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My letter to the Minneapolis Airport Commission

Reader comment on item: More on Those Alcohol-shy Taxi Drivers

Submitted by Melisa (United States), Oct 10, 2006 at 17:28

Mr. Patrick Hogan

Minneapolis Airport Commission

Dear Mr. Hogan,

I am not sure I understand how the belief system of a cab driver can dictate what passenger could be carried, provided the passenger's behavior is not an issue. In a private market, a cab driver could refuse any fare he likes ("No shirt, no shoes, no service"). But with a public service, there can be no refusal without reprisal.

Let's say, for example, that the busiest day of the year, maybe Saint Patrick's Day, required all hands on deck. Each cabby is asked by his company to work, and the day falls on a Friday. One cabby, who is observant and Jewish, asks his employer to be excused from working Friday night, as it is the Sabbath. The employer exempts him. His "spot" on the taxi line is taken by other, willing workers. A second cabby, who is observant and Jewish, is not excused by his boss. His boss explains that Friday nights are big business for the company, he was hired to work according to business need, he can't afford to have people taking Friday nights off. He tells the cabby he must work or face termination. The cabby goes to work and puts his cab in line. He then tells potential passengers that he will not carry them as he is Jewish, and observant, and it's against his religion to carry a passenger, in fact, he's risking his eternal life just driving to work that day. The passenger is rebuffed and must go to the next cab in line. The refusal earns the observant Jew a spot at the end of the line.

The important thing to notice are the multiple perspectives that involve SERVICE versus LEGALITY:

1. From the passenger's perspective, the first cabby wasn't a problem because he wasn't there to refuse service. Maybe there were a lot of observant Jews who were excused from work that night, and as a result there was a shorter line and longer wait to get a cab. This is a SERVICE issue that MAC and the privately-owned but publically-regulated cab companies work out on a "staffing" basis. (How many cabs do we need to make the holiday, convention, etc. work?)

2. From the passenger's perspective, the second cabby was a SERVICE issue (Why is this guy even here if he doesn't want to carry patrons? Sheesh! I'm never coming back to this town...what a hassle!)

You are hoping, with your two-color light bar, solve the SERVICE issues listed above. Here is the problem all of America should recognize:

3. From the first cabby's employer's perspective, he has a business that can support a flexible employee policy. He has decided to make accommodations for his employees' spiritual and family needs where possible, and will probably be nominated for 2006's list of Best Places in Minnesota to Work. He finds a monetary return in the retention of quality employees by helping them, where possible, to observe religious holidays. This is a MARKET decision.

4. From the second cabby's employer's perspective, his business is running so tight, he cannot afford (and still remain competitive) to allow people to just willy-nilly ask for scheduling accommodations for a religious holiday. He has cabbies who work on Christmas, Yom Kippur and on the Eids and cannot make distinctions. He tells his staff when he hires them of his requirements. They accept the job, or they go work for the employer listed in example number three, or they become bakers. The employees that accede, and go to work, but refuse passengers cause the second employer a MARKET problem. The service issue reflects poorly on his company and he must decide whether to discipline the employee, terminate him or change his policy. This is a MARKET decision.

From the employers' perspectives, there is a cause and effect to these business decisions that are entirely in their purview as private businesses. Now, let's look at the problem that your two-color light bar solution ignores:

5. From the tax-paying community's perspective, MAC is a governmental regulatory operation, funded by the taxpayer in order to (among other things, obviously) create a public utility (airport taxi service) from the disparate private taxi companies choosing to do business in Minneapolis and the surrounding area. By trying to solve the "problem", MAC has chosen to treat only the SERVICE issue with illegal and unconstitutional means and is ignoring the obvious and MARKET solutions. The regulatory agency may not make a policy that separates the market into religious and non-religions considerations. There are no laws being broken here (to wit, passengers carrying unopened bottles), so a taxpayer-funded agency may not impose on the private employer the burden of running TWO separate schedules (Do I have enough white and blue light cars on staff tonight to remain competitive?). What will alcohol-toting passengers do if the only cabs in the line are blue light? No cab for them today? Now, the private employer is forced to examine religious considerations when hiring, which is currently illegal (Will you drive a passenger carrying alcohol? Do I want to hire Muslims if it means I can't be competitive any more?). This is a LEGAL issue.

Additionally, drivers are now pigeon-holed and self-identified as Muslims, rather than cabbies. Do you think the selection of alcohol or a seeing-eye dog as an objectionable fare consideration is accidental? What if had been women with bare arms, or unmarried couples, or uncovered hair, or Jews? The refusal to transport alcohol and seeing-eye dogs is wedge activism. You are setting a precedent by which any court in the land will easily overturn this agency's decision to use religious considerations to create separate-but-equal parallel institutions. Does the phrase "cultural sensitivity" and "Islamophobia" ring any bells? These are the buzzwords that are used to frighten organizations in to kowtowing to sharia-aimed activitism.

