With customers, taxi driver Kateřina Šenkeříková likes to talk and she likes women very much. You can sometimes ask for her through the dispatcher. “The most nutritious” are night-time services for her. “Drunken customers often tell me that they are coming from a wife to a lover or vice versa,” said the black Mercedes driver in an interview for the series People of the Czech Republic.
How did you get to taxiing?
From the time I left school, I thought I wanted to be among the taxi drivers – either to dispatch or to ride. Later, I actually became a taxi dispatcher who also runs the car wagon service. This means that if you get a drink somewhere with a car, you can call a pickup. A car with two drivers will come to him. One then takes the client and his car, the other drives in the companion car.
One day my colleague called me that his partner was sick, and if I could talk I could not take him off. I had to talk; I tried it and I enjoyed it so much that I left the dispatching room and started to take the carriage. Then I took a taxi exam and I finally got to this profession. Now it’s only on occasions at weekends when I want to diversify my work. Otherwise, I drive as a taxi driver.
What attracted you to taxiing?
The flexible working time – that I can choose when to ride and I’m my own lady. I have two young children and it’s good for me to start and finish at any time. And when it’s needed, I can go home, anytime.
Does a dispatcher only advise you, or can you stop on the street?
They can stop me on the street. But I rarely stop for waving. Ninety percent of the time, I drive for orders through dispatching.
Do you also drive night services?
Yes, on Friday and Saturday.
Where do most customers go in the night when they are not home?
Mostly to clubs in the center, often to Dlouhá and Masná Street, where there are plenty of bars. They usually move from a pub, such as Vinohrady or Smichov, to the center.
Do you also go to Prague brothels?
I have to say that, while I was a taxi driver, I only brought customers to a company in Holešovice twice. I think they may be embarrassed to send me, so they’ll always say the address, and I’ll find out after a while that a couple of yards away is a brothel. They say to colleagues that they want to go to a brothel, though.
How do you handle drunken customers?
I have a lot of luck with my customers. I do not often feel uncomfortable. Yes, they’re going to offer me, “Come with us for a coffee, or a beer.” But they do not really mean it.
Do you charge surcharges for waste or mess, for example, for someone being sick on a seat?
That’s what happened to me at the time of carriage, not in the ordinary taxis. Waste surcharges are typically listed in the pricelist.
Are you happy when customers want to talk to you?
I’m much more comfortable than when the car is completely silent and the customer is totally inaccessible. I have such a strange feeling. But it is true that when I ride a day, I often drive different executives who handle calls and work … But of course, it is more pleasant when they start talking to me.
What do you talk about?
Usually they start by asking me how I got to work. That’s what every other customer really is asking. They wonder if I’m afraid to ride alone and so on. When I take someone out of the airport, I wonder if he is traveling for work or vacation. We talk about the countries the customer has visited. Drunk customers often tell me that they are coming from a wife to a lover, or vice versa.
Have you considered the murders of three taxi drivers that happened in 2014 in Prague?
Not at all. I do not allow it. If I had to think about it, I would not take a car for anyone and I could not do this job.
Have you ever felt threatened by a customer?
Once I left a customer at Prosek. And right there, two men sprang into my car, talking with broken Czech. One of them asked me if I was afraid to do this job. When I answered that I was not afraid and I had nothing, he said to me, “But you should be afraid.” At that moment, everything was withdrawn and I pressed the gas. Fortunately, they paid in peace and left. It was the first time I was really afraid that something could happen. Fortunately, it worked out well.
Do you drive with a gun in your car?
No, I have nothing with me, not even tear gas. But many times when a customer does not seem normal to me and just asks me if I’m not, as a woman, afraid to ride alone, then I’ll tell him I have a gun. He usually tells me, “I’m fine, do not worry, I will not do anything to you.”
Do you feel better when the customer is sitting next to you or at the back?
I do not care whether the customer sits next to me or across. But I have a bad feeling when he’s sitting behind me, because I cannot even see him in the mirror. With most customers, I will ask if he can move over to the other side. When a group of people comes in, I do not mind, of course, that they are sitting behind me.
Didn´t you consider a grille between the front and rear seats?
No, it never occurred to me; even if customers sometimes give me joking advice to get glass mounted, it would not help in the case of a gun being pointed.
In New York, there are taxis run exclusively by women and designed for female customers. Does it happen that the dispatcher assigns to you customers expressly demanding a driver?
It happens, but only minimally. About one in a hundred cases. They are both managers and ordinary women …
Is it more enjoyable to drive female customers?
Yes. It’s definitely more enjoyable, especially at night. Even chatting is better; we talk about children, problems, etc.
How can I combine taxi work with family life?
