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Cabbies, city officials agree: Livery drivers are due for an asskicking

At a sometimes contentious hearing on taxi regulation - at which cabbies revealed plans to sue the city over its credit-card requirements - drivers, city councilors and the city taxi czar agreed on one point: The city needs to crack down on unregulated livery drivers and out-of-town cabbies stealing business from the locals.

All sides agreed drivers of black - and now sometimes white - cars need to finally come under city regulations. All sides raised the specter of livery drivers attacking passengers and driving without background checks.

"We have no idea what kind of crazies are driving these liveries," said City Councilor Maureen Feeney, who called for the hearing to discuss removing taxi regulation from police and giving it to some sort of citizen commission that would include drivers, representatives of the local hospitality industry and some large employers, along with somebody from BPD. Nobody mentioned representation for riders until Lumina Gershfield, director of the Future Boston Alliance asked for it late in the hearing.

Drivers testified increasingly bold livery drivers now solicit business from inside South Station while they cool their heels in cab lines outside. One said sometimes he feels like he's driving in Revere rather than Boston because he sees so many cabs from that city around him. Driver Arthur Rose estimated he loses $30 to $40 a day to livery drivers and out-of-towners.

Mark Cohen, the director of licensing for the police hackney division, said he's been trying to get livery vehicles under his regulation ever since he assumed his position 26 years ago. But that got Feeney to yelling at him - she said she didn't know until the hearing that livery drivers were not regulated by the city and that she had never seen a request from Cohen to do anything about them.

Feeney said the way the city enacted 2008 regulations to require hybrid cabs and credit-card readers failed to solicit enough input from cab owners and drivers, whom she said were hurt financially by their enforcement.

Donna Shaw, manager of the Boston Taxi Drivers Association, said the group probably wouldn't have filed its suit over the hybrid requirement - which it won - if it had a panel with which to discuss proposed new regulations. And Shaw said the group wouldn't be preparing another suit over the credit-card requirements if it had a seat at the table to discuss implementation. She said cab drivers don't oppose the machines, but are upset that they can be forced off the road immediately if their readers don't work, even if it's not their fault. New York gives drivers 48 hours to repair their card readers.

Cohen said he is willing to talk to anybody anytime about how his division can do a better job, but said the council should carefully consider the public-safety ramifications of expanding authority over cabs. Feeney and Councilor Tito Jackson - whose father ran two cab companies in the 1970s - said they did not want to detract from the good work the hackney division does, but want to ensure the people who are regulated have some say. Councilor Mike Ross said Boston now has one of the cleanest, best taxi fleets in the country - and way above those in certain neighboring communities he declined to name.

Cabbies said they are tired of being penalized by an inflexible hackney division for continuing glitches in the card-reader systems - which they said can be caused by everything from thunderstorms, which a few days ago knocked out the readers in some 500 cabs, to the Sprint satellite that links their cabs to the credit card processor going on the fritz. And they said it's unfair they have to pay fleet owners every day but that the credit-card processors only pay them twice a week. One noted the irony that the hackney division, which issued the credit-card regulations, doesn't accept credit cards for license renewals - they have to pay in cash.

Councilor Ayanna Pressley said hearing driver complaints was "upsetting and concerning," especially because they risk their lives driving a cab.

A separate committee chaired by Councilor Sal LaMattina plans a separate hearing on the 6% fee drivers now pay for credit-card transactions.

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. . . on downtown financial streets every other car is a livery. The cabbies may have a point here. See em everywhere.

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These vagabond livery drivers probably will hassle you if you try to use a credit card. Their cars are probably dirty, and the livery drivers will probably try to take the long way to your destination and pretend to speak only Eritrean. Damn you livery drivers!

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You do know that cabs come in from outside of town, to drop people off at their destination downtown. Hence, you see a lot of cabbies from other towns downtown.

I've stood in front of a cab, flagged them down, and stopped them; only for them to refuse me a ride because they're from Brookline or Cambridge.

What the hell do I care when it's late and no one is freaking stopping to offer me service?

What the city really needs to do is get rid of the medallion system, and work with other cities in the metro area to offer region wide cab regulations and rules.

But that makes too much sense, and destroys the monopoly the medallion holders have on the horrible service we endure.

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Given the high value black market value of a medallion, isn't this just more evidence of a need to increase the number of cabs in Boston?

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Exactly. The underground medallion economy turns cabbies into indentured servants. There's no legitimate reason why some person should be allowed to buy up dozens of medallions and make money by renting them out.

Just about spit out my coffee when I read this: "We have no idea what kind of crazies are driving these liveries," said City Councilor Maureen Feeney.

I wonder when the last time Feeny took a cab in the city.

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Mr. Ross is a joke. Cleanest, best fleets, my arse.

While I generally have little issue with the clean/not clean factor, Boston fleets are hands-down the worst. There is no incentive other than passenger ire to get the fare to the destination in a timely fashion.

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Without getting into details, because I can't, I had a hand in raising the issue of livery (as opposed to taxi) driver regulation in another venue over year ago, and this is, in part, a result of that.

