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Melay Lapena

Dear Mr. Cab Driver

January 21, 2011 4:42pm
Dear Mr. Cab Driver,

Now that the fare hike has taken effect and you can charge me forty pesos plus an additional P3.50 for every 300 meters, please be gentle. Metro Manila is not a video game, and you will not get any bonus points for overtaking vehicles. You also won't get any bonus points for running over pedestrians. Besides, we barely know each other. Let's take it slow, so I can tell you everything I've always wanted to say about riding cabs in this city.

Let's begin with your looks. I know, I know. It's what's inside that counts. But if you keep shaking the dandruff out of your hair, can you blame me for wanting to take another cab? I also know that I shouldn't judge books by their covers, but when your doors look one pothole away from falling off, I'd probably be safer in a tricycle that doesn't have a door in the first place.

Besides, you could be one of those drivers who judge passengers by their looks. You know the type. Someone signals to you, but a few blocks down there's someone else who looks wealthier, or maybe there's a foreigner, so you ignore the first and speed over to the one you think you can get a bigger tip from. Sometimes you don't even have a choice, but you ignore the one trying to get a ride just because he has long hair.

There's also the question of names. What's in a name, right? But if I'm about to place my safety in your hands, I'd prefer it if your cab weren't named Biyaheng Langit or something like that.

Next, let's talk about your air freshener. While I appreciate the effort to sweeten things up, not even the fruitiest scent can overpower moldy seat covers. I once rode in a cab that smelled suspiciously like a urinal. Fortunately, traffic was light that day, so I didn't suffer for that long. On the upside, I discovered I can hold my breath for a pretty long time. Seriously. Nothing smells better than actually being clean.

However, I'm willing to forgive you for your dizzying air freshener, on the condition that you don't fall in any of the following categories:

1. Creepy

These are the drivers who ask personal questions, most often, "Are you single?" or "Do you have a boyfriend?" these preliminary invasions of privacy are usually followed by even worse follow-ups, such as "Why are you single?" or "Where is your boyfriend?" An encounter with one such driver ended with him asking for my number.

When I declined to give it, he offered me his number, saying if I ever needed a cab I could text him. This would actually be quite convenient, if not for the fact that apart from the driver being creepy, the cab itself was questionable, with barely there air conditioning, a cloyingly sweet air freshener, and rickety doors. Gone are the days when air conditioning cost an extra twelve pesos. Now that you have no choice but to pay for the air conditioning, it should at least be there, right?

2. Delusional part 1 (destination dictators)

These are the drivers who, when flagged down, roll down their window and ask you where you're going, despite having "Manila to any point of Luzon" written on them.

Worse are those who roll down the window and tell you where they're going, as if you were hitching a ride instead of actually paying for the service. Worse still is this type of driver who not only tells you where he's going, but speeds away even if your destination is what he told you in the first place. For instance, there was this driver who rolled down his window, scowling, and telling me he was only willing to go to Quezon City. When I said I needed to go to Katipunan, he sped away without a word. While geography is not a particular strength of mine, I'm pretty sure Katipunan is within Quezon City.

A subcategory is the path dictator, who insists on passing through "shortcuts." This is the type that scowls and makes annoyed noises when they have to go through traffic, which, in Manila, is all the time. Unless it's a Sunday. Or three in the morning.

3. Delusional part 2 (price dictators)

Apart from drivers who determine your destination according to their convenience, there are those who determine the price according to your destination. They seem to think that if you're heading for a hotel or some similarly expensive place, or if they pick you up there, that they can charge silly amounts like 300 pesos from Fort to Makati. They seem to forget that their passengers are mostly workers like themselves, surviving on a daily budget. These are also the ones who insist that you add to the fare, saying the traffic is bad, or the gasoline is expensive. I don't mean to be unsympathetic, but what is a meter for?

4. Asleep

Yes, this type of driver actually exists, right next to the type that drives like he's in a video game. If you have a death wish, please don't take any passengers with you. We will respect your self-destructive tendencies, just leave us out of it.

The thing is, I rarely take cabs. As a rule, I only agree to take a cab if it will turn out cheaper than taking a jeep, or the train, or if I have too many things to carry. Unpleasant cab rides remind me why I prefer to take public transportation with fixed routes, fixed prices and more or less predictable experiences.

On the other hand, there are cab drivers who are incredibly kind and considerate. Last year, when my sister lost her bag at a club, someone called the next day saying he had found her license and other things. It turns out whoever took her bag emptied the contents, took the valuables and left the rest in the backseat of a cab. The driver who called went out of his way to bring my sister's things to her. Needless to say, we were very grateful.

But more often than not, the experience with cabs and cab drivers is pretty stressful. Which is why I'd rather take the train. But then, that's getting expensive, too. And the trains are old. Bike lanes, anyone?
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