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"Test drives of Hopkins airport cab service mostly run smoothly"

Sunday, December 10, 2006

Test drives of airport cab service mostly run smoothly 
By James Ewinger
The Cleveland (OH) Plain Dealer

The city is still weighing reforms for taxicab service at Cleveland Hopkins
International Airport, but it appears that what it has already done is
having an effect. 

A team of Plain Dealer reporters spent Wednesday riding cabs from the
airport and generally found none of the abuses with which the city has
wrestled for more than a year. 

The reporters did not identify themselves and got into the cabs as anyone
else can. 

The objective was to determine whether airport cab drivers were still
refusing fares, getting lost or abusing passengers by doing such things as
yelling and driving erratically - all common complaints in recent years. 

The biggest problem Wednesday appeared to involve one of the reforms itself.

Cleveland this year placed cab starters at the airport cab stand to maintain
order and to make sure city regulations were followed. The starter generally
is supposed to assign the first passenger in line to the first cab in line,
reducing the heated competition and chaos that used to exist. 

At least two cab drivers complained Wednesday that they believe the starters
give preferential assignments to certain drivers who tip them. 

Two reporters saw a starter directing passengers to cabs farther back in the

This included taking out of order two passengers who were going a great
distance -- assigning a more-lucrative fare to a cab that was supposed to
take a reporter a short distance. 

Fred Szabo, Hopkins' commissioner, said in a telephone interview Thursday
that tipping the starters "is contrary to the protocol that was

Pat Singleton, who has taken over ground transportation and customer service
at the airport, did not return phone calls seeking comment. 

Szabo, the city and the six cab companies permitted to pick up fares at the
airport have worked for at least a year on changes that included the cab
starter and the number of cabs that can line up and wait for fares there. 

The new rules call for a maximum of 75 cabs in line at a time. When the
lines were more than twice that, it meant drivers might get a chance at a
single fare from the airport, causing them economic hardship if the
passenger was going only a short distance. 

Officials thought the long lines caused some angry drivers to abuse
passengers or refuse service -- in violation of city rules -- if the
distance was not great enough to net a good fare. 

Other complaints included drivers charging for fares not on the meter, or
getting lost. 

Though a few of the drivers on Wednesday seemed unfamiliar with addresses,
they were able to find destinations when told what they were, including a
Lyndhurst restaurant and a West Side hospital. 

Some of the destinations were chosen because they could not easily be found,
while others were selected because they were a short ride from the airport. 

Muyadin Ali, a driver for ABC Taxi, took one reporter to Brook Park City
Hall without incident. It was 1.7 miles from the airport, and he was
courteous, the cab clean and the ride smooth. He charged what was on the
meter and wrote out a receipt. A textbook ride. 

Another driver took a reporter to a house on a side street in Rocky River.
He got there as fast as the law allowed, did not appear to get lost and did
not hold on to the luggage to leverage a bigger tip. 

One reporter picked a Middleburg Heights car dealership as his destination
and it appeared to anger a driver for United cab. He swore, banged his arm
rest and explained at length about how the starter did not like him and took
him out of order. 

Another driver told a different reporter that some drivers worked together
to go into the airport to determine where passengers were going, then
managed to pick off the more lucrative fares when the passengers approached
the cab stand. 

Pat Smith, a spokesman for the airport, said drivers are not allowed to
solicit passengers this way. 

Last week, Cleveland City Council rejected airport Director Ricky Smith's
plan to streamline cab service by awarding a contract to a single cab
company. Smith said as late as Monday that the cab service still needs to be

He was not available to comment on the reporters' experiences.

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