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Fair play for cabs starts at hotel front doors

My View • Call them 'bribes' or 'tips,' but selling fares hurts city's tourism
by: L.E. BASKOW, Radio Cab driver Bob Wagner, outside the Benson Hotel on Southwest Broadway, is hoping hotel valets quit giving fares to the drivers who slip them $10 in a handshake.

Thank you, Peter Korn, for being the one media outlet willing to follow this ongoing story about graft, corruption and city neglect (Is it a bribe, or is it a tip?, March 25). As a cab driver, I am deeply concerned about the direction our industry has taken over the last 10 or 15 years.

Even if we put aside the ethical issues - and I don't believe we should - there are critical economic consequences to passively watching Portland's taxi industry devolve into the ugly caricature of itinerant cabbies ripping off tourists and hotel valets selling fares while preying upon desperate circumstances.

We can all agree that tourism is an essential component of our economy, and one that will become even more important in the future. As a cab driver I have talked to convention planners, and I can tell you that when they are deciding where to stage their next convention, often the decision comes down to a couple of people.

The deciding factor can be as simple as a perception. If that perception is one of poor city management of the taxi/town car system, they can easily cross us off the list and move on to the next city competing for their business - and there are many cities that compete.

The situation Mr. Korn describes in his story is neither inevitable nor without cause. The cause is market saturation brought about by poor city management, lax regulations and a lack of commitment to fund enforcement. The city's own study recommended that the market can support about 25 town cars, yet they have allowed 177 to roam the streets legally.

With inadequate enforcement, there are who knows how many more illegal town cars and taxis all angling for a piece of the market. This over-saturation has made it possible for the valets to demand their 'tips, or however you want to characterize it,' as Kathleen Butler recently stated at a Private For Hire Transportation Board of Review meeting.

I commend Mr. Jung and the Embassy Suites for his public statement about 'working with city officials to curtail the practice,' but I must withhold judgment until I see if he actually can follow through with his commitment to controlling the actions of his front door personnel. To his credit, I can tell you that so far it seems as if his hotel is one of the very few that has tried to do so.

A couple of days ago I was in my cab, parked on the taxi stand at the Governor Hotel. A Broadway cab went by me and pulled to the curb in front of the door. After a time the valet came over to me and asked if I could take some people to the Hotel Modera. I pulled up and waited, and shortly some guests came out, saw me and began to walk over, saying, 'Are you my cab to the airport?'

Before I could respond the doorman jumped between them and me and hustled them over the Broadway cab, who had arrived after I had been on the taxi stand for at least 10 minutes.

I saw a $10 bill exchange hands between that driver and the doorman, although they tried to make it look like a handshake and the doorman actually said, 'Nice to meet you,' to the Broadway driver as he palmed the bill.

Are any other hotel managers willing to make a commitment to fair play at their front doors? More importantly, are there any city leaders who are willing to step up and straighten out the mess they have allowed to fester?

Bob Wagner is a cab driverserving on the Radio Cab Co. board of directors, and was the driver representative on Portland's Private for Hire Transportation Board of Review.