While the numbers are hard to pin down, the reality is drivers don't make much when factoring out overhead costs.
The plan was simple. Recruit six full-time working chauffeurs from limousine companies of various sizes (five men and one woman). Break them into two groups to sit down over eggs and let them tell LCT about their jobs. It would be totally anonymous. They could say anything that they wanted to.
The participants are:
Chauffeur No. 1: A 63-year-old man, 15 years as a full-time chauffeur for 18-car operator in South Jersey, and previously worked in a white-collar manufacturing job for 25 years.
Chauffeur No. 2: A 50-year-old man, four years as a chauffeur for nine-vehicle company in South Jersey, and was a white-collar worker before being laid off.
Chauffeur No. 3: A 57-year-old man, seven years as a chauffeur/trainer for a 40-car company in suburban Philadelphia. Career military man.
Chauffeur No. 4: A 35-year-old woman, five years on the job for a 10-car South Jersey company. Previously was an office worker.
Chauffeur No. 5: A 40-year-old man, three years on the job for large national company based in Philadelphia. Previously worked sales jobs.
Chauffeur No. 6: A 50-year-old man, nine years on the job, three as owner-operator for national company with Philadelphia office. All of the chauffeurs genuinely like their jobs. They respect the people that they work for. They like the way it is different every day. They like being a part of the happy events. For the most part, they like being out on the road, and they like that unexpected cash tip that nobody has to know about.
They have opinions on everything from the trunk in the Lincoln Town Car — “You tell me how to get golf clubs in there,” to the “difference” between a tip and a gratuity — “A tip is folding money that I get on the spot for doing the little extras.”
Chauffeur No. 1:“It’s 5 a.m., and you are on a dark street and your information says 1244 Church. There is a Church Lane, Church Terrace and Church Way in your book. You call the dispatcher, and he tells you the information is ‘on the sheet.’ Then a minute later, I’m on the right block, but there are no numbers and the street is pitch black. Do you think they could turn a light on for me? By the time I get there, the customer is angry, and my boss thinks I’m screwing up.
I’m in Home Depot on my day off. I have a list as long as your arm, and my wife is at home waiting for me to start a project I committed to do a year ago. My dispatcher calls and wants to know how fast I can get to Center City. How fast can I get to Center City? How about tomorrow when I am scheduled to work.”
Chauffeur No. 4: “I get unbelievably frustrated when middle-aged men look at me and they don’t think I can do my job. I want to yell at them that I can carry their luggage. I know New York City better then they ever will. I cuss just like they do, and I could not care less if they go to strip joints. Just treat me like any other driver, and I’ll be fine.”
Chauffeur No. 2: “My boss gives us estimated times that a run will take. JFK Airport is figured as a five-hour run, and that’s the way it has been for eight years. Well, eight years ago, I probably could get from Palmyra, N.Y. to JFK and back in that time, but not any- more. It’s at least another hour and it is like that everywhere. Traffic has gotten so much worse, and I don’t think our dispatchers understand this.
The most frustrating thing is how quickly everything changes in this business. I work for a great nine-car company, and we have five full-time drivers. My boss commits to giving me Tuesday and Sunday off. Everything is great until Monday at 6 p.m. A multi-vehicle all-day job comes in for Tuesday. So, the owner says, do this job on Tuesday, and you can take off on Wednesday. It always turns out that we’re busy Wednesday, too. So I miss a day off, and I hear about it at home.”
Chauffeur No. 5: “I pick up this couple at a nursing home. They were married like 55 years, and they wanted to go to a certain beach in Seaside Heights, N.J. I pull my car up near the water, they get out and the old guy gets on one knee. He pulls out the most beautiful ring you ever saw, and he proposes. They both take their shoes off and kiss. Then they got back in the car, and I drove them home. They were laughing and singing the whole way. I remember he told me to take my time getting them home. When I dropped them off, he told me that’s where he had originally proposed to his wife. He felt bad that at the time he could not afford a nice ring. So he made up for it. I don’t remember how much the trip was or what he tipped. I just remember having tears in my eyes the whole way home. It was a beautiful moment.”
Chauffeur No. 6: “This guy takes about six people to this five star French restaurant in Wilmington, Del. Everybody is dressed to the nines, and I am figuring this will be like a three-hour dinner. So I drop them off, and I jump in the back to vacuum the car and change the glasses. I look up, and there is a waiter with a little table, and he serves me this fantastic dinner curbside. That customer was just a classy guy.”
