Henry Davis has learned to listen to the folks who ride in the back seat of his taxicab.
“A cab driver is sort of like a counselor,” the 70-year-old Akron man said while driving his leased, 2007 Crown Victoria cab — with 272,000 miles on the odometer — to the Summit County Courthouse to pick up a rider.
“As a driver, you hear so much. You try to be a good listener and only comment when necessary.”
Davis is among 83 drivers at Akron’s oldest cab company, City Yellow Cab, which is celebrating its 80th year in business.
Arthur “Mickey” McBride, who would later found the Cleveland Browns, started City Yellow Cab in 1933.
In 1946, 12 returning World War II veterans, including Mac McClenathen and C.P. Chima, started GI Cab Co.
In 1960, GI Cab purchased City Yellow Cab, and the two companies operated under one ownership until GI Cab dissolved in 1997. Members of the McClenathen and Chima families still own the surviving company.
City Yellow Cab’s milestone anniversary comes two years after taxi regulations went into effect in Akron and as talk is heating up aimed at getting countywide taxi regulations. The goal: to increase service and safety.
In instituting its licensing law, the city of Akron requires:
• Cab companies and drivers to renew licenses annually.
• Vehicles to be inspected.
• Taxi rates to be submitted to City Call.
• Drivers to submit information — such as any criminal records — to city officials.
The law was passed to cut back on the number of so-called gypsy cab companies and to make sure vehicles are safe for riders.
Proponents are discussing expanding such requirements to all of Summit County, or at least in the city of Green, where Akron-Canton Airport is located and much cab business is generated.
“There is the beginning of dialogue to investigate the possibility to have a standardized licensing effort to allow for maximum efficiency and availability of cab service in the county,” said Gregg Mervis, president and CEO of the Akron/Summit Convention and Visitors Bureau.
“An increased level of service and availability of cabs in the community would be welcomed by our visitors and the hospitality industry,” he said. “I believe that a type of uniform regulation would provide ease of movement and increased ridership for the cab companies, which would result in enhanced service and availability for visitors to the community.”
Airport in support
Kristie VanAuken, senior vice president and chief marketing and communications officer at Akron-Canton Airport, said airport officials would favor some form of taxi regulations.
“We have put our support behind such an effort,” she said. “It would be nice to have some standards. We can’t do that on our own. We need the aid of a government body.”
She said the airport is concerned about “the inconsistency” of the type of vehicle and customer service of taxis that pick up customers at the airport and “that is at the heart” of the push for regulations.
“In our mind it wouldn’t matter if the regulations and standards would come from the city of Green or the county,” she said.
The other big concern, she said, is “the mystery of the cost” of cabs serving passengers at the airport.
Drivers, who pay $400 a year to the airport to pick up customers there, currently are not required to disclose how much a ride will cost, VanAuken said. Also, there is no regulation for consistent metering that shows riders how much each mile costs.
“Price transparency” is a big issue, she said.
VanAuken said that this year 10 cab companies operated 29 vehicles at the airport.
Green Law Director Stephen J. Pruneski said he plans to draft legislation to require taxis operating in the city to post rates so passengers know what they will pay for any ride. He said it is most likely the legislation, which is primarily aimed at taxis operating at Akron-Canton Airport, would not be submitted to City Council until next year.
Three taxi companies operate out of Cleveland Hopkins International Airport under a 2009 city of Cleveland ordinance. All passengers taking a cab receive a printout of the cost of their trip before they enter a cab, said Jacqueline Mayo, a spokeswoman for the airport.
Municipal rules for operating taxis exist in Barberton, Cuyahoga Falls and Stow.
Cab companies operating in Barberton are required to be headquartered there.
As part of its 80th anniversary in Akron, City Yellow Cab has instituted a new dress code for drivers: company shirts, black pants and black shoes. Other enhancements this year include a new website — www.cityyellowcab.com — that offers online scheduling, credit card payment options in the cab and the pending addition of five new vehicles to the fleet.
City Yellow Cab’s 83 drivers are all independent contractors who lease vehicles from the company.
Because business picks up in the winter and spring, additional drivers were brought on this month, said Debbie Stolfo, general manager of the cab company.
She said more than half of City Yellow Cab’s business is contracted with agencies serving the disabled or to health-care organizations.
Stolfo spoke favorably of Akron’s regulations, saying they protect passengers. She is in favor of countywide licensing.
“There is a concern for me that people are getting into cabs that aren’t cabs,” she said.
Stolfo said that even with Akron’s regulations, she suspects there could be dozens of unlicensed cabs still operating within the city.
Stephanie York, a spokeswoman for the city, said 10 cab companies and 138 drivers are licensed in Akron. She said the new regulations probably have cut back on the number of gypsy companies, but the city still gets complaints occasionally about unlicensed cabs.
“We were getting complaints about people slapping magnetic signs on their cars and vans and offering taxi service at the Metro Intermodal station and in downtown after midnight,” York said.
In Akron, cab drivers pay a $25 annual license fee. Companies pay $250 per year plus from $15 to $25 per taxi, depending on the size of the fleet.
Stolfo estimated that full-time drivers can make up to about $30,000 a year, including tips.
City Yellow Cab company is located in a 1950s-era building at 650 Home Ave. Three mechanics work around the clock at a garage to maintain the fleet.
Drivers must submit to drug tests, administered randomly. Stolfo said that requirement dates back more than two decades.
At City Yellow Cab, the meter for a ride starts at $2.75 and then costs $2 per mile. As many as four people can ride in the cab at a time, Stolfo said.
“The company is changing rapidly and will continue to change in the future,” she said. “The staff and drivers are constantly updating their respective responsibilities. I am proud of the jobs our people do to take people where life wants them to be.”
Stolfo said her drivers can drop off customers at the Akron-Canton Airport but since they have not paid the $400 per-car fee at the airport, her drivers cannot pick up passengers there. To pay the $400 fee for all her fleet would cost the company $17,000, she said.
Longtime driver Steven Snow, 44, has worked 18 years with City Yellow Cab.
“I love it,” he said of the job, even though it does require him to be “aware of your surroundings, especially at nighttime.”
A driver for the company, Warren J. Miller, 37, was murdered on the job in November 2006. Darnail Carlisle was sentenced to life in prison for the crime.
Stolfo said the company averages about six robberies a year.
“There is always a threat every time the driver opens the door,” she said.
Henry Davis, who first drove for City Yellow Cab in 1971, also spent 30 years as a truck driver. He has been operating his cab for nearly a decade.
He said he has never been robbed.
“If you [feel] fear, you can’t do it,” he said of the job. “That’s my belief. I am not saying you are exempt from it, but it is something I don’t think about much.”
He said he loves the job and the way he meets new people every day.
“It’s an outrageous job because of all the experiences you have,” he said. “You get all different types of people from all walks of life. The very person that you might think will give you a tip won’t give you one. The one you don’t think will give you one, that’s the person who will give you a super tip.”
He said he has learned that you never know what is going on in a person’s life when they step into his cab.
“They may be having a bad day,” Davis said. And a total stranger might “pour out to you” personal tidbits from the back seat.
“You get the knuckleheads,” he said, and they help “you appreciate the good people.”
Jim Carney can be reached at 330-996-3576 or firstname.lastname@example.org.