I have it more complicated because my younger daughter is three years old and she is not going to school yet. My spouse has a short and a long working week, so he cannot change with me either. The younger daughter spends a week at a grandmother´s and a week at home. I drive the whole week, I spend the next week at home with my little one, and I ride a weekend when my daughter is watched by my brother-in-law. The older daughter is nine, so she is more independent. When I ride at night, it is with my father or grandmother.
That sounds very complicated …
It is. Saying a common weekend is really a nutshell. Now, since September, the younger daughter has been going to kindergarten, so that’s better.
What car do you have? And can you use it privately?
I have a new Mercedes E class. I rent it from the company and I can use it for personal purposes. If I had such a nice car, I would be sorry to use it for this job, because it still drives a lot and wears out quickly.
Would you say that your customers are more prolific-spending people?
Not that. It’s a mix of rich and “normal” people. I drive at current prices. I often drive to the airport and drive customers to the center. The customer chooses either a standard class or a business class with a premium in which they have more comfort. The driver opens the car door, has water ready, we have the temperature set, radio, etc. When it’s raining, we’ll escort them with an umbrella. We are more concerned with it than with the standard class.
Is the airport a gold mine?
There are orders for more money, because there are longer routes. It’s not like that going from the street to the street. However, the orders are less frequent. In the center of Prague, orders are more frequent, but at a lower price.
Your salary is not clearly given, but depends on the number of orders …
Exactly. I work by myself and it depends on me how long I drive and how much I earn. Sometimes I’ll tell you that it’s enough for me today and I can go home. Or if it’s a “dead” day, like a public holiday, I’ll pack it in early. It makes no sense to worry and wait for customers when there are none.
How much of a taxi driver’s income is tipped?
Approximately ten percent. It is certainly not the rule that a Czech customer would always give a smaller tip than a foreigner. On the contrary, it often happens that foreigners get their change back exactly to the crown.
How hard is it to resist the temptation to “shoot” a confused foreigner who has just appeared in the Czech Republic for the first time and has no idea about prices?
I cannot afford that. Any customer could call the dispatching center and complain. I really do not like it; it would not be worth the trouble.
In the past, frequent customer robbery was used with the accelerated “turbo” taximeter. Is it still possible today?
No, it really is not. That would not happen to us, at our company. Every week, or fourteen days, we drive to a car check. If the technician finds it, it would be a quick process. I would say that even competing companies do not use it; they certainly check their cars. Some unmarked taxi drivers in the center of Prague seem to be cheating. But that’s just my impression of what my customers sometimes tell me, I have no such experience.
Is there a competitive antagonism among the various taxi drivers?
In the center, there most certainly is. I personally do not even take anybody out of the street. There is an unwritten rule that the center belongs to certain taxi drivers. They are, of course, going for a higher price.
Why should you respect this unwritten rule?
For your own safety. My ex-boyfriend, who is also a taxi driver, has the experience that a foreign taxi driver has fought him and even damaged his tyre. So I do not want to risk it. As soon as I get into the center, I turn off the lantern on the roof to make it look like I’m busy, and I do not pick up anyone. I only go there for customers when they order me through dispatching.
Have you noticed a loss of customers in connection with the expansion of alternative Uber-type taxis?
I would say that there is a small drop. There are more foreign customers who are accustomed to this service from around the world.
Do you have permanent customers who always ask for you through dispatching?
I have a few. I often ask for the customers I had to take to the airport and want me to bring them back. I have to say that ninety percent of them are women.
How many female taxi drivers work in your business?
About three or four. The remaining four hundred taxi drivers are men. There are so few of us so far.
Has it ever occurred to you that you have given a lift to a lover who has “exceeded the degree of grace” in passion on the journey?
Fortunately, that has not happened to me. At best they kissed in the back, but never crossed an acceptable threshold. When a couple goes, the woman usually directs the man; he is probably stupid in front of me. Colleagues, however, sometimes have a lot of hilarity, depending on what they are telling.
Do you have your favorite routes or city areas where you move more often than your business associates?
I have nothing to do with it. We can move where we want. I prefer Prague 4 where I live. I know the place the most. I like to have a wider center, such as Vinohrady, Smichov and Holešovice.
Do clients sometimes argue with you about the chosen route if they think they know a shorter route and you do not know yourself in Prague?
They do not guess. When a customer gets in a car, I ask him right away where he wants to go. I give him a choice of possible routes. If he does not like the options, he can navigate. I have never happened to ask the customer and he finally said to me: “It’s too expensive, I will not pay you.” So far, nor has it happened that my customer has run away from my car without paying.
Did you always like driving?
Yes. But I was a relatively late driver, at twenty-eight. When I was eighteen, I did not have money for it, then I did not need it again. I did it at the beginning of pregnancy with my second daughter. Since then, my driving has caught me.