That Ain’t Fare

I got into a cab on Saturday night and was greeted by really loud Middle Eastern-style music. It sounded not quite right, and after a few minutes I figured out why. The music wasn’t coming from the cab’s stereo–it was coming from the two-way radio. Once the music ended, the airwaves filled with disgruntled chatter from cabbies all over the city.

Here’s the scoop, as relayed by my driver. Whenever a cabbie uses his radio to broadcast, a log is generated on the computer at the dispatch office. This log contains the vehicle number assigned to the transmitting radio, thereby linking every broadcast to a specific driver. But someone has managed to fix up a radio and prevent it from sending a vehicle number, and this miscreant has been torturing the Liberty Cab community ever since. The anonymous DJ has been playing hip-hop, Arabic, Chinese, and all other kinds of music–for intervals of up to ten or fifteen minutes–for the past several months. My first reaction was to admire the quirky way that a bored cab driver amuses himself. However, it turns out that the bonus songs are not so innocuous.

While a message is being broadcast on the cab radio, the system is essentially locked and no one else can transmit–including the dispatcher. So while our mystery man is spinning the hits, none of the other cabbies can get jobs, and people who have called for a cab are left to wait. So what motivates this guy? Is he a disgruntled employee? Is he deliberately trying to deprive his fellow drivers of fares? Does he broadcast when he has a customer?  So many questions….

If you’re ever in Philly and need a ride, grab a Liberty cab and ask the driver for an update. I’ll be curious to know how it all turns out.