There are 13,000 cabs in New York City, but only a fraction of that number navigate the wild and wide streets of Danville. Stick out your hand, hail a cab, and maybe your ride will pay for itself.
Steve Benson has been driving a cab in Danville for two and a half years and often brings additional excitement to his fares, many of which are looking for a safe way home after a night out. Benson, a Danville resident and fan of the Discovery Channel television show "Cash Cab," started his own San Ramon Valley transit-based trivia program eight months ago.
"I learn a lot when I watch ('Cash Cab') because there is always something new and interesting (host) Ben Bailey asks," said Benson, 53. "I thought to myself, I like to learn things and I like to share it with other people and I also enjoy teaching so I thought that it would be an opportunity to combine things that I love."
Benson said most of his fares come from downtown Danville on Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights, where groups of teens, 20- and 30-somethings clamor into his seven-person van and ask, "Are you the trivia cab?"
"When somebody gets in the cab, I try to size them up and see if they're the kind of people that would like to play. Most of the time they're very enthusiastic," Benson said of his Trivia Cab.
Unlike the television show, which plays by a strict three strikes and you're out of the cab policy and offers hundreds of dollars in prizes, players in Benson's Trivia Cab need only to correctly answer five questions in a row to win a variety of prizes. Like its New York City counterpart, Trivia Cab players also have phone and on-the-street shout.
San Ramon Valley savants can win gift certificates to local businesses, including Danville Bowl and The Yogurt Shack, and even a massage if they know the answers to Benson's questions, which he takes directly from the "Cash Cab" show. Merchants donate the certificates, though none returned calls for comment.
"I knew it was going to be a hit and my suspicion proved true. The prize thing came up later when I thought it would be a way to help some small struggling businesses get themselves known and help my business, too; kind of a way of giving back to the community," he said.
Benson also gives back to the community by offering teenagers information about how to be safe when riding in a taxi and, sometimes, a free ride home.
"Most of the teens that I pick up are not under the influence of anything, but they like to go out at night and I like that they call me because I don't like for them to just call any cab company," Benson said. "Cabdrivers in this area aren't screened, there is no background check. You get a bunch of teenage girls get into a cab with a stranger, anything can happen."
Benson advises young passengers to get to know their driver, ride in groups and take down the license plate of the cab to give to a third party. But sometimes, it's not the passengers that are at risk.
"A couple weeks ago I had a crowd in my car and one had to sit in the front seat next to me. The young lady had had a few drinks, and when they got an answer correct, everyone goes ballistic. She started screaming and I think I'm still hard of hearing in my right ear," Benson chuckled.
In addition to the occasional hostile couple of sore losers, Benson has had to chase down "deadbeats." Last month, a fare from San Ramon didn't have enough money and said he would go to his apartment for the rest of the cash. After misplacing his keys and scaling the balcony, the fare locked himself inside and refused to pay.
Benson called the San Ramon police, who at 3 a.m., made contact with a woman inside the fare's apartment. When the woman didn't have cash, Benson took her to a nearby ATM.
"She ended up giving me $70 for a $20 fare. The next morning I'm hoping she took it out on his hide for inconveniencing everybody," Benson said.
While Benson didn't play Trivia Cab with the deadbeat fare, he said his reputation as Trivia Cab has grown considerably since the game began. He is currently working on getting a van outfitted like the actual "Cash Cab."
"If all goes well, my cab is going to be a classic van with seats to fit six people. It's probably going to have lighting on the ceiling, so when they win they'll get a little bit of a light show," he said.
For more information on the Trivia Cab, visit the cab's Facebook page or call 998-9376.