The Here-There Taxi Comparison

Seasoned traveler Nick Topitzes of PC/Nametag compares Madison to the cities he visits - and reports back on his findings.

I travel quite a bit and generally don’t rent a car when I go to a strange city. Usually parking ends up being around $45 a day in major cities and, since I don’t know the way, I find it much wiser to take a cab. I always like to engage the driver in a little conversation, even though sometimes I am trying to catch up on phone calls after getting off a plane.

It is interesting to compare taxis in the various cities. In some cities. where the cab companies can be an independent driver, you sometimes take a risk in getting into the taxi. They aren’t well maintained and I have had cars with flat tires, bad transmissions, no brakes, doors that won’t close, doors that won’t open, etc. Score one for Madison. Ours are pretty well maintained.

Drivers in some cities are the source of lessons in world history and geopolitics. Get into a cab in Washington, and your driver may have been a former diplomat in some country that now lives here in asylum. Or a political refugee. Sometimes language is a barrier, but it is usually an interesting conversation. I have had many great politcal discussions and learned an amazing amount about religions, wars, revolutions. Score one for other cities.

Not that all of Madison’s drivers are boring. There are many interesting stories sitting behind the wheel of a Madison cab. But someone who has escaped from hell elsewhere usually is grateful for being here. Of course, there have been very scary drivers — like the ex-con driver in Boston who threatened me with extreme bodily injury when I saw the fare on the cab jump $3 while we were at a stop. That’s another story.

Hong Kong is a treat. Now conversation has become difficult — especially in the last 15 years. as more from mainland China now live in Hong Kong. The King’s English is just not as prevalent. You must make sure that you get all addresses in writing because with all the dialects, conversation (even between the doorman and the taxi driver) is difficult. But the cabs are immaculate — spotless on the outside and inside, with white cloth headrests that are very clean.

London is also a favorite, with drivers that are generally most courteous and extremely knowledgeable about their city.

If I was to pick out ways to improve our city’s taxis, I would list three things: Cleanliness is number one. Some companies do a better job than others and some have drivers who look cleaner (read “less sloppy”) than others. Friendliness is number two. Some drivers are better than others — but I wish our drivers knew a little more about the city and what conventions are going on. (The next time you get in, ask a question that you know the answer to and see how they respond.) Third: rates. Our fares are very expensive. More expensive than many cities that I visit. I can understand that they might have been high when gas was more expensive but they never were cheaper when gas prices came down.

So the next time you get in a taxi, look at it as an adventure — and hopefully a safe one.

Sign up for the free IB Update — your weekly resource for local business news, analysis, voices and the names you need to know. Click here.