May 19, 2024

Once Wall Streeters, and Now Cabbies

Now he drives a yellow cab, not just to make a living, but also to find his next post: He hangs a hiring pitch in the back seat. “Three interviews so far,” he said with a grin.

At his taxi garage in the South Bronx, Mr. Curtis, 47, shares job-hunting tips with another felled financier, who drives home after shifts to Westchester County in his own car, a BMW. They wave hello to a pal, laid off from JPMorgan, who drives to help pay for her son’s European study-abroad program.

It is a long slide from the trading floor to the driver’s wheel of a taxicab, but these former bankers have adopted a bullish outlook on their new profession. They say taxi driving, with its flexible hours and all-cash wages, is an undervalued asset — and an efficient way to meet potential employers face to face.

“There are 20 million other people on,” said Mr. Curtis, who chats up his fares in case a chief executive or headhunter has stumbled in. “I thought people would see this, and think, ‘He’ll go the extra yard to go and get a job.’ ”

More accustomed to the back seat of a taxi, these cabbies are importing skills from their former world to the front seat, dressing well to impress their “clients” and finding ways to exploit the inefficiencies of the taxi market.

While most cabbies view the meatpacking district in Manhattan as a must for late-night fares, Herb Reyes, once a financial director at a major entertainment company, sees a market with excess supply. So he heads to the usually deserted Avenue of the Americas in Midtown, where he knows bankers who work the Asian markets will be looking for rides home.

Tough times have prompted more New Yorkers to seek financial relief and upward mobility in the taxi trade. The number of licensed city cabbies has risen by 10 percent since the stock market began its decline in late 2007, according to the Taxi and Limousine Commission. License renewals are up, too, officials said, suggesting that drivers who used to move on to higher-paying jobs are sticking with the hack trade for now.

At Master Cabbie Taxi Academy in Long Island City, Queens, instructors have noticed an increase in former financial workers since the recession began. “As they lay off, people come through,” the owner, Terry Gelber, said. “I haven’t driven in 18 years, but somebody I drove with back then was a broker. He was back last year to get his hack license again.”

Mr. Reyes, 38, registered for a cabby license after the severance from his former job ran out. “People weren’t hiring at the salary I was making,” he said on the phone from Westchester, where he lives with his wife and two sons, who both attend private school. “They weren’t offering jobs at a level below, or even two levels below, where I was.”

When a friend suggested he look into taxi driving, he scoffed. “I was born and raised in the city,” Mr. Reyes recalled saying. “I’m not driving a cab in New York.” But on his first night in a taxi, he cleared $180 on fares. It was a Tuesday. “I could only imagine what Saturday and Sunday would be like,” he said.

Passengers who climb into Mr. Curtis’s cab are greeted by a laminated sheet of paper reading: “Ask to see my résumé. You won’t be sorry!” It has led to three interviews, one with a major British bank, though none has yet resulted in a job offer.

Mr. Curtis, who is hoping to land a hedge-fund position, said he decided to become a cabby after having little luck with traditional headhunters and job Web sites. “I just figured the best way to market myself was to be driving around town with a sign that said: ‘Hey, help me! I need a job!’ ” he said.

Mr. Curtis, divorced with two children and living in Cliffside Park, N.J., is earning a small fraction of his former income, he said. He is asked for his résumé about four times a day but acknowledges that after five months, he had hoped to already be back in an office. “I get guys who say, ‘This is ingenious!’ I’m like, if I’m such a genius, why am I driving a cab?”

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