Taxi Driver (What? I Can't Hear You!)
A reader writes:
The one consumer issue that really eats at me in DC is the taxi mess. Istanbul has better taxis -- and they're pretty damn bad. Latest peeve: drivers (almost all) who speak on cell phones (sometimes even hand-held!) the whole time they're driving -- as though they weren't dangerous enough without distractions. I used to ask them to wait until I was out of the car to finish their conversations -- but after being KICKED OUT of cabs three times for asking this, I've given up. Who has time to hunt for a new cab?
The reader notes that New York City, for example, has banned cabbies from using cell phones while passengers are present. Can't we have such a ban here, he wonders?
In fact, the District was relatively early to the movement to ban the use of cell phones without hands-free equipment , and the DC police have been fairly aggressive about handing out tickets to those who still insist on yammering away into a hand-held phone. (That's not to say it isn't regularly done throughout the city.)
Seattle is moving toward a ban on cabbie chatter right now.
There's no move yet in Washington along these lines, and let's cut right to the real issue here: What we're talking about is, for the most part, immigrant cab drivers who spend the entire ride talking on the cell in their native tongue. English-speaking cabbies are vastly less likely to spend their work shift on the phone in good part because they would be embarrassed or self-conscious about having their passengers listen to their personal conversations. Immigrant cabbies have a huge advantage--in most cases, they can chatter without much concern that any passenger will be eavesdropping on their conversation.
It's often a shock when the cabbie switches into English to answer a rider's question or even jump into the conversation.
So when New York stripped cabbies of the right to speak on the phone while driving, it was the Indian and Pakistani drivers associations that protested. They argued that staying on the phone was their way of coping with a difficult and sometimes hostile work environment.
An Indian newspaper reported on New York cabbies' plight, quoting one driver saying:
"Being a cabbie in New York City is not easy. You only hear about some of us not being courteous or ultra professional. But you have no idea how tough many of the riders are. So we call up our friends and share with them our woes. And since we have the added advantage of using languages the passengers generally do not understand, we tend to talk more while driving."
Well, excuse me, but as much as I too would love to have a secret language in which I could communicate with my friends as we travel through public places, that doesn't mean it's ok for cabbies to pretend that their customers are just a parcel they're delivering to the next station.
The legendary radio talk show host Bob Grant, who retired last week after six controversial decades on the air in New York and other cities, used to dispatch unwanted callers to his show with a quickly roared, "Get off my phone!"
The D.C. Taxi Commission, a troubled agency even for the D.C. government, should quit its eternal obsession with converting to metered taxi rides and focus on what's really making cabs less pleasant and probably less safe: Get off that phone!
By Marc Fisher |
January 20, 2006; 7:09 AM ET
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