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TAXI Revisted

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On February 5th, we posted an item about taxis in Los Angeles. The entry inspired a former cab driver to write in and share interesting insights into how the LA cab scene really works. We thought we'd share it with everyone.As a young former cab driver, and for a year or so one of only a handful of native-English-speaking drivers to prowl the streets of LA, I feel uniquely qualified to comment on this.

Firstly, if a driver is acting dangerously, write down the four-digit number printed on both sides of his taxi. If you want to hurt him financially, call his cab company - they'll "deauthorize" him for a few hours as punishment, meaning he can't take any calls and he has to work late (which may mean he'll work too many hours and kill someone later in a sort of karmic boomerang.) Alternately, you can call the taxi commission in downtown and file a complaint, which will ruin his life, leading to alcoholism, wife-beating and allowing his children to wind up in an orphanage in Calcutta.

Understand that these people are immigrants working long hours for what amounts to about $350 a week. But then bearing that in mind, take this next bit of advice to heart:

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When you step into an LA taxi, keep a keen eye on the meter, particularly if you have booze on your breath. Why? Because the cabs in this town are owned and controlled by the Russian mob. Frequently, your driver is a Russian who has been brought over by them in a sort of indentured servitude: They give him a few bucks for food and let him a corner of a room in one of their apartment blocks, and he drives for them 16 hours a day, every day, for 3 or 4 years until he's released and his family is brought over.

To increase the mob's take, they will lie, cheat and steal. The taxi meters in LA are checked every 6 months at special meter-shops regulated by the California Dept. of Agriculture. These meter-shops, however, are owned by the same mob that owns the cab companies (Checker, United and Yellow -- Bell is a feudal system controlled partly by Russians and partly by Mexicans, and is not as apt or able to cheat as they use older-style meters.) So for a $50 fee to the driver, the crooked meter-shop will "check" your meter, officially report that it's okay, and then re-rig it with a remote-controlled sensor. It sounds advanced, but the way it works is simple. The driver has a small remote -- like a garage-door opener -- in his left pocket. When he sees the customer is distracted, drunk, or simply looking out the window, he presses the button: The meter speeds up, running way ahead, returning to normal whenever the driver presses the button again.

This is what taxi drivers in LA refer to as, "the secrets." As in, "Oh, you didn't make any money today? Don't you know the secrets?"

So -- obviously I'm submitting this anonymously, out of fear of retribution (I left off driving cab after a boss threatened to cut my fingers off.)

Just understand that your average LA cab driver -- quite different from the NY cabbie -- lives a life of subhuman misery and poverty the likes of which you can barely imagine.