It seems like not a day goes by without me hearing a complaint, curse-spiked rant or horror story about Philadelphia’s taxicabs. They overcharged me! He refused to take my credit card! The driver smelled bad! (And who can forget the street-pooping cab driver?)
It’s true, people. Philly cabs suck. But if you think there’s nothing you can do about bad Philly cab drivers, you’re downright wrong. You just have to embrace an organization that you’re used to loathing: the dreaded Philadelphia Parking Authority.
Yes, there’s a lot to hate about the PPA. Specifically, the fact that they ticket, boot and tow your car when you fail to obey the rules (and sometimes when you’ve done nothing wrong). And I’ve had more than my fair share of unpleasant run-ins with the PPA’s agents of death. (Another day, I’ll tell you about the time that I was escorted out of the PPA hearing office by an armed guard.)
But lately, I’m singing the praises of the brave men and women of the PPA’s Taxi and Limousine Division, which oversees the thousands of cabs on the streets of Philadelphia. The TLD is a separate department from the PPA’s Parking Enforcement goons, whom you can go ahead and keep hating.
The uniformed ex-cops and ex-probation officers who make up the TLD take their jobs very seriously. Recently, after receiving complaints about the cab drivers who take advantage of the drunk and stupid exiting South Philadelphia’s XFinity Live complex late at night, the TLD agents conducted a sting operation–yes, a real live sting operation!–that caught dozens of cab drivers breaking the rules.
The TLD agents also investigate individual complaints from dissatisfied passengers who call the complaint hotline at 215-683-9440 or who email their complaints to email@example.com. This is where I come in. I’ve complained twice to the TLD via email, and those drivers are no longer driving cabs in Philadelphia.
In the first instance, which goes back a couple of years, a cab driver made me get out of his car in the middle of the Ben Franklin Parkway (in the pouring rain, no less) when he found out that I was going to pay with a credit card. He was screaming and hollering and was incredibly rude. (In case you’re unaware, Philly cab drivers despise credit card payment, because they have to pay a service charge–like any business that accepts credit cards–and because they don’t get their money immediately.)
I sent a complaint to the TLD, and they were able to verify some of the basic details of my story using the GPS tracking they have for each cab. The TLD summoned the driver to headquarters, and, for whatever reason, he decided he didn’t want to fight the citation or pay the fine. Instead, he voluntarily gave up his Philadelphia cab license.
But the second driver put up a fight. Back in December, I took one of those newish red Freedom cabs from Center City to my home in the western fringes of Philadelphia. When the ride was over, I told the driver that I was paying with a credit card. He was furious. “Why didn’t you tell me that at the beginning of the trip?!” he barked at me.
We went back and forth, and he eventually demanded that I give him my card. I reluctantly handed him my credit card, which he swiped on a device attached to his smart phone. This made me nervous. But then he flipped the card over to get my three-digit security code, and he punched that into his phone. That made me really nervous.
Fearing for the integrity of my credit card information (I’ve received one too many Nigerian scam emails), I snapped this photo of the driver with my card:
I emailed the photo and my report to the TLD. The next day, I heard from an inspector, who later took my formal statement in person. It turned out that this wasn’t the driver’s first run-in with the TLD. “He’s one of the bad eggs,” one TLD employee told me.
Two continuances later, I testified at a hearing in April. The defendant’s attorney argued that the driver did nothing wrong, as defense attorneys are supposed to do. But the judge disagreed. He permanently revoked the driver’s Philadelphia cab license.
Harsh justice? Maybe. But Philly’s terrible cab drivers aren’t going to get better by themselves. So the next time you have a bad encounter with a Philly cabbie, don’t tell me about it. Email your problem to firstname.lastname@example.org. And let me know what happens.
[TOP PHOTO: Matt Rourke/AP]