Chauffeur No. 3: “It’s not just one trip, but I enjoy just a simple airport run where I pick up a genuinely nice person. It’s just like good karma in the car. They don’t even have to be that talkative. They are ready when they’re supposed to be. They greet me warmly, and they say ‘thank you’ and slip me even an extra $5 at the end. I could do them every day and I would be happy.
I am taking these three women to the Philadelphia airport one day. They are going to Connecticut, and I am laughing to myself because it’s obvious to me none of them likes to fly. We get to talking, and they’re whispering a little bit, and then out of the blue they ask me if I will drive them to Connecticut. I call my office, and the next minute I am on my way. They were so happy they didn’t have to fly, and they were so comfortable with me, it was amazing. The $150 tip made the trip even better.”
Chauffeur No. 5: “I got this customer that I love. He’s a young single guy about 30, and he spends more money chasing women than I make in a year. Anyway, he only goes with me, and he will give me instructions on how to stock the limousine. If his date looks like Audrey Hepburn, then it’s Crystal or Dom Perignon. If the girl is a little rough around the edges, he goes with a $20 bottle. It’s just one of those things that makes the job fun.”
Chauffeur No. 1: “I got a family that I’m taking to the horse races at Saratoga. They have used our service before. The plan is to take them up there in a big stretch and stay with them overnight. I got a brand-new stretch, my route is mapped out, and everything is perfect. Right away I know I am going to have a problem. They are rude to each other, rude to me, and they are throwing fast food on the floor in the back. Anyway, I fight through traffic, and we get to Saratoga.
Now, it’s a little town, and it’s jam-packed for the races. I pull up to the hotel, and my client tells me they don’t have a room for me. He hands me a $100 bill and tells me to go find a place. I was floored. I know for a fact that our reservationist explained that they needed to have a room for me at the hotel.
Every hotel room was sold out. I find a hotel room in a bad part of town, and I’m literally up all night worried about the limousine. Finally the next day comes, we go to the races and I drive them home. The woman who booked the trip is the last person in the car. She starts asking me personal questions in a very condescending way. It was horrible. The only thing good that came out of it was that when I told my boss what happened, he right away told the client never to call again.”
Chauffeur No. 6: “I pick this group of four guys up, and the plan is take him to midtown Manhattan for meetings and dinner. They really don’t know how long they will be in any one spot. You can’t park a stretch anywhere in the area, so it’s important the client can reach me. I pull up to the curb, and I open the door and hand the man in charge my card with my cell number on it. He doesn’t even look at it but throws it on the ground. He says, ‘I’m not calling anyone — you just be here!’ I picked the card up off the ground and luckily another guy in the group said he would call me. My boss called the guy on that. What an arrogant pain in the butt.”
Chauffeur No. 2: “I get an overnight trip to New York City for the NFL Draft. I’m taking a group of mothers whose sons will be top picks the following day. I’m running all over New Jersey to pick them up, and traffic is brutal when we hit New York. These people are nasty to me from the minute they get in the car. And they are treating the back of the limousine like a dump.
We check into the hotel, and I settle into my room and order a room service hamburger. The restaurant calls me back and says I am not permitted to charge my meal to the room. The people I am driving specifically called and told them to block any room charges. I was floored! It wasn’t just the money. I knew my boss would reimburse me. It was the thought that they would be that nasty for no reason.” Chauffeur No. 3: “I’m driving our new mini-coach, and I must have about 15 guys going to Atlantic City for a bachelor party. There was lots of drinking, and I was just hoping the trip would end without trouble. But no such luck. They got drunk and nasty, and next thing you know fights are breaking out in the back of the bus. I tell them nicely that this has to stop. Next thing you know, they are throwing trash and bottles, and they are crashing all around me.
I call our office, and they get the police involved. I cross the bridge from Camden, N.J., and there are police cars waiting. I pull over, and the cop gets on the bus. The funniest thing about it was when the guys were filing out of the bus with the cop, they all put money in my pocket. I mean they had to know I called the police. It was like no hard feelings anyway.”
Advice for Operators
Chauffeur No. 4: For more on this topic, see the August issue of LCT.
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