On Matters Relative to News and the Media Environment

Race Relations vs Murder

With regards to Mayor Giuliani's "crackdown on cabbies" for perceived racial bias, I am truly astonished at how this incident has exploded totally out of proportion. It has become a media driven circus, taking on a life of its own.

It is absolutely mind boggling that virtually every wire service and major nespaper in the U.S. has jumped on this bandwagon, while totally ignoring the real issue - taxi driver safety.

At the same time all this is going on, a taxi driver was murdered in Savannah, GA, another murdered in Washington, DC, and yet another in Los Abegas. Yet none rated more than single minor brief news items buried deep in only the "local" section of their respective newspapers.

At least 35 taxi drivers are known to have been murdered in the U.S.A. in the past 12 months. Not a single media service nor journalist has picked up on this shocking national disgrace. But a blizzard of stories throughout the whole of the media world pick up on this perceived racial bias.

This incident has a whole lot more to do with safety of drivers in the world's most dangerous occupation. This political knee-jerk reaction to media driven pressure can only result in an increase in this murder rate. The bad guys will love this initiative. Then watch the supply and quality of drivers drop like a stone.

I do not disagree that the perceived racial bias issue is important. But compared to an infinitely more important issue - the murder of 35 taxi drivers? Come on folks, let's get rational.......

From an InterNet discussion 11 November 1999

Bad News and Terrible Taxi Stories

Throughout TAXI-L's life, there have been several appeals to "please stop posting bad news". I totally agree that the relentless bad news and terrible taxi stories are depressing. However, I will continue to post all news, both good and bad, in the sincere belief that more good than bad will come of it.

There are many within both the industry and the regulators who would prefer to not ever see bad news. From my own experience, I'm very much aware that a firestorm of bad news is a clear indicator that something needs to be done to correct an unsatisfactory situation. If there is no bad news, then there is no problem...... right?, and nothing needs to be done, OK?

Unfortunately, willfully ignoring the bad news is really quite irresponsible. The bad news is a clear message that something really is wrong with this industry, and it needs to be fixed. Sooner rather than later.

There is no question that very much that ails the industry today had its origin with both regulatory and industry inattention back in antiquity. Industry leaders over time have done nothing more profound than respond to regulatory initiatives in whatever manner makes some economic sense at a moment of time.

All leaders of all industries do this. The tug o'war between an industry and its companion regulations is relentless. Nothing new here. The taxi industry is just another industry that responded to regulatory initiatives.

However, history has revealed that in many cases, people in the industry tend to be in it for the long term, while regulators tend to be career civil servants passing through the job for a brief period in their civil service careers. Industry leaders are all too often called upon to 'educate' the new regulator, and at just about the time reasonable effectiveness begins to emerge, career opportunities start the cycle all over again.

So, as industry leaders took advantage of provisions, oversights, loopholes, etc., of regulatory initiatives, this industry has evolved in ways that our ancestors likely never foresaw. Early on, leasing and the independent contractor environment did not appear to be all that bad. Both sides saw advantages, and the regulators correspondingly saw no reason to intrude.

Similarly, regulatory licence quotas set in antiquity without regard to fundamental laws of simple economics seemed reasonable at the time. Unfortunately, when governments make something scarce, without simultaneously forbidding companion economic trade, it is absolutely inevitable that the intangible permission to operate a taxicab for hire would one day acquire an informal value out there on the street, to the point that one day speculation in licence values will overwhelm the fundamental purpose of the licence - personalized transportation.

As a consequence of this evolutionary process, we very often find an industry in turmoil, riddled with bad news and terrible taxi stories. Today's industry environment, emerging out of inattention on both sides, is itself frequent bad news. This is painfully evident, and can no longer be ignored.

News reports, regardless of whether they are bad news or good news, cannot and must not ever be ignored. This is tantamount to burying one's head in the sand.

The critical issue of driver safety is a stunning important case in point. Everybody agrees that driving a taxicab has become the world's most dangerous occupation. The predictable call for action emerges with every tragedy. The pressure is intense.

Regulatory authorities have a duty and a responsibility to require the industry to provide a safe workplace for every driver. They also have a duty and a responsibility to ask, "But just how bad is it?". They absolutely cannot take regulatory action on the basis of anecdotal evidence. It is imperative that hard data be developed.

That hard data is hard to come by and is expensive. The leasing/IC environment has made a serious contribution to this difficult situation. IC's frequently do not participate in such employee benefits as health insurance, death benefits, employment insurance, etc. But these traditional employee benefits are the typical sources of official occupational safety data.

The mayhem inflicted on taxi drivers all too often therefore, does not show up in official databases. But it does show up in newspapers stories. This source is often all there is, terribly imperfect and rarely completely accurate, and only a thin slice of what's really going on. But when that's all there is, then seize it, document it, catalog it, and make it available to the world.

My apologies if the stream of deadly bad news and terrible taxi stories bothers some people. However, it cannot and must not be ignored. This is perhaps the most important catalyst we have to provoke and nourish corrective action. Consider the trend and the alternative.

