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EDITORS LETTER: A fare to remember

I'm sure all the taxi stereotypes are true. I am convinced cab drivers, as the first and last impression of any city, can play a major role in serving as ambassadors to visitors. In these tough times, we should take advantage of every opportunity for free publicity.

When I think of an English cabby, I fondly recall riding in the traditional black car with the fold-down seat facing backward. It always made me feel special to travel in the classic British symbol and enjoy the banter and hospitality for which cabbies are known. Safety and courtesy are the two primary words that come to mind when someone says cabby.

In New York today, there are 12,187 taxis and some 40,000 drivers. Evolving since 1890, New York taxis are the focus of sitcoms, ad campaigns, news reports and countless anecdotes. They take more than 200 million passengers almost 800 million miles a year. They make more than $1 billion in revenue and drive passengerless for almost a million miles a night. They almost always get you where you need to go, albeit in my experience, at breakneck speed, leaving one with a racing heart, shaky hands and knocking knees.

As for the taxis in Mexico, well … Being driven from one spot to another, generally involves heavy sweating from the lack of AC, and white knuckles from a death-grip to prevent being thrown out. A warning from the State Department says Mexico's public transportation vehicles, specifically taxis, frequently do not obey the posted speed limits and do not stop at traffic lights. Yikes!

Getting a cab in Thailand is a unique and dangerous adventure. Three-wheeled open-air vehicles (Tuk-Tuks) are best for shorter trips, during off-peak hours, when the pollution is not so bad. I was advised to settle the fare before proceeding and to avoid riding in a Tuk Tuk in wet weather as it is very perilous. The journey is hair-raising. If you're ever there learn these words “bpai cha cha” (go slow).

When I heard about the “Cabby Awards,” I was intrigued and impressed. It was billed, “a night of Hollywood glamour rolls out the red carpet and shines the spotlight on super star Las Vegas cab drivers.” Nominated for their invaluable service, 800 attendees were treated in true Oscar style at The Boulevard Mall (owned and managed by General Growth Properties). The evening's highlights included professional massages, courtesy of JCPenney Spa; special presentations by the Chamber of Commerce to those cab drivers who went over and above the call of duty when helping people in the community; a raffle of approximately $20,000 worth of prizes from The Boulevard merchants and a catered dinner.

Interestingly, compiled numbers showed the positive effects of the celebration. Thirteen days prior to the party, the mall counted 5,942 cab visits. For 13 days after the party, 7,094 cabs visited the mall. An increase of 19%!

Should we and our international counterparts take a hint? If we were more supportive of our cabbies and coached them, would they take more pride in what they do and do it better? Perhaps so. This in turn would help draw return tourists and visitors to spend their dollars with us (not to mention lower residents' stress levels) and spread the good word about their city.

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