Tim Kaeder has been driving a cab for 23 years, ever since he got out of the Army.
He often starts a shift about $140 in the hole, between what he has to pay to lease the cab and fill it with gas. That's $30 more than it was just a couple of years ago, because of the rising cost of fuel.
"It's just coming out of my pocket. No one else's," said Kaeder.
Kaeder can't raise his rates to keep up with gas prices. Fare rates are capped by St. Paul and other cities. Kaeder gets $1.90 a mile. That rate hasn't changed in three years.
"I'm not going to make much this year," he said.
Taxi drivers generally don't. Cabbies and chauffeurs average about $11.70 an hour in the Twin Cites.
On real bad nights, Kaeder barely makes enough money to buy one of his favorite eats -- a corn dog from Super America.
“Drivers are getting killed by the gas. It's only fair [to raise cab fares].”Cab passenger Neil Peterson
Like most taxi drivers, Kaeder is self-employed, with no health, vacation or other benefits.
Kaeder's cab is a former cop car -- a 1999 Ford Crown Victoria. It purrs like it's got a V-8 under the hood. And it sucks gas like one, getting about 15 miles per gallon in city driving.
But Kaeder says he needs a big vehicle.
"I would not want those dinky cars. You can't get four people in with luggage," he said.
This night, Kaeder is mostly cruising St. Paul's near East Side, trying to anticipate where the fares will be and answering dispatcher calls almost immediately.
With rates headed up, Kaeder hopes to put some more money in his wallet. But he knows the company he drives for, Diamond Cab, could raise its lease rate. And he expects some customers may tip less -- or not take a cabs at all.
"Most of them understand. The real poor people will be upset," said Kaeder.
Out on Maryland Ave., Kaeder maneuvers to pick up a customer whose apartment building lacks a driveway or parking lot. The fare, Neil Peterson, wants a ride to Rainbow Foods on Arcade. That'll cost him about $8 each way.
Peterson is a big guy. He scrunches into the back of the cab. Peterson says cabbies deserve a fare hike.
"Because drivers are getting killed by the gas. It's only fair. I know what it's like to drive a cab. I know what it's like to hustle that dollar in the cab," said Peterson. "You got to drive. You got to know your routes. You got to know the city."
At Rainbow, another fare is waiting. Lori Miller needs a ride home. She only uses a cab when she goes grocery shopping. Otherwise she rides the bus.
Miller says she understands why cabbies need to charge higher fares. But she says it'll hurt people like her.
"I understand the logic and reasoning behind it. But those of us on a fixed income without vehicles -- and they're talking about raising the bus rates. Now this. Oh my word," said Miller.
Things aren't exactly great for cabbies like Kaeder, either. He says some buddies have stopped driving because they can't make enough money. But he's sticking with his cab.
"It's still better than minimum wage," he said. "And at my age, who's going to hire me for what?"
Lori Bullard and her friend are headed to a downtown St. Paul bar. Bullard doesn't begrudge cab drivers a fare hike.
"We don't have to take it a very long way. So our cab fares have never really high," said Bullard. "Probably $10 to $15. So, it's not bad for us if they raise it a little bit. It's OK."
Later this month, Minneapolis, Bloomington and the airport will consider hiking their taxi fares to $2.20 a mile. Approval seems likely.