Mordeen Bondett said her worst experience as a Kingston taxi driver was with a Queen’s student last year.
“He told me that I was just a servant,” the seven-year Amey’s taxi veteran said. “He told me that he judged a person by what they did for a living and what I did for a living wasn’t respectable.”
The mother of two teared up and turned away from me as she spoke.
“Maybe I shouldn’t talk about this,” she said. “All I’ll say is that at that time, two of our drivers had PhDs.”
Bondett, who works the 4 p.m. to 4 a.m. shift, let me ride along with her on Saturday night.
Her car had a surveillance camera installed on the windshield five years ago after studies in Winnipeg and Chicago found that video surveillance was the most successful method for taxi driver protection.
The cameras, which run about $1,700 each, take a picture of customers as they step in the cab and will record video if the driver touches an emergency button beside the steering wheel.
“I was personally against this in the beginning,” she said. “I didn’t want my children to see me attacked or killed on camera.”
Her outlook changed after a night-time encounter with two men.
“One was wearing a zip-up black sweater in the middle of summer and it tipped me off that something might be wrong,” she said.
Bondett watched in the rear-view mirror as the man unzipped his sweater and reached into the breast pocket.
Before she could turn the camera on, the other man said, “I don’t want to do anything that will land me back in jail.”
The customers asked Bondett to stop the car, paid their fare and left.
“Now I’m glad we have the cameras because our customers are aware of them and behave differently,” Bondett said.
When the emergency button is pressed and the surveillance camera is activated, a Global Positioning System (GPS) tracks the driver’s whereabouts and sends all available taxis to their aid.
She said people are often concerned about a woman driving alone at night.
“You can be afraid of the daylight too,” Bondett said.
In 2007, Amey’s driver David Krick was stabbed to death inside his cab at 7 a.m.
“I can’t begin to imagine,” she said. “I just have to keep myself strong and alert.”
Taxi fares are standardized by the Kingston Taxi Commission, with current rates at $2.85 for the first 77 metres of travel and $0.10 for every 77 metres after that.
Amey’s taxi owns 20 per cent of their fleet, with the remaining cars owned privately by drivers. Bondett doesn’t own the cab she drives.
Drivers who don’t own their own cars make 42 per cent commission off fares. Cab owners bring 100 per cent of fare money home.
“Many students don’t realize that a good portion of our income depends on tips,” she said. “Some of the drivers resent the fact that students don’t tip as well.”
Bondett averages $2 to $5 in tips per ride.
“I find that most students are friendly, polite and grateful,” she said. “But occasionally you have students who forget we’re human beings too.”
Bondett keeps plastic bags, bandaids, Kleenex and gum in her car for customers.
“I stock up on plastic bags during Frosh Week and Homecoming,” she said. “That’s when most people vomit.”
When someone vomits in a cab, a driver can clean it themselves and continue with their shift or send it in for cleaning and forego a night’s wages. Clean-up incurs an $80 charge for the passenger.
“I’m impressed with students who bring their own plastic bags,” Bondett said.
The Kleenex is mainly for students coming back from the train station after a holiday at home, Bondett said.
“I can go through a number of Kleenex boxes, especially after Thanksgiving,” she said. “That’s when all the breakups happen.”
Bondett said she’s noticed differences between Queen’s students and students from Royal Military College and St. Lawrence College.
“I find the university students, maybe because they’re here longer, feel like the city is more their’s,” she said. “Whereas the college students are here for shorter periods and act more like guests.
“I always try to treat customers the way I would want my children treated,” she said.
Bondett is asked frequently if she is an ex-convict by students during Frosh Week.
“It’s a rumour that runs rampant,” she said. “There is no taxi driver in Kingston that is an ex-con.”
The Kingston Taxi Commission mandates that all drivers undergo a criminal record check through the Canadian Police Information Centre.
Bondett works a 12-hour shift five times a week.
“I do it so that I can eat,” she said. “But if you’re out here for 12 hours at a time, enjoying your job really helps — and I do.”
Having a bad night — usually one involving vomit, an unpaid fare or mistreatment — can take a toll on drivers, Bondett said.
“One bad customer takes two [good customers] to erase it from your mind,” she said. “One to show you that they’re not all bad and another to wash away the hurt.”
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