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City going too far? Taxi drivers say no video cameras in their cabs, please

Driving a taxi cab may not be your dream job, but for some it is a way for them to be their own boss and live the American Dream.

Like most business, the taxi industry is regulated. Here in South Bend an ordinance sets the rules by which taxi cab services must adhere in order to be licensed to operate legally within city boundaries.

Monday night, changes to that ordinance will go before the city’s common council.

The changes include several new requirements such as:

- Posting fare rates in both exterior and interior locations

- Offering a receipt after payment

- Making all cabs belonging to a company the same color

- Posting a placard with driver number and a phone number for comments

- All vehicles must install a recording device by 2013

Many drivers are not happy with some of these requirements calling them unnecessary. The two issues all of the drivers we spoke with were against are the recording devices and the new paint jobs. They say both are a waste of money.

City officials say the cameras would protect both driver and passengers, but drivers say that is not realistic. “Somebody pulls a gun on you, that camera isn’t going to take that gun away from that person,” said Frank Garza, a cabbie with more than 30 years experience on the streets of South Bend.

Other drivers see the cameras as a large financial hurdle. “That’s a big expense to ask these owner operators to put out,” said Christine Huff, manager of United Cab.

With 47 of the city’s 118 cabs owned by their drivers as a small business, the prospect of having to shell out cash for a recording device and new paint job is daunting.

Some drivers want to know who will be responsible for storing the recorded footage, how long will it be kept, who will have access to it, and who will pay for the endeavor?

Many of these changes can be found in larger cities like Chicago, Indianapolis and Detroit. But drivers here say, South Bend is nowhere near being as large of a city, and revenues aren’t as lucrative here as they are there.

During the summer months taxi drivers scrape by mostly on fares from the airport, and even then some would argue they aren’t even worth it.

Sunday, drivers sat for several hours in line waiting for a turn to pick up a fare from the airport. When one arrived, often it would be a quick run downtown to a hotel or to Notre Dame, netting them around $15.

When they return to the airport they are at the back of the line with another two or three hour wait before the next fare.

Now that classes are back in session, business will pick up; especially during football season. Notre Dame home games are a major money making day for cab drivers, due to special rates they are allowed to charge.

Several drivers we spoke with Sunday are already posting those rates inside their cabs; one of the proposed requirements. Drivers say they don’t mind posting rates inside as well as on the exterior of their cabs.

While they admit there are a few unscrupulous drivers who charge too much, most riders who are irate over a fare they think is unfair are already inebriated.

The drunken antics that occur in the back seats of cabs are another reason many cabbies don’t want cameras in their vehicles. They say, what happens back there is none of their business, and that no reasonable upstanding citizen would want to see video of most of what goes on back there.

With local colleges providing up to an estimated 80 percent of their business, cab drivers rely on repeat business. Many of them befriend their college-aged riders and give them business cards so they can call them whenever they need a ride.

They say this kind of networking is a self-disciplining way to keep drivers in check. A driver who rips his fares off won’t get called back, and worse gives the whole company a bad name. That driver will quickly be weeded out, say drivers.

As for some of the less controversial (for drivers at least) requirements, a ban on smoking is being welcomed by drivers, if begrudgingly.

While many of the drivers themselves are smokers, and more than one told us they felt they had the right to smoke if they want in a vehicle they own, they plan to obey the new regulation if it passes.

Many cab companies already prohibit smoking inside their cabs, but the enforcement has been lax, especially in cabs where the driver smokes. Those drivers say, if this part of the ordinance passes it gives them a reason to quit.

Monday afternoon, the Personnel and Finance Committee will discuss the matter at 3:55 p.m., the public is welcome to voice their opinion then, or during the public meeting of the Common Council at 7:00 p.m. before the full council votes.

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