Last week I was working in Washington, D.C. for a few days.  At around 3:30 on Thursday afternoon, a colleague and I loaded our tired selves and respective luggage into a cab and headed for Union Station.  I was ready to zone out but my colleague happen to notice that the cabbie had programmed an extra $4.50 onto the regular fare before we left the curb.  She inquired about it. 

The cabbie replied that it was an extra $1.00 per person and $1.25 per large piece of luggage.  We understood the per person charge as we had been shuttling people around in cabs all week.  But we were a little surprised at the luggage charge.  First, our bags would not be considered “large” by any measure.  She had a small cooler and I had my carry on.  And we both hoisted our own bags into the trunk.  Was the extra charge for the gas it would take to transport these “large” bags?  And all of that didn’t add up to $4.50 – it was $3.50.  We talked amongst ourselves and asked for some further clarification from the cabbie.  He said not to worry and he would adjust it when we got to the train station.  Cool, no problem.

When we got to the station, he quoted me $12.75 which amounted to the base fare with no additional charge, not even the per person charge.  I thought that was very gracious of him, gave him a $20 and asked for $3 back.  I, too, wanted to be gracious with a nice tip.

But he returned my full change.  I thought he misunderstood so I repeated that he should just give me $3 back – the rest was for him.  His response:

“No, I don’t accept tips from people who have a discrepancy with the way I charge!”

“Are you certain?”  I said.  “We want you to have it.”

“Give it to the homeless!” he directed.  So I got out of the cab.

I guess he wanted us to feel badly for offending him.  The exchange left me more thoughtful than anything else.  I tried to look at it from his point of view.  Here are two women getting into a cab at a very nice hotel, dressed in business attire, headed for an expensive train… and complaining about $4.50.  I imagine he was offended.  I may have been, too.

But on the other hand, I felt as though he misjudged us.  My colleague and I are both hard workers who never had anything handed to us, and if work was not covering our travel costs, we wouldn’t be staying in that hotel to begin with.  In fact, work was covering our cab ride.  But we understand the value of a dollar and were being responsible with our company’s money.  We certainly weren’t nasty about our questions.

But should we have just kept our mouths shut?  Or did he overreact?

I’m still unsure.  But I think we all missed an opportunity to empathize.  Next time, I’ll do better. 

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