Editorial / Time to demand professionalism from cabs
Published 7:23 pm, Thursday, March 1, 2012
A shameful chapter in Fairfield public transportation came to an end this week when the notorious Fairfield Cab Co. finally was junked.
State authorities pulled the company's license of for what it called a lack of oversight and because its aged fleet of clunkers repeatedly flunked inspections.
In addition to operating what DOT called "dangerous" vehicles, two of its drivers in the past year were convicted of crimes while on duty -- one for sexually assaulting a teenage girl in his cab, the other for obtaining alcohol for minors.
Late Wednesday, Bridgeport-based Yellow Cab completed its purchase of Fairfield Cab's medallions, and its yellow sedans rolled into taxi spaces at the downtown train station.
Yellow Cab joins Red Dot Taxi -- itself a relatively new player in town -- and ensures competition in Fairfield. And competition is crucial to warding off what the state Department of Transportation called the "free for all" that Fairfield Cab had become.
But competition in and of itself won't guarantee courteous, timely service.
Red Dot entered the market only last year to challenge Fairfield Cab and recently moved its headquarters here from Bridgeport. The company has been eager to add to its fleet and is interested in taking over a waiting room and dispatch space Fairfield Cab has leased in the eastbound terminal.
Red Dot's expansion has been hamstrung, however, because the state has temporarily stopped issuing new taxi permits. The moratorium on adding cars is tied to the appeal of a DOT decision denying additional permits to companies in West Haven and Bloomfield.
Alone, Red Dot's tiny fleet could not have handled demand in town, so Yellow Cab has pulled into town at the right moment.
Make no mistake: the yellow sedans at the downtown train station Wednesday were hardly gleaming new models fresh off the assembly line. They had their share of dents and dings.
Still, Fairfield has a window of opportunity to demand more -- far more -- than it got from Fairfield Cab. Co.
Efficient, safe and courteous taxi service depends minimally on two things:
A: Management that can put an adequate number of safe, clean vehicles on the road; find polite drivers with what the state calls "moral character" to drive them; and hire dispatchers who can juggle the calls and direct the cars efficiently with minimal waiting.
B: An availability of drivers with clean records, passable customer-service skills and moral compasses.
Item B is not necessarily an easy task.
To start, taxi drivers in Connecticut must obtain from the DOT a "Public Passenger Endorsement." That involves state and national criminal checks. Any serious offense "which reflects on (the applicant's) moral character" disqualifies the applicant. It can also mean suspension of an existing endorsement.
Being a cabbie -- even in the relatively safe confines of Fairfield -- doesn't rank high on anybody's list of glamour jobs.
In fact, cab driver regularly makes various lists of the worst jobs and the most dangerous jobs.
CareerCast.com's "Ten Worst Jobs in 2011" ranked taxi driver No. 5 -- just behind oil-rig roustabout, iron worker, lumberjack and roofer.
The federal Bureau of Labor Statistics said taxi drivers in 2008 had the 10th highest fatality rate of all occupations -- in part because cabbies typically drive fast and in part because they carry cash, making them robbery targets.
That danger scale is a national rank that may be skewed by cabbies' experiences in places like New York and Los Angeles, but it is ahead of police and firefighters.
As as a community, how is the time to demand professional behavior and service from our taxi drivers and to hold the cab companies accountable when we don't receive it.
Cab service speaks to first impressions of our community, too. A business professional headed to a meeting or a distinguished academic bound for one of our universities steps off a train downtown. The first person they speak to in Fairfield could be a cab driver.
There is a window of opportunity now to upgrade from what had been the public embarrassment of Fairfield Cab Co.
No parent should have to freeze at the thought that his or her daughter is about to get into a cab in Fairfield. No unsuspecting passenger should slide into the back seat of a relic that flunked an inspection the day before and hasn't been fixed.