The perils of calling a cab on a party night

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Halloween can be big fun for revelers wanting to loosen up a bit, but then there’s the issue of getting home after a night at all those bars. And in L.A., finding a taxi to take you home can be a bit sobering.

In the days before a big party night, you hear all these well-meaning messages about the evils of drinking and driving. And one of the solutions is invariably: if you’ve had even a couple of drinks, call a cab.

Photo by Brian Auer via Flickr/CC

That can be a bit easier said than done in L.A., which is not much of a taxi city – most of us don’t take cabs on a regular basis. And it’s probably not a very good idea to try and figure out how to get one on one of the busiest nights of the year – after you’ve been drinking – and while you’re wearing a sexy Spaceman outfit.

“There are three big party nights of the year: New Year’s Eve, St. Patrick’s Day and Halloween,” said Tom Drischler, LA’s taxi czar.”There may be delays but you should be able to get a cab if you call.”

Note that Drischler said should.  The first hurdle is finding a number to call: there are nine licensed cab companies in LA.  You can Google “LA taxi” and get the city’s listings – but they’re a little confusing: just know  that all the companies no matter what they’re called can pick up in any part of the city.  But when and if you get through, don’t expect lightning fast service.

“It has appeared to me over the 11 years that I’ve been doing this on those nights we get everyone handled, but there’s always a backlog,” said Eddie Stewart, a cabbie in Los Angeles. “And before you know it every company can have 50-100 on the book.  They will get serviced but it’s usually going to take 30 minutes or so.”

Even that may be a bit optimistic in the busiest hours around midnight and 2 AM.  If the dispatcher says “first available” that’s no guarantee.  Only if a cabbie takes the call,  are they required by law to pick you up.

“You have an offer.  An offer to pick up this call.  It’s up to the driver to pick it up or not,” said Nettabai Achmed, president of Independent Taxi, a consortium of cab drivers who own their own cars. He says if a driver doesn’t opt in on a call right away, no one will probably opt in on it – that’s because when the cab does finally arrive the customer’s nowhere to be found. “So my advice is if the customer didn’t see his cab in 15 minutes, he should call back so we will refresh it,” he said.

“A lot of times we don’t make it to the calls that come through the company because people are out on the street flagging you down anyway,” said Stewart. “It’s just a crazy night.”

I was surprised when cabbie Eddie Stewart said that.  Flagging you down? You can hail a cab in LA?

“It’s always been legal to hail a taxi in LA,” said Drischler. “For some reason there’s a big misconception about that.”

Unlike most cities, L.A. cabs do the majority of their business via the phone. But on big party nights, it’s all about the hailing.  Which means that if your party location is off the beaten path, you better get ready to walk to a busy street where you might be able to flag a cab.  But the best suggestion that no one wants to hear is: plan ahead.  Reserve a cab in the afternoon and you’re guaranteed to get picked up. This may cut down on the evening’s spontaneity, but think of it this way: The car may arrive just in time to save you from the boring wasted guy in the Star Trek uniform.