Cabbies in Mexico City and Beyond – II

Locals loudly complain about traffic in Mexico City, especially during peak hours. That is also less than ideal for app-driven cabbies. However, I usually tell both cohorts that, comparatively speaking, traffic in the City is not that bad. The situation in other large cities in the Global South I have visited is much worse. In one case, I had to spend two hours in a car to drive from my hotel to the office, located not more than 5 kilometers away. Colleagues used to such a practice advised me to plan to start working once I boarded the cab. Walking is probably faster, but the weather was not conducive. In another city, it took me three hours to get to the airport, located 20 kilometers away, which, according to local acquaintances, was average on a good day. And so on. Unlike most others, Mexico City has developed a more adequate road network, complemented by additional public and private transportation means, while playing catch-up with the explosive growth of car use. But I do not think they will ever catch up.

I usually ask cabbies their preference between short and long trips. Opinions are divided here. As I see it, the answer depends on three factors: 1. Car ownership. 2. Driving rationale. And 3. Length of working day. The first one is critical. If the cabby is the owner, she has fixed costs to cover, such as maintenance and insurance, in addition to the usual variable costs like gas, food purchases while on the road, and traffic tickets, among others. The cabby can thus compute how much revenue per day, week or month is needed to cover the costs while ensuring a certain level of profits to cover her standard of living. In such a case, longer trips are preferred as that is the fastest way to reach the estimated revenue. However, suppose the cabby’s driving rationale is to supplement her income, as she has another job. In that case, such an estimate will be much lower or more flexible, depending on her free choice. The situation differs for drivers who make a living exclusively from driving their cars. The only way to effectively exceed the planned revenue is to increase the number of hours they are willing to stay at the wheel. In such cases, long and short trips are most welcome.

On the other hand, those who do not own cabs have much lower fixed costs, depending on the contracts or arrangements between them and the car owners. However, variable costs are similar to the former. Obtaining a profit depends on the distribution of total revenues between them and the car owners. If the drivers complement existing income, their planned daily revenues are lower than otherwise. Fewer rides might be required here; lengthy ones can go a long way. Those who do not own their cabs and make an exclusive living from driving face the most demanding challenges, where working long hours per day is the only way to secure maximum income and pay all bills. In all cases, app-share behemoths can charge between 15 and 25 percent per trip, which can be painful if revenues lag.

Is gender a factor here? It should. However, gathering empirical evidence is difficult, as female app-based drivers are still relatively scarce worldwide. In a previous post, I detailed the case of a middle-aged Guadalajara woman unfairly fired from a long-standing job. She was trying to make a living driving a cab but was also very aware of the risks and did not cater to passengers in the evenings, for example. And that was it!

While walking in beautiful Coyoacán before our weekend trip to Tepoztlán, I requested a Didi, which, at least in Mexico City, is about 20 percent cheaper than others—albeit not as reliable. The app said the cab would arrive in 7 minutes. It was a small red Chevrolet Bolt, and the driver’s name provided by the app suggested it was a woman. Since that vehicle is small, I decided to sit in the front seat to secure more leg space. I think she was surprised by this but did not say anything. I then tried to start my usual conversation but perceived her unwillingness to share. Maybe she was not feeling secure. So I changed gears and began to tell her about my global travels and related some of the exchanges I have had with drivers like her, including the lady from Guadalajara. Shen then started asking me questions that I was glad to answer.

She was a young woman under 30 with purple hair, matching leggings, and a bright yellow top with matching sneakers. She must be an artist, I thought. She had been working in a local bank for the last five years. Her boss, however, was a nuisance as part of his job description included pervasive and non-stop harassment of all employees regardless of gender. Her patience finally reached the limit, and she decided to quit. Although working for the competition, her husband was already in the car app business. He was indeed making a living that way, using his car as the primary means of production. She followed his example but opted for Didi instead.

Her driving schedule is very flexible, but she never starts before 3pm. Evenings are good for her, especially during weekends, but she will stop around midnight to play it safe. She told me she could handle nasty men. However, she is also mindful of the risks and declines requests accordingly. Driving her car for business is a way to complement her income. She is indeed an artist who spends most of her day designing stuff on the home computer and selling her designs online. That business is also growing, she told me. Although her case is certainly different from the Guadalajara lady, both seem to face the same risky conditions that only women seem to be exposed to. That, in turn, does have an impact on income as such risks can curtail income maximization.


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