Taxi cabbies confess their thoughts about UA students

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By CECELIA MARSHALL Published October 9, 2011 at 11:39pm Updated October 31, 2011 at 6:16pm

One ride in J.J.’s shuttle is like stepping into a different world, one where J.J. has created a reputation as one of the first numbers some freshmen program into their phone. They call him by name and he knows all his customers by name as well.

When J.J., a UA alumnus, first started J.J’s Shuttle and Taxi Service seven years ago with only three cabs, it was prompted by his desire to spend more time with his own children. But soon his business began booming, pushing him to adopt shuttles for his clients instead.

J.J. described seven years of shuttle nights as “so hilarious” with “one thing after another” occurring.

Seconds after jumping into the shuttle, J.J. receives a call on his cellphone and exclaims, “We’re off!”

The 14-passenger van he usually drives has held three times that many people — but that’s all part of the personalized service J.J. insists on offering, with no meter and no middle man.

“I am far from being a cab driver,” J.J. said, adding that he doesn’t like to associate with many cab drivers here in Tucson. “I don’t agree with their mentality,” he said, and the way some are merely looking for profit.

J.J.’s closely connected to the Greek system, and tends to support it, especially during philanthropy events by shuttling people back and forth to Pi Phi Pizookie, Delta Delta Delta DHOP, and Kappa Alpha Theta Burrito Breakfast to name a few. But J.J. is also a big supporter of his dance department clients. He wants to buy season tickets this year after he received tickets to one dancer’s showcase performance last semester.

“These are people I know, because I treat everyone like my own kids,” J.J. said.

And his kids are just as committed to him as he is to them.

“J.J. is the greatest cab driver in the entire world,” said Allie Robbins, a pre-business student. “His phone just rings off the hook.”

Robbins and Mara Scaliti jumped in J.J.’s shuttle outside Arizona-Sonora Residence Hall on a recent weekend.

“The first person to call is J.J. He is kind of a legend around here,” said Scaliti, an undeclared undergraduate. She explained that during their first sorority new member meeting, the active members gave their newly initiated sisters J.J.’s number and told them this was the person to call if they were ever in trouble. Sorority houses have even joked about putting a J.J.’s shuttle stop outside their house due to the amount of business they have given him.

Robbins and Scaliti joke with J.J. like he’s another sorority sister. They describe how he knows all about the random hookups (some of them even in the back of his shuttle) and has witnessed the many “walk of shames” through campus. Scaliti even quips to J.J. that they have pictures from the crazy night before.

After dropping them off, J.J. checked his phone. He has eight new voicemails.

But J.J. doesn’t just drive at night. He’s also adopted daytime contracts with nearby apartment complexes shuttling students to campus. For those times when he gets too tired, he has hand-selected and hired other drivers with their own families and with a requirement of 10 years of driving experience. J.J. wants to make sure that if he isn’t the one driving someone home late at night, he trusts the person who is.

On an average night, groups of girls stumbling in miniskirts and 4-inch high heels are standard. He’ll get calls from familiar passengers, answering the phone as if it’s one of his own kin: “Hey Bailey. How are you?” He’s even turned a van full of customers around after he got a call from a patron at a house party who witnessed a drive-by shooting and needed to rush over to the hospital to see their friend who had been shot. He’s aided police in finding a fradulent taxi van driver, and will get fraternity members’ names to give to chapter presidents if they get too belligerent during a ride. He certifies all his shuttles with U.S. Department of Transportation regulations, making sure he has all the proper paperwork, numbers and stickers. In all his years of shuttling, he’s never been pulled over by police, he said.

During the summers without students and a much emptier campus, J.J. said he feels lost and fills his days with motorcycle riding and his three sons.

He explained how a business guy could sit him down and lay out all of the problems with his business model, the amount of money he loses nightly with the favors he does and how to change it to increase income. But J.J. said he isn’t here for the money. He lives for the late nights.

“People don’t realize I know the inner relationships,” he said. He has known students since their very first orientation weekend at the UA, before they were even freshmen. He has driven people for four years of their life and they become a part of his. After graduation, the relationships don’t end there, J.J. said.

Students will even come back during Homecoming to visit him and see how the business is going.

And J.J. said that’s the key to his success — his relationships with the students.

“Everyone I’ve had use me, keeps me,” J.J. said.

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