There's been a bit of a storm raging here in the Minneapolis area over Muslim taxi drivers at the MSP International Airport who refuse to take passengers in their cab if the pax possesses alcohol. There have also been a few incidents apparently where pax with guide dogs being refused service. It really got visible with the public late last year, but it's been simmering under the radar for a while now and I suspect it's also a more widespread issue than just at the airport. I ran into it away from the airport six years ago.
This was February of 2001 and I had just had surgery the week before on my right hand. I couldn't drive my manual transmission car for about a week, so a coworker who lived in the area was giving me a ride to and from work. He dropped me off at the physical therapist late one afternoon and I figured I'd take a cab home. On the way home I decided to stop at the local liquor store, which was right on the way, and pick up some beer. The driver told me in no uncertain terms that he would carry no alcohol in his cab(because he was Muslim and it's forbidden) but he would drop me there and call me another cab if I wanted. I was flabbergasted. Then I was kind of pissed. WTF? Maybe I should have created a big stink right then and there, I don't know. My hand was hurting though(my freakin' PT was a sadist I think, seriously), and I just wanted to get my beer and walk home, about a mile. So I paid him, exact change, you should have seen the look he gave me as I counted out the coins, and that was that(the liquor store owner gave me a ride home when he heard...which was very nice of him, of course I did put his kid through college).
Anyway, they had a hearing yesterday on new regs for airport taxi drivers. Currently, if they refuse a fair for any reason other than safety, they go to the back of the line, generally a 3 hour wait. Under the proposed regs, they get would face a 30-day suspension for a first offense and a two year revocation of their airport license for a second offense. The Muslim cabbies feel that would be discriminating against their religious freedom.
Now I've been watching this issue pretty closely, partly because of what happened to me 6 years ago and also because the Twin Cities tends to be fairly far to the politically correct side. If anyone is going to roll-over for Muslim cab drivers, the Twin Cities are right up there.
My take on the issue is that if cities and airports are going to regulate and limit the number of licenses for taxi drivers, than taxis are a public transport system and can't discriminate against any legal and paying fare. I've been pleasantly surprised that most of my fellow citizens apparently feel the same way. Every person I've asked over the last two or three months has been against letting taxi drivers refuse fares based on their religion. The Strib article I linked to has a poll(might be subscriber only) and I know it's not scientific, but here's the response so far this morning:
I know that the staff at the Metropolitan Airports Commission are strongly in favor of the new regulations, that's why they drafted them. The MAC commissioners though, are appointed by the governor and the mayors of Minneapolis and St. Paul and I have no idea which way they will vote. I don't know what kind of influence the politicians continue to have or the level of real independence once a commissioner is appointed. My bet is that nobody wants to face the storm of criticism that will be felt but...the mayors at least are probably inclined to side with the cabbies, that being their PC nature. I haven't seen any public statements from either so I don't know. Could they hide from the public outcry by using the independence of the MAC as a shield, even if they influenced the decision? Pawlenty is a bit of a wimp, but he probably would side with the general public out of political calculation.
My guess is that the MAC will adopt the new rules and the cabbies will sue. This is going to be around for a while.