What you have, really, is a problem with your contracted taxi services. If you tell them that the public agency will bend to accommodate religious preference, the organization is both burdened and relieved (in different ways). Their employees were hired under one set of rules, and are now using their numbers to ask for a different policy. The drivers are well within their rights to request a different policy. They can create an action committee, they can organize, they can try to get the legislature to pass a bill prohibiting the transport of alcohol in cabs because....because....because...I don't know why, but that's the process. Blackmailing an agency directly and using service levels as leverage is not how this kind of policy is made. Check with the no-smoking-in-Minneapolis-and-Bloomington folks to find out how hard they worked to create a burdensome policy based on health-related issues, let alone a religious consideration. This is our system, folks.

A fare refusal (except for those that are behavior or perceived risk to life -related) should result in a spot at the end of the line. You state that your agency is not in the business of interpreting sharia law or religious texts. However, there is no basis for your decision to create separate-but-equal cab queues (even though there would appear to be one line, there are really two) other than religious considerations. This is unacceptable. Your two-color light solution is not a solution; it is an appeasement.

I'm hoping you have had a staff lawyer or two busily extrapolating the results of this proposed policy and realizing that there is nothing that your agency has in its charter that would protect you or the public from the following scenarios:

  • Refusal of fares based on race, unaccompanied women, perceived homosexuals, people with ham or bacon in their grocery bags, lap dogs, seeing-eye and other assistance dogs, women with bare heads or uncovered arms, passengers leaving a bar
  • Refusal of passengers to patronize these self-selecting fare-snobs: Non-Muslims refusing the next cab in line as a protest of the no-alcohol policy, Jews or Christians refusing to travel in Somali-driven cabs
  • Denial of a new cab company's participation because the owner is unwilling to separate his drivers into alcohol and non-alcohol drivers
  • A lawsuit where a company with a high Muslim-driver percentage sues the agency because more fares and business go to a company that doesn't advertise a no-alcohol drivers. "Unfair!" They'll cry.
  • How does this work on 6th street in Minneapolis? No taxi director there, create signage informing those newly arrived to our fair state that they have to beware or face humiliation if carrying alcohol and not knowing the rules? Why stop at Minneapolis?
  • Will Metro Transit allow their bus drivers, contracted through private companies, to refuse anyone for the above reasons? Is there a price tag limit to how much a taxpayer-funded agency would consider when deciding which religious consideration is more important to weigh?
  • Will a city or state toll-taker on a state highway refuse to offer passage on the public highways because a beer truck wants to travel on it? What about accepting money from objectionable travelers for whatever arbitrary reason...what will those drivers do? Back up? How?

The list and ramifications are unending. Your agency, in an effort to be politcally correct and solve a service problem that could be solved by telling the contracted cab companies they may not refuse a fare based on anything but behavior without it resulting in end-of-the line treatment, has moved into dhimmitude.

Wikipedia describes "dhimmitude" this way: "Today the term dhimmitude is often used to allude to the conduct of non-Muslims who submit to the terms of the dhimmi by ceding their own or their subject's individual rights such as free speech to placate Islamic pressure groups." - www.wikipedia.com

As a public agency, you do not have the right to bend to these market pressures. A desire to refuse short fares is not the issue. A desire to make all non-Muslims accommodate religious whim is. You have the responsibility of telling the contracted companies that they may handle their employees' religious preferences as an internal matter, and not responding to the religious issue as if it were a real consideration. It is not. This is not the profession for you if you can't handle the requirements of the job. The responsibility of resolving the service issue lies with the employer. Place the service issue back with them and stay out of the creeping creation of parallel communities. This should continue to be handled as you have handled it thus far: back-of-the-line, red-faced passengers, telling the cab companies that MAC is not in the religious observance business. Just because it's getting uncomfortable isn't a reason to capitulate.

Here's an idea: Get business cards from the cab companies to keep at the stand. When a passenger is refused, and the cab is sent to the back of the line, give the owner's card to the refused passenger and let him complain to the owners. The embarrassed and indignant passengers complain to MAC because it is the path of least resistance. Get enough complaints and any owner who wants to remain in business will curtail his drivers' behavior and his own hiring practices to match the customers' needs.

Place the action with the employer. You do not have the authority to make a two-color light decision, in my view.

Most respectfully,


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