On top of that, the Los Angeles Taxi Commission states in its rules that a driver may not refuse service to any person unless the cab has already been dispatched on another call or the passenger is acting in a disorderly manner (or threatening to make the car “stained or evil smelling”). There are some additional conditions involving wheelchairs, luggage, packages, and animals.
Such laws vary from city to city and state to state. In New York City, the Taxi and Limousine Commission forbids drivers from refusing service on the basis of race, disability, or any destination within the five boroughs. The commission fielded 2,756 complaints last year alone, many of which were for refusal of service. The most notable refusal, reported by the New York Post and other publications, happened to the mayor of San Juan, Puerto Rico, who was heading from Greenwich Village to the Bronx.
The Taxicab Commission of Washington, D.C., also prohibits drivers from refusing service on the basis of race or destination. A couple of years ago, after passengers complained that cabs wouldn’t take them to locations like Navy Yard and Eastern Market, the D.C. Taxicab Commission made it easier to report infractions, putting an LED identification sign on the top of every cab. Drivers who get enough complaints can face hefty fines or even lose their licenses. (In California, ATS utilizes the same type of disciplinary approach, which culminates in a hearing before a judge.)
But making it easier to file complaints doesn’t always mean people will do it. When I was refused service in D.C. a few months ago, I didn’t file a report. Ironically, I was leaving a celebration for Attorney General Loretta Lynch, who happens to be distant cousin of mine. After the event, I headed out to call the Washington Nationals game for ESPN. The driver pulled up, I got in the car, and he asked where I was going. I told him Nationals Park.
“I do not know where it is,” he told me.
Skeptically, I asked, “Come on, Nationals Park? The baseball stadium?” I told him I had my smartphone and could pull up the directions on Google Maps. (I was sure he also had a smartphone, or another device with GPS.) Still, he stayed put and waited for me to get out, saying over and over that he was new on the job and new to the area. So I exited the cab and hailed another one.
In Chicago, where I played on the Cubs and lived for much of my post-career, the same thing happened a few too many times when I was trying to get a ride from downtown at night. In those instances, you had to navigate the “Mason-Dixon” line between the North and South Side. When driver after driver assumed I was heading south into the heavily African American sections of town (which should not have mattered anyway), I was in for a long night.
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In expressing these concerns, I don’t intend to generalize. Back in Trinidad, where my father was born, my uncle drove a cab. And I’ve had a lot of good experiences with taxi drivers over the years. I’ve learned about Sudan, Turkmenistan, Haiti, Pakistan, and many other cultures, hearing about wars in the drivers’ home countries and the challenges they faced as immigrants. I once talked to a driver who identified my accent as Trinidadian and “Carolinian,” the greatest linguistic deduction I have ever witnessed to this day.