When picking up someone new to the city, Earl Farrell makes sure to tell them about all the highlights -- the tunnels, the bridges, Mount Washington, the Point and sometimes a little bit of the city‘s history.
Mr. Farrell, 50, of Jefferson Hills, is driver No. 6827 for Yellow Cab, and he takes the job seriously -- but always with a smile -- because he knows he’s an unofficial ambassador to Pittsburgh.
“You really truly are -- if someone’s never been here before and they get into a cab -- you‘re the first experience they have of the city,” he said.
It‘s been two years since Mr. Farrell left sales and found himself, on the suggestion of his brother-in-law, behind the wheel of a yellow and checkered van.
“I went down there, went through the training and called my wife and said, ‘shirt and tie is gone. I've found my new profession.’ It’s tremendous.”
In that time Mr. Farrell has had some interesting passengers -- from Major League Baseball players like Matt Kemp to a woman who wanted a ride all the way to Harrisburg, a fare that wound up being $800.
Keep the wheels moving, that‘s Mr. Farrell’s philosophy for business. Even if it’s not an $800 payout.
“If I take someone from the Omni to the Renaissance and it’s only $4 on the meter,” he said, “I’ll turn that sometimes into $10. You do that five times in a half hour? That’s $50.”
There are lots of ways to get a passenger in the back seat. Mr. Farrell has been developing a clientele that know to call him when they need a ride. He also gets hails, orders through the call center, as well as hotel and airport stops.
Mr. Farrell has a “buddy lease” with another cabby. The other driver takes nights, and Mr. Farrell works during the day so he can spend time with his 15- and 18-year-old children. It cuts down on costs owed to Yellow Cab, so that more of what‘s on the meter ends up in his pocket.
But for drivers like Mr. Farrell, there‘s more to the job than money. What makes the job worth it are the people he meets and the conversations he has with them -- if they’re willing to talk.
“You can tell whether people want to talk or not,” he said. “And when they do, I‘m more than happy to tell them anything they want to know about Pittsburgh.”
Max Radwin: firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-1280 or via Twitter @MaxRadwin.