, but the apps have also driven dispatches to improve in order to be able to compete. They were not very advanced in terms of technology in those days, and they realized that they needed to get up to date with the technology and compete in order to stay in business. That has brought us more customers,” says the driver, who has been behind the wheel for 22 years.
Ydanis Rodríguez, who chairs the City Council’s transportation committee and a former driver himself, says more should be done to help livery drivers earn a living and maximize their earnings during the busy holiday months.
“I know first-hand what December is like for a cab driver, and I know that this is the time of the year in which there is the most opportunity to make money because people prefer not to walk,” said the politician. He is pushing the city’s Taxi and Limousine Commission to allow livery cars to pick up passengers on the streets in neighborhoods that are poorly served by traditional taxis, such as northern Manhattan and the outer boroughs. “To let [drivers] have flexibility, particularly during the holidays, and to let these working men and women make an honest living in peace.”