Behind the Wheel
Happy to have ACDC’s “Back in Black” song booming from the radio, PDQ taxi owner Brad Luttrell jokingly tells one of his usual customers he’s going to snatch his Buffalo Wild Wings chicken because it smells so good wafting through his cab. It’s just another night in the life of a taxi driver.
But there is a dark side to the taxi business that is not always apparent behind the joking around with customers, jamming to music after dropping someone off, or being friendly to everyone he meets.
“I sit there and tell them [my drivers] do not get out of the car, lock your doors and wait for the money to come,” he said, referring to the sides of town with higher crime rates. “We’ve already had several robberies.”
People call the cabs and use them for a variety of purposes, some of which could risk the driver’s safety.
“It’s not a fun job, it really ain’t,” Luttrell said. “You gotta know how to defend yourself. This is not a job for just anybody to come out here and do.”
As long as the driver gets paid and is safe, Luttrell said the best thing his drivers can do is to keep their mouths shut.
“You don’t see no evil, you don’t speak no evil,” he said. “It’s sad, but it’s true. That’s how you stay alive.”
Luttrell returns to the office when he has no pickups waiting on a slow Tuesday night. Clad in jeans, a T-shirt and a light blue long-sleeve, his long hair sticks out from under his hat as he sits in a lazy boy chair smoking. His wife is at the desk on dispatch duty tonight.
The two have owned PDQ taxi for five years now and cater to the Ball State campus as well as all of Delaware County.
There are only three drivers on duty for the 7 p.m. to 7 a.m. shift during the weeknight at the 24/7 business. Each shift is 12 hours. Luttrell said finding quality drivers is a difficulty.
“Our biggest problem in this industry is finding safe drivers and ones that don’t have DWI’s and drink and drive,” he said.
Not only are safe drivers important when you run a taxi business, but friendly service to customers is part of the job.
“My experience was okay,” Jada Phillips, a junior finance major who has used PDQ taxi twice, said. “The driver wasn’t very friendly and did not explain that we had to go pick up other people as well. He didn’t really converse with us.”
Another major hurdle Luttrell and his other drivers face is finding the people who call. He doesn’t use a GPS unit on his routes because he’s from Muncie and knows the city well.
“The most terrible thing about this job is trying to find the people and if you can get there and get them out of their house,” he said. “That happens all the time.”
Luttrell honks his horn after waiting for a few minutes, hoping the people who called for a ride will hear it and come out. It happens often that he has to radio back to dispatch to call the customers again and let them know he’s outside. Even when this happens, he still enjoys his job.
“I like this better than I do truck driving because for one, I own it and for two, I sit there and I can see what’s going on around the whole entire area and then I get to meet people,” he said. “For me, it’s like having a family.”
This includes going around and picking people up from the bars who are too intoxicated as well as people who change their destination location once they get in the cab, which can be a frustration.
Other times, customers are waiting for the taxi to arrive. Phillips waited for 15 minutes for her ride, but at peak times on weekends, the wait can exceed an hour.
“I would still recommend the service because it arrived to my house quickly and it was pretty cheap,” Phillips said. “I think it was six dollars.”
Despite the challenges, dangers and waiting for customers once he arrives, Luttrell finds his job as a taxi driver rewarding and worth it.
“I love to help the community and if I can do that, I will,” he said. “If I can’t help them out when I want to, there’s nothing I can do about it, but I try my damndest.”