Next door at the Venture Inn, Michael Schwertfeger was more critical. The manager of the bar and restaurant said he calls taxis for customers at least once a night and alleged Valley Cab has taken as long as an hour to respond.
"Sometimes the customer will sit through a third drink" before the cab arrives, Schwertfeger said.
Some drivers attributed longer waits in the northeast Valley to their belief that fewer cabs work the area, particularly at night, because they fear drug- and gang-related crime.
"There are pockets in the Valley like that, and most experienced drivers know where they are," said one veteran driver who asked to be quoted anonymously. Cruising along the Ventura Freeway about 8 p.m., he aimed his flashlight at a sign that read "Driver Carries Only $5 in Change." Identical signs are posted in all the company's cabs and are intended to discourage potential thieves.
The driver said cabbies also need a protective shield between the front and back seat, like those installed in cabs in New York and Washington, D.C. "It's a shame the city and company won't spend more on our protection," he said.
A less-experienced driver, an aspiring rock star with a headband and a long, blond ponytail, recalled en route to Universal City how he had picked up a convenience-store thief on his second night on the job.
"He lay down in the back and said, 'Go! Go!' " the Tucson native recalled. The suspect had a fistful of money, and even when the cab was stopped and surrounded by police, he paid his $10 fare.
Several drivers said the $80 Valley Cab charges its drivers to lease their cars compels them to work 12-hour shifts to cover their expenses and still come out ahead. Most fares, they said, average $10 or less and involve a quick trip to the market or home from a bar.
And most drivers were loath to share their territory with a second company, although the veteran cabbie suggested that competition might force Valley Cab to lower its car-leasing fees.
AROUND THE VALLEY IN 11 TAXIS DAY 1 Wednesday, Jan. 9 START Location: Encino-Sylmar Wait: 14 minutes Fare: $31.40 Tip: $3.60 Cabbie: Born-again Topics: Spiritual healing Location: Sylmar-San Fernando Wait: 30 minutes Fair: $9.30 Tip: $1.70 Cabbie: Tired Topics: Driving cab Location: San Fernando-Sun Valley* Wait: 20 minutes Fare: $15 flat fee Tip: Not accepted. Got lost Cabbie: Booster Topics: His company's service Location: Sun Valley-Chatsworth Wait: 30 minutes Fare: $37.70, discounted to $32 because of getting lost Tip: $3 Cabbie: Bitter Topics: Chemical poisoning Location: Chatsworth-Encino Wait: 20 minutes Fare: $18.70 Tip: $2 Cabbie: Resolutely optimistic Topics: Unemployment DAY 2 Thursday, Jan. 10 Location: Chatsworth-Van Nuys Wait: 10 minutes Fare: $10.70
Tip: $1.20 Cabbie: Frustrated Topics: Cab driving in the Valley Location: Van Nuys-Universal City Wait: 10 minutes Fare: $24 Tip: $25 (declined another $1) Cabbie: Ambitious Topics: Becoming a rock star Location: Universal City-Studio City (via Burbank) Wait: less than 5 minutes Fare: $36 Tip: $4 Cabbie: Clever Topics: Making it in L.A. Location: Studio City-Sherman Oaks Wait: 50 minutes Fare: $6.70 Tip: $1.30 Cabbie: Disillusioned Topics: Car detailing vs. cabbing Location: Sherman Oaks-Studio City Wait: 10 minutes, "Flagged" a different cab Fare: $9.30 Tip: $.70 Cabbie: Worried Topics: War in the Mideast Location: Studio City-Chatsworth Wait: 5 minutes Fare: $28.10 Tip: $1.90 Cabbie: Veteran Topics: Cab-driving frustrations * Ararat Transport Co. provided this ride because Valley Cab does not serve San Fernando.