A slim man with smile lines around his eyes and a thick, graying mustache walks to the door of a Parker home. He knocks. A woman with neatly cropped white hair and wearing a puffy, fuchsia winter jacket answers, and they walk to his vehicle. Arm in arm, they joke and laugh like old friends. He steadies her as she climbs into the car — a routine they’ve performed hundreds of times over the past year. They’ll talk and laugh all the way to a senior center in Littleton, where he’ll drop her off for a few hours.
In an age when Lyft and Uber drivers are a common sight, it’s easy to think taxi cabs might have taken a back seat. But many people in the Denver metro area rely on cabs to get around — and on one cab driver in particular.
Over the past seven years, Metro Transportation taxi driver Mark Chalfin has shuttled thousands of fares. Chalfin’s calls are mostly from return customers — people he picks up day after day, week after week. He specializes in driving passengers who require extra care.
People trust Chalfin to not only drive them to their destinations, but to do so with respect and an understanding of their needs. His compassion and personable, tailored services earned him the 2017 Taxicab Driver of the Year award from the Taxi Limousine Paratransit Association. Mayor Michael Hancock even proclaimed Oct. 10, 2017, Mark Chalfin Day to honor his service in transportation.
“He is just a lifesaver,” said Stacey Martins, daughter of Pat Kelley, the woman in the bright pink jacket and one of Chalfin’s regular customers. “My mom has pretty advanced Alzheimer’s. We’ve tried to develop a team to take care of her, and Mark is a vital part of that team. With her condition, consistency is really important. She sees the same person every day, and it helps her with her routine.”
Martins said Chalfin has helped relieve stress for her family. She’s able to go to work knowing Chalfin will make sure her mom is taken care of — walking her inside the senior center and “passing her off” himself to staff members.
In addition to shuttling Kelley to the senior center and back to her home in Parker four days each week, Chalfin also regularly helps several other disadvantaged customers. For example, he takes one boy with disabilities to The Laradon School five days each week. He brings the newspaper to a woman who is living in a motel because she can’t maneuver the stairs in her home. Another longtime customer called him when she needed a ride home from the hospital.
Chalfin got into the taxi business as a young man, fresh out of college. To fill six months between graduation and a job as a sportswriter, he drove taxis through congested New York City streets. But he stepped away from the cabbie life for 30 years while he rotated between announcing minor league baseball games and the hectic life of a businessman.
When the economy turned in 2010, Chalfin rediscovered cab driving in Denver. He said he enjoys making his own hours, but didn’t realize helping people with disabilities would become his primary interest — aside from his continued dream to announce professional sporting events. He compares the people he helps to athletes, emphasizing that people have good days and bad.
“When you do this, you see a lot of different kinds of people. You hear in sports that people are kind of day-to-day. In life, people are the same: day-to-day. When we are in our own little worlds, we don’t see that. I feel for them, and it’s made me passionate about helping them,” he said.
Not only does Chalfin shuttle people from place to place, he’ll bring groceries, ferry prescriptions and perform other small tasks for his clients. He’s also Passenger Assistance Safety and Sensitivity certified, so he knows how to fold walkers and wheelchairs and aid people while climbing in and out of his car. If they need it, he even helps to buckle them in.
“You really need to have the right frame of mind and the right kind of heart,” Martins said about Chalfin. “My mom can tell him the same story 10 times, and he’ll act like it’s the first. He’s never let on that she’s repeating herself, so she feels completely comfortable with him.”
KatieAnn McBride, a community liaison with Metro Transportation, has worked with Chalfin since he started driving in Denver. The company touts Chalfin as a role model for other drivers — one of the reasons the company chose to nominate Chalfin for the national award this year — and relies on him to train new cabbies. He’s instructed thousands, she said.
“We know when Mark trains a new driver, they’re going to get on the road prepared,” McBride said. “They’ll know not only what to do, but how to act.”
Chalfin still dreams of announcing baseball games but said in the meantime, he’s happy to keep giving the community a lift, one ride at a time.
“As long as I’m enjoying (driving taxis), I’m going to keep doing it. I don’t see myself going back into the corporate world,” Chalfin said. “When you get exposed to people who need help, I feel it’s a contribution. You feel better when you’re actually helping people, and that’s what this job is all about.”