Regulation of livery operations falls to the several cities and towns (like taxis). Unlike taxis, however, these folks are allowed to pick up pretty much wherever they want, so there is no reason for a livery company to set up a jurisdiction that has a robust process for vetting the drivers. Hence, many set up in smaller towns where there is little or no regulation (all they have to do is pay a licensing fee in some places, and not even that in some towns) and they are generally free to work where they want. In fact, I was told candidly by several people that the reason that they drove livery vehicles was becuase they could not qualify to drive a Boston cab because they had some kind of disqualifying conviction on their record.

Either the Commonwealth needs to take on the licensing function, or it must require the municipalities to have a more robust licensing process and pass other legislation to limit livery drivers to taking fares only in the communities in which they are licensed (as is the case with taxis).

I am generally not for laws or across the board policies that restrict people who have (felony) criminal records from working everywhere, but livery vehicles are a special case. It is often just the driver and the passenger, and the driver has complete control over the vehicle and hence, the passenger in that situation. In light of that, I think it the underlying case for tighter regulation is obvious.

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I lived in DC and NYC before moving to Boston and I have to say that the Boston cab drivers are hands down the worst taxi drivers I have ever encountered. They are generally rude, get angry that my destination is too far or too close, or complain about using a credit card. Most infuriating is when I get in a taxi and the cabbie does not know how to get to where I'm going and asks "how do I get there" or "which way should I go". Isn't it their job to know? Boston may have confusing streets but it's not that big!

Every once and a while I get a nice, friendly cab driver but I'd say these are in the far minority!

I'm not sure if this is a result of low pay, hackney regulations or the medallion nonsense but I think the quality of taxi service in this city hurts business and definitely contributes to the presence of unlicensed livery drivers.

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I target gypsy cabs whenever i can. I like negotiating a fair rate to my house. The cars are usually 10 times better, and i don't have to worry about some crazy cabbie speeding around town. All my own personal experiences of course.

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Boston cabbies have managed to elicit sympathy from people.

They get into an heavily-regulated city industry (what other line of work has its own division at the BPD?) then constantly bitch about the work.

Shut up, hang up on your call to whatever 3rd world shithole you're hooked up to right now, see if I want/need window/radio adjusted. If I want to dictate the route, which is 100% of the time I get in a cap in Boston, zip your piehole, listen, and don't try to sell me on your stat-padding scenic route. I've only used a CC for a cab once (out of complete necessity) but I can imagine they're a bundle of joy to deal with for that transaction.

And yes, I know there are plenty of exceptions. But the above is the norm in the city.

Obviously, you roll the dice with a so-called gypsy cab (what is this, The Royal Tenenbaums?). But if I had a trusted person to take me from A to B for a flat (read: cheaper) rate in a safe car, then I'm all over it.

Some cabbies, but very few nowadays, will take you a short distance (say corner of Causeway/N. Wash to waterfront Joe's) for a flat fee they can pocket (like a fin).

Those bike cabs are a nuisance on the road. They're already crowded enough. Those are too wide and too slow. They must've made a nice $ drop to the Menino war chest.

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I had some time to kill between jobs, so I was sitting on State Street when I noticed a Chrysler van with "Boston Van Service" written all over it. I followed him as he cruised around the Financial District,openly soliciting people on the street. It wasn't until he was stopped by the doorman at the Nine Zero to pick up four old ladies who were obviously tourists, that I got out of my Town Car and approached the van.

I said to the ladies that they should wait for a licensed taxi. They said they didn't care and it wasn't until I said that he had commercial plates on his car , not livery plates and if there was an accident, they would not be covered that they got out. I then grabbed a cab for them and was then cursed out by both the illegal driver and the doorman for ruining a fare for the driver and a kickback for the doorman.

Bottom line, I pay 6 grand a year in insurance to operate legally in this town and I'm sick of these scumbags.

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But if they provide a better service, we'll give them our business.

Cab drivers could also rise up and help to put a better system in place both for themselves and their customers, but they refuse to. They'd rather complain about small changes, and others moving in on their monopoly.

When 80%+ of cab ride in this city are unsatisfactory. When it costs $15 just for a tourist to step into a cab at Logan. When you can't get a cab between the hours of 7pm and 7am. When cab drivers give you the run around because they want cash in the 21st century...

There's something horribly wrong with the system.

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Apparently this "we" changes our minds once we hear we might not be covered by their insurance.

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* the "my credit card reader isn't working* problem
* the "I don't go to that city" problem
* the "roundabout route" problem
* the filthy and broken problem
* the "smells like a hookah bar" problem
* the "can't drive safely or distinguish a bike lane from a special cab lane" problem

... etc.

I hire liveries or other-city cabs to pick me up at the airport by pre-arrangement. One or two text messages and whoosh, on my way, no hassles, no adding extra charges that don't exist to the meter for tunnels and bridges not used, etc. No extortionist demands for cash when I've just returned to the US and can't get reimbursed for not using the card, etc.

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but I have experienced all those problems here in the last few years.

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