“I Used to Be an Amish Taxi Driver”
by J. Money – Last updated July 9, 2016
[Welcome to Side Hustle #66 of our ongoing series! Where my friend Amanda shares quite an interesting way to make some extra cash… Can’t say I saw this one coming :)]
I remember getting the phone call ten years ago that would burn a big ol’ hole through my summer plans. I had been promised a summer job at the Chester County Migrant Ministry, but when I called to confirm just weeks before my starting date, my old boss said she no longer needed me.
Here I had been sitting pretty in my college classes watching others hustle last minute for that lucrative summer job, and now my boss leaves me to scramble just like that.
[Smug smile wiped off my face]
I knew what I had to do. But I didn’t want to do it.
It wasn’t glamorous like translation work with Mexican immigrants would’ve been; even worse, it was sort of the family business. And what recent teen wants to work with their family?
But I needed the money. Even more so than that, I wanted the money.
It was inevitable: I would drive the Amish around for the summer.
The job is simple: an Amish person, who cannot own a vehicle, calls an Amish Taxi Driver up and asks to be taken to XYZ on X date at X time.
You pick them up, they usually have a bazillion little stops to make (you would too if you knew you didn’t have access to places further than a horse ride away for awhile), and then you take them home. They pay you by the mile, and then they pay you $10/hour waiting time while they shop, make a “visit” (this could mean anything from making house calls to making hospital calls on family, friends, and community members), or see a chiropractor, etc.
That summer I made a sweeeeeet $3,000 which was made up of $0.60/mile + $10/hour of waiting time. I’d say my driving days were over after that, but to be honest the gig kind of grew on me.
That next semester my dad scored a market run for me at $120/day . There was only one problem with it: I had to wake up every Saturday at 4:00 a.m. to make the pickups.
The earnings, however, far outweighed the inconvenience of waking up before sunrise, and allowed me to earn what it would take 23.3 hours to earn at my work study job behind the desk. The best federal work study job you could get, btw – the college library at $5.15/hour.
The Family’s Start into Amish Taxi Driving
My dad has driven Amish full-time for 14 Years. When I call him, I don’t ask “how are you”? Instead, I greet him with, “where are you”?
That’s because his job literally takes him all over PA, the United States, and even into Canada.
My father says he got his first “run” because,
“An Amish person called one day and asked me if I had time to take him away. And he would pay me for it. It worked out. And, he happened to tell his brother about it. Word got out, and all of the sudden my phone rang and rang and rang.”
[SIDE NOTE: You would think that people who say no to things like zippers because they’re ” worldly” would have a problem with phones, but the fact is that would put them at a severe disadvantage to making money. They actually don’t have phones *in* their house, but out in a phone shed instead. Phone shed distances are set by each individual community, but typically they’re placed around 400 ft. from a home. My father has once taken a guy who only had access to a community phone that was 5 miles down the road.]
One thing you have to be prepared for in a tight-knit community with no television is that gossip + details get around. Like, really fast. So if you’re good at what you do, you will get random phone calls asking for more!
Since my father already owned a minivan, his start-up costs were absolutely nothing besides a tank of gas. (If you’re starting up today, fyi, there are costs now associated with doing this outlined below)
My father currently drives roughly 80,000 miles/year, and his taxable income last year was $33,000 . His gross income per month runs around $5,000, or $70,000 a year.
The Costs Involved with Taxi Driving
My father is a numbers man like I am, so I’ll let him tell you some more.
“For the first few years, I was happy with $0.40/mile profit after paying gas and stuff. At the $1.00/mile I’m charging now, you’re roughly going to pay $0.15/mile for repairs/costs on insurance/purchasing vehicle over a 4-5 year period (payment period), and your gas cost is going to be about $0.20/mile right now.
Other than that, the rest of it is pure profit.
When I drive the Prius, which is a family vehicle so it’s sitting in the driveway anyway, I charge $1.00/mile and the cost of gas is like $0.05-$0.06/mile. So I’m clearing about $0.90/mile in profit.”
How does this break out in terms of time? He chuckles and says, “I normally make about $22/hour , so I’m working about 3,600 hours/year.”
When you’re just starting out, this feels like the easiest money in the world. And it truly can be. But there are a few extra steps on that stairway to money-making heaven.
First, you have to pick up insurance and special registration. In Pennsylvania, these include:
- Commercial Car Insurance: This varies, but my dad pays an estimated $1,500/year.
- Department of Transportation Registration: This costs $40. You also need to put a registration label on your vehicle, as well as keep a first aid kit and fire extinguisher in the vehicles at all time.
- Public Utility Commission Cut: You need to obtain a Certificate of Public Convenience from the PUC, which costs $350 (renewed annually). You then must report your gross intrastate revenues to the PUC. The PUC assesses a portion to collect and sends out your bill.
Aside from the insurance and registrations, putting nearly 80,000 miles/year on a vehicle is also going to lead to consistent maintenance and repair costs.
“I try to put 300,000 miles on my vehicles before I trade it in. I say I try. It has a lot to do with the respect you have for your vehicle. I’ve probably had, I’m guessing, about six vehicles in those 14 years. I buy them used with low mileage on them. I try not to buy a vehicle with more than 35,000 miles when I purchase it. I just don’t want to put that much money out for a vehicle.
For instance, the van I have now I bought with 33,000 miles on it when it was 5 years old. Which means it really wasn’t overused. But I was able to buy it at a reasonable cost because it was 5 years old. I did buy a brand new van one time but it didn’t perform any different than the used ones, it just cost twice as much.”
And then there’s the gas.
In his 14 years, my father has seen gas prices from $1.50/gallon all the way up to $4.00/gallon.
His current yearly gas bill? $12,000 *gulp*
Experiences I’ll Never Forget
Getting to be a fly on the wall to an entirely different culture without having to leave the country is pretty amazing. It’s led to some really cool and sometimes just downright interesting opportunities.
Like the time I took an Amish family to the beach (yes, I saw the Amish in their bathing suits).
Or the time I got to take a family down to their Englishmen friends in Baltimore. This led to driving into D.C. the next day and taking the Amish on their very first metro trip (and from the looks of the passengers, their very first sight at the Amish!). Holy cow was that one interesting.
And then there was the Amish version of a night out on the town in the cabin.
They asked if they could put in their cassette tape (yes, cassette tape… and it was probably contraband at that) and I was totally fine with that. This led to raucous singing and dancing to The Bellamy Brothers song, “If I said you have a beautiful body, would you hold it against me?” (… “If I swore you were an angel, would you treat me like the devil tonight?”)
You can bet it was hard to keep a straight face.
Probably my favorite memory of all time though was getting invited during Christmastime to a dinner with my dad for employee appreciation by the man I drove to the market. We sat side by side on straw bales in a hay barn set up like a beautiful dining room and ate a fantastic meal together.
When it comes down to it, this was one of the best side gigs I’ve ever had. Aside from it being very lucrative, I got to do things like learn the countryside while also getting in some good knitting and reading during wait times. But the experiences are what I’ll never forget, that’s for sure.