Despite being robbed at knifepoint and chatting with thousands of people including actors Jack Nicholson and Peter Falk, Gerald L. Krupp characterizes his 40-year cabbie career as uninteresting.
"It's like being a bartender. If you're in the service business, you see everything," said the Squirrel Hill resident. "I'm a conversationalist, so I just talk to people. ... Nothing really bothers me."
This year, Mr. Krupp and nearly 400 other drivers are celebrating Yellow Cab's 100th anniversary. The company's centenary offerings include a gala, a new logo, free cab service from the airport for military personnel, an upcoming book that highlights the history of the company, and a wave of new technology that president and CEO Jamie Campolongo believes will keep the cab company competitive in the next century.
The changes include:
• zTrip, a smartphone application that allows users to hail cabs from their smartphones.
• City Cab, a dozen sedans that pick up only in the Golden Triangle.
• Wheelchair-accessible taxis that allow riders who use wheelchairs or scooters to enter and exit the vehicle via a retractable ramp.
• Taxi Magic, a touch-screen console in the backseat that allows riders to use wireless Internet service and pay their fare with credit/debit cards.
When Mr. Krupp began working for Yellow Cab in 1973, he was driving a checkered cab, the company had about 1,000 drivers, an airport trip cost about $9, and drivers received nearly half of the fare as commission.
Often his fares were rowdy bar-hoppers heading to the next bar. Today, Mr. Krupp is more likely to be driving executives and professors.
"It's a different caliber of people," he said.
His boss believes changes Downtown are part of the reason for that difference.
"Pittsburgh is a little more vibrant right now, and a lot more people are living Downtown," said Mr. Campolongo. "There are a lot more restaurants open Downtown, and we're getting way better service."
These days, Yellow Cab has about 335 sedans, shuttle vans and wheelchair-accessible cabs in service. Its parent company, Pittsburgh Transportation Group, also operates SuperShuttle, ExecuCar/Embassy Coach, PTG Charter Service and Freedom Transportation Group. Pittsburgh Transportation employs more than 300 people directly and contracts with more than 425 independent contractors who lease and operate cabs.
Originally Pullman Taxi, the company began operations in 1912 and officially became Yellow Cab of Pittsburgh a year later. It was the first cab company in Pennsylvania, and it remains the largest taxi company in the state today.
In its early history, the company faced resistance from the Public Utility Commission for trying to establish and maintain a monopoly. In 1947, Yellow Cab offered to put 425 new cabs on the street if the PUC turned down an application from Peoples Cab Co. to operate in Pittsburgh. The PUC denied Yellow Cab's request, and Peoples Cab later became part of Pittsburgh Transportation Group.
In the following years, Yellow Cab purchased several competing companies such as Owl Cab Co. and Airlines Transportation Co. It also built a community of drivers, some of whom drove unlicensed cabs known as jitneys during strikes to decrease business for nonunion drivers. Striking drivers did not accept fares until the strikes were over. Today, Yellow Cab drivers are independent contractors instead of employees. "We're competitive because we're after the same dollar," said Mr. Krupp about the relationship between drivers.
Mr. Krupp has seen the dangers of being a cab driver firsthand. In 1993, he assisted in the arrest of a man who robbed him and two other cab drivers.
"You never know what's going to happen or who's going to fall into your cab," he said.
In response to drivers' safety concerns, the company installed video cameras in all cars to discourage theft or violence against drivers.
On social media, the company is a frequent target of service complaints from riders.
"If you really need to get to your destination, I suggest looking for a method of transport[ation] other than this Yellow Cab company," said one user on Yelp, a business directory and review website.
Mr. Campolongo believes Yellow Cab is improving its customer service. He said keeping up with technology is a key to the company's future success.
"Technology has been our biggest friend over the last hundred years, and, as all things go, technology is now starting to go the other way on us a little bit," he said.
Challenges include ridesharing apps and an attitude change among younger riders.
"They're less concerned with some of the things that we were concerned with," he said. "They think secondly about their safety and first about 'Just get me a ride.' "
He believes that safety gives Yellow Cab an advantage. He notes that such apps can't offer proof of insurance, drug and alcohol testing, background checks and training for drivers.
Mr. Krupp said keeping up with new technology is one of the hardest parts of his job. He has no plans to put it in park for good. "I've done very well with Yellow Cab."
Antoine Allen: firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-1723.