From an InterNet discussion 28 October 1998

News Gathering

In a recent TAXI-L discussion relative to the posting of news items about the taxicab industry for the benefit of all, a few opposing viewpoints emerged of interest:

It would appear from comments expressed by many that these daily collections of news items are useful and appreciated. Certainly valuable for anyone doing research where news items form a significant portion of a bibliography.


Posting copyrighted material to a List or a Web Site is not only against the law, it's just plain wrong.


While I like to continue to be informed, I do get tired of reading the same articles over and over. How many times must we hear of the cab driver who gets robbed, how some city somewhere is shut down as taxis strike, usually in response to some pending regulation, or how courts slap the wrists of a taxi driver robber or killer. Always the same stories again and again.


I don't seem to recall these outcries of self-righteousness when Terry was doing the posting for the past 2 1/2years.

This exchange brings to mind a TV interview I saw about 1990. Admiral Grace Hopper was being interviewed. She is affectionately known as the mother of computing. She was the author of the first significant computer programming language - COBOL, and the author of the first compiler for it. Her CV reads like an encyclopedia; her accomplishments were awesome.

Within that interview, she was asked, "With your aggressive personality, how is it that you have managed to achieve so much in your lifetime?" Her magnificent reply, often publically stated and quoted, "Really now, I don't have an aggressive personality, I just find it infinitely easier to apologize than to ask permission." I have never forgotten that wonderful bit of homespun philosophy.

There are times when an objective is honorable, defendable, and clearly beneficial, but impeded by custom, convention, and possibly even some inappropriate application of law aimed at something entirely different. Such is the case about posting news items about the taxi industry. Other than TAXI-L. there simply is no appropriate mechanism to gather and disseminate news about this industry to those who need it most. Without it we are isolated, always uncertain about the magnitude of our problems at the local level.

Perhaps those opposed to seeing such news items are motived by a desire simply to not ever see bad news about our industry. "If there's no bad news, then everything's OK........ right?"

Well, nothing could be further than the truth. The taxicab industry is beset by more than its share of serious problems and companion bad press throughout the world. For whatever reason, the activities of taxi drivers, whether horrific against them, or outrageous by them, seem able to garner media attention unlike any other industry. The array of "Terrible Taxi Stories" is unrelenting. That in itself is of awesome significance.

The taxi industry is passing through a most regretable stage in its life cycle where its image and status is at an all time low. The truth can no longer be buried by those who simply don't want to hear about bad news. Amazing Grace had it all right. The truth will emerge, and will do so with or without permission.

From an InterNet discussion June 1998

Winnipeg Luxury Cab Applications

In two news items, one from Friday's Winnipeg Free Press, and the other from couple weeks ago, it was reported that the Manitoba Taxicab Board was reviewing applications for a total of 21 new 'luxury' taxicab licences. This is in addition to the 9 'luxury' taxicabs currently on the road here in Winnipeg.

From the news reports, it appears that the arguments in opposition are focusing on the presumption that the customer base is fixed and that an additional 21 cabs on the road will only subdivide this into ever thinner slices. It is interesting to note that neither report reviewed the impact of marketing on enlarging the customer base, and the impact of contractual work off the meter.

Blueline Taxi, the dominant applicant, and holder of the current 9 licences, originally applied for 40 licences as offered by the Board - 32 luxury and 8 accessible. In their application, Blueline promised a certain level of service based on those 32 luxury licences. Those included a commitment not to seek street hails on the assumption that all 32 vehicles would be consumed by contractual work.

Blueline was not the only applicant, and when it finally came down to judgement time, the Board was unable to decide between two applicants and sprung a surprise by splitting the award equally between the two companies. Shortly thereafter, one of the applicants withdrew, leaving Blueline with its award of 16 luxury and 4 accessible licences.

Almost immediately following the withdrawl of one applicant, the Board was disolved by a number of resignations, and the industry functioned without a Board for several months. During this time, Blueline was stymied in its ability to proceed with vehicle acquisitions and was unable to seek Board approvals because there was no Board.

When a new Board finally did emerge, one of its initial actions was to hear the Blueline submission that would clear the way for vehicle acquisition. That decision was made, but it came with a time limit within which Blueline had to acquire all their 16 vehicles, else forfeit their unsatisfied awarded licences. The time limit was such that only 9 luxury vehicles could be acquired in time, leaving them short by 23 from their original expectation of 32 on which their promises of service excellence were based.

Throughout this time, it was no secret that with only 9 luxury taxicabs on the road, Blueline did not have enough to satisfy contractual work, so very few contracts were ever written. As a consequence, basic survival had Blueline letting their drivers compete out there on the street with standard taxicabs. This was contrary to their original promise not to seek street hails which was made on the presumption of 32 licences as originally offered.

