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Game no gravy train for cabbies

Additional limos, buses and cabs from out of town, not to mention fewer business travelers, limit cabs' success.

By GRAHAM BRINK

© St. Petersburg Times, published January 27, 2001


TAMPA -- For Tom George, the success or failure of driving a cab has a lot to do with expectations, a theory that applies even when tens of thousands of people flood the city for, say, the Super Bowl.

Drivers who thought they'd quadruple their income this week are disappointed, he said. Businesses isn't bad, but it's not great, either.

"The Super Bowl has almost as many drawbacks for us as it has plusses," he said. "The longtime guys know that."

George's attitude sums up what many veteran cabbies are saying this week. Common sense may dictate that an influx of out-of-towners would fill the finite amount of cabs. But it doesn't always work that way.

The weeks leading up to a big event like the Super Bowl are often slow. The convention trade tails off and some business travelers wait to come during Super Bowl week. For many of the same reasons, Monday and Tuesday were much slower at the airport this week than usual, with cabbies sometimes waiting two hours to get a fare.

"Everyone knows Super Bowl is coming so they delay their plans so they can be here when it happens," said Frank Dunn, who works for fledgling Cab Plus. "Then there are the business travelers who want to avoid the crowds and just don't come at all."

Business began to pick up Wednesday, and by Thursday the waits for fares at Tampa International Airport had diminished to a brisk 20 to 30 minutes. Thursday night also brought big crowds looking for rides to Ybor City, a trend cabbies expect to continue through Sunday night. There should also be a rush back to the airport on Monday morning as all the visitors begin to leave.

But cabbies know they are not the only ride in town.

Luxury buses hired for the weekend by companies and some hotels shuttle the monied masses to Ybor City, the beaches and other area attractions. Extra limos, vans and courtesy cars have also flooded the city, all taking a chunk of what would normally be cabbie business.

And those "interlopers" will also cut into the cabbies' normally profitable work whisking Gasparilla participants around to the various parties. Drivers said they would have preferred that Super Bowl and Gasparilla were on separate weekends.

The 500 or so Hillsborough cabbies also know that the NFL insisted that extra cabs from Pinellas County temporarily be allowed to work in Tampa. As of Friday, few Pinellas cabs were seen about town, although they are expected during the weekend rush.

Bill Long, a Yellow Cab driver for 15 years, enjoyed the shorter lines at the airport on Friday. Even so, he did not think he would increase his regular weekly profits by much. Maybe if he worked more hours, he said. But, then again, he might just end up spending the time waiting around for fares.

"Maybe someone will ask me to take them to Miami," said Long, as he eyed a fully loaded, bright green luxury bus zoom past the line of taxis. "That would be helpful."

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