Need a taxi? I hope you're not in Beaumont, Texas

Why I couldn’t see it coming Friday evening I just can’t imagine.

The night before taking a bus from here in Beaumont, Texas, to visit a friend in the Dallas area, I spent more than two hours searching for a taxi that might pick me up the next morning and deliver me to the bus station on time. I never found one that night.

On Saturday morning, about an hour before I was supposed to leave on the bus, I called a local taxi service on the first try and told them what time to pick me up. One hour and 10 minutes later the taxi still had not come. I called this taxi service back and the dispatcher said the driver was on his way but that gave me little solace as my bus was scheduled to leave in about 20 minutes. I finally said a few choice words and got into my truck, determined I would drive to my office parking lot downtown and walk the couple of blocks to the Greyhound station. I intercepted my taxi just as I was about to pull out onto the street.

Why not just drive my truck to the bus station and leave it for the few days I planned to be gone to Dallas? Why that sounds like a splendid idea to me. Unfortunately, the bus station won’t let customers leave their vehicles parked there. They will, in fact, have your vehicle towed off.

“There’s a lot of vandalism around here,” said the young bus station clerk, obviously wishing he would someday grow up to drive a mighty Greyhound. Hey, I got to have at least one ‘yuk’ in this sordid tale.

Well, I can certainly understand vandalism because the bus station is located in not the best of neighborhoods even though it is only a few blocks from the federal building, not to mention some of the city’s largest Baptist, Methodist and Episcopal churches. Hence my dilemma.

My bus was scheduled to return to Beaumont from Dallas via Houston at 8 p.m. Christmas evening. If I had my truck, I could have driven home and through the hairy neighborhood — near where I admittedly camped out in my truck during my desperate homeless days. But apparently Greyhound would rather have one person mugged and perhaps killed in a robbery for 25 cents instead of unsuccessfully filing a claim for a vandalized automobile. Pardon me. I know it’s Greyhound yet I don’t quite understand the logic.

One taxi on Saturday morning — albeit late — came through for me. The driver didn’t even charge me full fare because he was late and I was highly agitated. The same didn’t happen last night, Christmas 2007. No I wasn’t charged full fare. I wasn’t even overcharged. That is because I couldn’t GET A FREAKING TAXI!

After pulling out of Houston on the Greyhound for Beaumont, about 30 minutes late, I started dialing phone numbers I had stored from the previous Friday night when I could not get a taxi. And like Friday night, on Christmas night, a taxi was not to be found in Beaumont, Texas, or in all of Jefferson County for that matter. No room at the inn? It doesn’t matter. You’d have to ride a camel to get there!

Now I don’t live in a metropolis. But I do live in a metropolitan area. Which is defined as:

“The Federal Office of Management and Budget’s designation for the functional area surrounding and including a central city; has a minimum population of 50,000; is contained in the same county as the central city; and includes adjacent counties having at least 15 % of their residents working in the central city’s county.”

The Beaumont-Port Arthur metropolitan area is composed of Jefferson, Orange and Hardin counties. It has a total population of about 385,000. It ranks 130th largest such population area in the country (Here’s looking at 129!) Beaumont is the largest city in this federally-designated area and the Census Bureau estimated its population in 2003 at 112,434. Jefferson County is the most populous of the three-county area with almost 245,000 residents. So much for geo-economics lesson. The gist of my useless knowledge here is that the area in which I live is not Mayberry with the city limits lying on either side of the population sign.

A search of Yahoo Local for taxis in Beaumont returns 12 businesses. Search “cab” you get 10. Go for broke, search “taxicab” and it yields 10. As is the case in all three categories, several entries are for the same company and several are out of business. You don’t fare, pardon the pun, much better in the phone directory which lists nine cab companies.

So the problem is that there are a lack of cab companies to serve the population. True. It is also true that the existing cab companies should have their people out doing something better with their lives than driving taxis, such as being a trial lawyer which this area has seemingly hundreds who are available to sue asbestos companies, the local refineries, big tobacco and drug manufacturers. Not that there is anything wrong with it.

I wrote a city official Friday night with my ire concerning an inability to find a taxi. It’s a good thing I wrote him Friday night and not last night when it took me 45 minutes to walk home through a rough neighborhood (and some good ones) from the bus station.

Officials in Beaumont and in Jefferson County for that matter all have their spirits up because of a new industrial boom taking place. This includes construction which will turn the local Motiva refinery in Port Arthur into the nation’s largest as well as the building of a huge liquified natural gas offloading facility for ships at the edge of the Gulf of Mexico on Sabine Pass. Don’t be looking for many hybrids running around here.

Along with this boom, Beaumont officials in particular want to make downtown — only a few blocks from the blighted area around the bus station — into a tourist Mecca anchored upon a big convention hotel along the Neches River.

The city official to whom I zinged off a missive wrote me back today and took a “build it and they will come” take on how to have good taxi service. Dean Conwell, the city’s convention and visitor’s bureau director, said the lack “of quality” cab service in Beaumont is due primarily to little demand.

“When we finally get better air service and a convention hotel downtown, I believe things will get better.”

Well, I suppose that is something to wish for in the new year and probably beyond. But in the meantime, what happens if someone who can’t get a taxi gets mugged and killed? Perhaps if they are tourists or business people from say Germany or Japan who came here to get hooked into our big, new growth it will get our city’s name on the news. Oh well, I didn’t say it would be GOOD news.

Oh, did I mention that the city’s bus system was closed on account of Christmas?

I don’t know what it takes to get a cab license in this city other than paying a fee. I don’t know if there are any standards for service, or lack thereof. But I will be looking into it. And if our city officials have a lick of sense they should be looking into it as well. Any city worth a spit needs a decent way for its citizens and its visitors to get around, see its sights, and spend their money. In Beaumont, we don’t have it and if people want this place to prosper they might get the big hotels out of their eyes and some taxicabs that actually operate out onto the streets.

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