During the hearings for the current application for additional luxury licences, legal counsel for the opposition argued that luxury taxicabs were forbidden to seek street hails. However, there is no regulation specifically denying luxury taxicabs the right to seek street hails. That argument was based on Blueline's original promise on the expectation of 32 licences, largely consumed by contractual work emerging out of aggressive marketing, and no need for seeking street hails.

When the old Board decided the split the award between two applicants, and then the new Board imposed a severe time restraint on vehicle acquisition, it effectively changed the rules from its original offering. Consequently, Blueline should not have been held to its original promise.

Both news items have missed entirely the critical issue, appearing to support the opposition position that the customer base is a fixed entity that cannot ever be enlarged. Of course it can be enlarged by nothing more profound that sound marketing and service excellence. When it becomes fashionable to take a taxi, everybody benefits.

It was quite disappointing that once again, the news media failed to accurately report a complete story, instead only a one-sided view prejudicial to balanced public opinion.

From an InterNet discussion 28 June 1997

Oxenburg Book

Now that a number of us have received copies of Christina Oxenburg's book - TAXI -, through Alan Fisher's kind and thoughtful gesture, I'm wondering what general reaction to it is. I've noted that Wim Faber and Dan Setzer book expressed positive comments and I tend to agree. My initial reaction is that indeed it is quite humorous, loaded with funny anecdotes.

However, I'm beginning to wonder if old age is really setting in as I read the book with a smile on my face, but simultaneously concerned that general public may also buy and read copies and get the wrong impression. As taxi folk read it, they will indeed see great humor. However I'm afraid that general public, in reading it, will see additional anecdotal evidence supporting a rather firmly established perception of a stereotypical taxi driver, albeit the much touted "New York Cabby" It was published in 1986 and I'm wondering if the situations she describe therein are still typical.:

These are but a few of the observations she expresses in her book. I cheated a little and skimmed back in the famous persons anecdotal section and did find some truly humorous incidents.

I'm reminded of another book I acquired some years ago - "Taxi From Hell", by Vladimir Lobas, published in 1991. It too was a humorous look at the New York Cabby by a Russion emigre who became a Big Apple Hack. It too is loaded with very funny incidents, not unlike Oxenberg's book.

Trouble is, these books should only be read by taxi folk, for only they see the real humour related therein. I get real concerned that such literary efforts in the hands of general public may only perpetuate the stereotype taxi driver that so often emerges in TV satire, cartoons, newspaper stories, movies, Letterman show, etc. The really good side of this unique industry rarely emerges to public view.

From an InterNet discussion 1 March 1997

Media Biases

A major reason for unfavourable public perception of this unique industry emerges from biased media attention.

I do not believe any industry receives anywhere near the public media exposure as does the taxicab industry, most of it with negative "spin" against the industry. As a consequence, media representatives have become unwelcome and the staff "gun-shy" of any media contact under any circumstances.

The media, by their aggressive affection for the this industry, makes a contribution to negative public perception. A review of news items throughout the continent frequently reveals a furious array of "news" items focusing on safety immediately following a tragedy somewhere.

It may have a relationship to the wall of silence that emerges from the taxi industry immediately following a tragedy. There is a very real fear, based in part on historical precedence, that publicity of a tragedy will provoke "copy cats" to repeat the tragedy on some other taxi driver. Certainly in other high crime cities like New York and Washington, there are ample indicators to support this industry perception.

Encountering that wall of silence, the media turn aggressively to other sources of information, sometimes entering into a "badger and bait" technique to provoke quotable quotes from whomever, that all too often are inappropriate.

It appears anyone need only express an accusatory statement to the media, and it gets published or aired with the glowing mantle of truth. The media appears to consistently fail to check the veracity of such public statements, or the authority of the authors to make such statements.

However, once published, the damage is done and there is little that can be done to control the damage. There is no "watchdog" agency controlling and regulating the journalistic professionalism. As a consequence, many media reps tend to feel they are bullet proof and free to say and publish whatever it takes to sell newspapers or air time without regard to the public good, convenience and necessity.

No matter how much background material, or how extensive the interview, the resulting news story bears little resemblance to the truth, is counter productive, and perpetutates unfavourable and untrue negative pubic perceptions. City editors seem unable or unwilling to allow their reporters to take the needed time for proper research. Over the years, in my experience, media reps are persona non grata. They have forgotten that their job is to report the news, not manufacture the news.

Unfortunately, this abuse of editorial licence is often extended through to some industry representatives publishing local newsletters claiming they represent the views, feelings and voice of the majority. Unfortunately, such newsletters often contain many statements furiously "flaming" regulatory officials and staff, bordering perilously on libel, carrying the image of provocational confrontation and intimidation, and appear to serve no other purpose than to discredit and defame the regulatory authority. It is no wonder that relations between industry folk and regulatory staff are all too often tense and unproductive.

My apologies for jumping in on this sensitive issue, but after 8+ years of this kind of unrelenting negative media exposure and relationships, I have come to appreciate that this industry has a very serious problem with its public image, in large part because of aggressive unprofessional media behaviour.

From an InterNet discussion 18 August 1996

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