Adventures in a Car-Free Dallas: Catching a Ride Where Cabbies Fear to Tread
Critics of Uber say that without the heavy hand of city regulation, the app-based limo dispatching company won't serve residents in poor neighborhoods. Critics of Yellow Cab complain that's pretty much how things often work now. For our look at living car-free in Big D, Amy Silverstein pitted Yellow Cab vs. Uber to see who would come fastest when she called from a places drivers might prefer to avoid.
3 p.m. I am sitting in front of 2015 Masters Drive in Dallas, once the home of Bruton Food Beer & Wine, now an empty storefront in a half-empty plaza in Pleasant Grove. What are the chances that either Yellow Cab or Uber will come to an empty plaza in Pleasant Grove? Let's find out.
3:04 I call Yellow Cab. An automated voice on the phone urges me to use the app. "Do you have an iPhone? Download the all-new iPhone app on iTunes." This is "the fastest way to get a cab," the voice promises. I stay on the line.
3:05 A new automated voice tells me: "All of our agents are busy at this time, please hold and somebody will be right with you." It repeats itself a few times.
See also: Adventures in a Car-Free Dallas: I Want My Damn Car Back
Adventures in a Car-Free Dallas: Which Transportation Alternative Is Right for You?
Adventures in a Car-Free Dallas: Cabbies Find Ways to Survive in a Tough Business
Adventures in a Car-Free Dallas: You Can Take DART to the Airport, but Beware the Coyotes
3: 06 A real person is on the line. She already knows my cell phone number through caller ID, so I just need to give her an address. "Is this is a home or a business?" A business. The name? "Laundry Wash," I say, reading the neon sign on a laundry next door to the shuttered store. She promises me "the next available" cab, which will come within 20 to 30 minutes. The driver will call me on my cell phone when he arrives. Sounds good.
3:10 I'm bored.
3:17 It's already here?
3:18 No, that was just an SUV with an ugly yellow paint job.
3:22 I see a cab, a real one. It's parked at a 7-Eleven on the other edge of the parking lot, a good five-minute walk from where I am. Also, the cab is empty. But this is a nice start. It's only been 18 minutes since I called.
3:25 The cab is still empty and nobody has given me a call.
3:26 A guy in a hat leaves the 7-Eleven and gets in the cab. He slowly drives around 7-Eleven but doesn't call. I don't want to walk that far.
3:30 The cab is out of sight, but then my phone rings. The driver wants to know where I've been. He says he was looking for me outside of 7-Eleven. I direct him to the Laundry Wash.
When he pulls up, I say I don't actually need the ride and give him two $5 bills for his time. He's an older gentleman who doesn't want to give his name. He's been working as a cabbie for seven years, he says, but not out of choice. "I'm too old to do other work."
Why did he come out to Pleasant Grove to get me? Because he already lives here. "I was 10 minutes or so away," he says, so he accepted the fare.
3:44 Time for Uber. I pull out the app and in less than a minute, get a driver's picture, license plate number and contact information. He'll come for me in 16 minutes, the app promises.
4:05 My Uber driver is here, 21 minutes later. Yellow Cab could have beaten him if my cab driver had called me before running errands at 7-Eleven. The Uber driver finds me in the gigantic parking lot without even having to call.
I explain I don't need a ride. "Want to charge like $15 to my credit card?" I ask.
He leaves, and I get an email receipt saying he's charged me $25.
9:40 p.m. I'm now parked in a neighborhood called Bonton, less than 15 minutes away from downtown, off Highway 175 toward Kaufman County. Even though it's not far from downtown, the rumor is that you can't get a cab to come here. It's a historically black neighborhood with close to half of the population below the poverty line. I'm parked outside a church on 2627 Dorris St. that's closed for the night. It's also Fat Tuesday. Will any cab accept my fare? Will Uber?
9:46 I log into Yellow Cab's app. It gets my address correctly. I click on Book Now.
9:47 Is this like the Uber app, which tells you how far away your driver is and his name? No, it is not. I press the "Track Booking" button and I get a static text notification. "PICK UP NOW" is all it says about timing.
9:50 A car passes. It's not my taxi.
9:58 I watch a train pass down the road.
10:15 A stray cat appears ahead of me as I wait in my car. I stare sadly at it.
10:33 Headlights in the distance. Could it be? Nope, just a regular car. It's been like 45 minutes. Screw the app. I'm calling Yellow Cab.
10:39 A nice woman answers. I explain that I used the app but nothing happened. She asks for my address and finds that my fare is, in fact, in the Yellow Cab system, but none of the drivers want it. Rather, "no one's responded yet," as she explains. She sounds concerned. How much longer will I have to wait? "Give it another 20 to 30 minutes," she says. "Keep calling in until we get you one."
10:44 I hear a helicopter overhead.
10:55 A bus passes down Bexar Street, the cross-street ahead of me.
11:05 I call Yellow Cab and the same nice lady picks up. Still no drivers willing to come here yet. "Let me put in some information and see if that will help," she says. She asks for the name of where I am, and I give the name of the church. She asks where I'm heading, and I say the Nasher. "Just keep calling," she encourages. "I'll keep sending this out."
11:07 "Booking is Cancelled" now shows up on my app. I did not cancel the booking.
11:08 I log into Uber and I see a dogpile of black cars in the downtown area. I request a ride and a driver's face pops up. He'll be here in 13 minutes. It looks legit, so I quickly cancel the Uber ride before he can drive over. I still have no new word from Yellow.
11:14 A car is parked behind me. Could it be?
11:15 No, it's someone who just got home. I'm giving up and getting out of here.
11:19 I'm merging on the freeway when my cell phone rings.
11:24 I pull off the freeway. "Would u call asap!" says a text message. I call. It's the cell phone number to my cab driver. He says he's in front of the church and wants to know where I am. I say I got impatient after waiting an hour and a half for a cab and found a friend who was willing to give me a ride instead. He does not like this. "Other cabs have a problem coming to this area, but I came," he says.