Competition taking a bite out of Colorado Springs taxi drivers' paychecks

March 19, 2017 Updated: March 21, 2017 at 1:36 pm
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Bland Rooker stands next to his Chrysler Town & Country cab outside the Yellow Cab office in Colorado Springs Wednesday, Feb. 22, 2017, before starting his shift. Rooker has been driving a Yellow Cab for about a year. (The Gazette, Christian Murdock)

Bland Rooker's career as a cab driver has been less lucrative than he anticipated - in part because of the influence of ride-hailing smartphone apps like Uber and Lyft, he said.

Rooker, who left his job at Palmer High School in search of higher pay and flexibility so he could spend more time with his two teenage children, is a relative newcomer to an industry in decline in recent years due to the rising popularity of the ride-hailing services.

"It's been a struggle," said Rooker, 55, who invited The Gazette on a ride-along on a Wednesday in February, from behind the wheel of his yellow Chrysler Town and Country minivan.

The changing marketplace has left cab drivers mostly reliant on regular customers and patrons, often poor or elderly, that don't have a smartphone or internet access to use the ride-hailing apps. Others, he said, see taxi companies as a less risky, more legitimate choice.

"Because of the level of regulation we do have, we're perceived as being a safe choice," he said.

That day, he picked up one of his two dozen regular customers, Judy Nelson, 66, at her home in southeast Colorado Springs to take her to Penrose Cancer Center, where she was getting blood work done.

Nelson and her husband Willie, 67, have ridden with Rooker since the fall, when she had a stroke that affected her vision, making it difficult for her to drive.

"We're kind of loyal to him because he takes good care of us," said Nelson. "When you meet somebody that you feel like you can trust, you just stick with them."

While his regular customers provide a steady source of business, he can't always count on street hails.

"Some days you're rolling sevens. Some days you're getting snake eyes. It's all random," he said.

Rooker said he makes $150 to $200 a day and usually takes home $75 to $100 after factoring in the cost of gas, the payment on his vehicle, and the fees he pays Yellow Cab to use the company's equipment, which costs him a few hundred dollars a week.

He also pays the annual $97 fee for a license from the city and the cost of a physical every two years, which costs about $90.

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Contact Rachel Riley: 636-0108

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