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Dallas Policy May Drive Some Taxis Off The Road

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Dallas Policy May Drive Some Taxis Off The Road

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Dallas Policy May Drive Some Taxis Off The Road

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MICHELE NORRIS, host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Michele Norris.

ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

And I'm Robert Siegel.

Some cab drivers in Dallas are in revolt, just in time for the Super Bowl. Their gripe? A new policy that allows cabs that run on natural gas, to go to the front of the line at Dallas Love Field, the airport that's run by the city.

NPR's Wade Goodwyn has the story.

(Soundbite of protest)

Unidentified Man: We're gonna start our protest.

WADE GOODWYN: It's 10 a.m. and sunny as about 200 taxi drivers gather in front of Dallas City Hall. All are black, most are immigrants from Africa. Every one of them drives a gasoline taxi cab.

(Soundbite of protest)

Unidentified Man: We are going to continue to protest until these policies are changed.

CROWD: Yeah.

Unidentified Man: We will no longer be ignored.

GOODWYN: These taxi drivers own their own cabs and make up between 10 and 20 percent of the region's estimated 3,000 drivers. The�Dallas chapter of the NAACP�is trying to help them. Chapter president Juanita Wallace is the lone woman in this sea of faces.

Ms. JUANITA WALLACE (Dallas Chapter President, NAACP): We've been working with the independent cab drivers ever since April. And we're just being jerked around the city mayor, Tom Leppert, and the city council people. We met with those city council people and they've lied to us time after time.

(Soundbite of airplane)

GOODWYN: The object of their discontent can be found at Dallas Love Field, the city-owned airport. Hour after hour, the regular gas cabbies watch the natural gas taxis pull in front of them while they sit.

Mr. KEVIN CANTRELL (Cab Driver): They're pushing all these drivers out of Love Field onto the stands and out into the streets, to where it's cutting my pay in half or less.

GOODWYN: Kevin Cantrell has been driving a cab for 20 years.

Mr. CANTRELL: At least make it fair, not just have 80 cars and say, OK, there's 80 special drivers, you all get to go first all the time.

Mr. STEVE YOUNG (Cab Driver): We have first load priority over the regular gas drivers.

GOODWYN: Steve Young drives a natural gas cab for Cowboy Cab. The cab companies charge drivers more to lease their CNG cabs, but those drivers can make that up and more because of the new policy at Love Field. It's created two classes of cab drivers. Now, the regular gas drivers resent the CNG cab drivers, and the CNG drivers, like Steve Young, don't care.

Mr. YOUNG: I feel that some of them are just set in their ways and stubborn about it and don't like change.

GOODWYN: The gasoline taxi drivers have been staging job actions trying to use the Super Bowl as a bit of leverage. They've created a couple of rolling blockades on the freeways and blocked cab traffic at Love Field.

Adrianne Cuington is the transportation manager at Love Field. He flags the cabs and helps passengers load. He says it got a little ugly.

Mr. ADRIANNE CUINGTON (Transportation Manager, Love Field Airport): I had to go back there to help my dispatcher. She's an elderly lady that works in the back, Miss Angie. And when I get back there then, we got cab drivers shouting everywhere. Then they see the news camera come up, then they want to come to yell in my face. One of them sucker-punched me. But I just acted on impulse - I hit him back.

GOODWYN: Eight drivers were eventually arrested.

The city of Dallas, by and large, seems indifferent to gasoline taxi drivers' complaints about its new policy. Mayor Tom Leppert likes the market-driven ideology.

Mayor TOM LEPPERT (Dallas, Texas): It is an incentive that does not cost the taxpayers anything. It is not a subsidy. We clearly have tried to stay away from subsidies and those sorts of things, that pull money out of the taxpayers. It does encourage the use of natural gas, but as is probably becoming more evident, it is one that makes a lot of economic sense.

GOODWYN: Dallas, like most large cities, is out of compliance with the�Clean Air Act, and Leppert says the new policy will help. The independent drivers say this new policy is not about air quality at all. They say this is really about driving independent black cab owners out of business so white businessmen can step into a nice, clean, new CNG cab when they get off their plane. Leppert says cab quality is a consideration for the city, but that's not the purpose of the policy.

Mr. LEPPERT: You get into a cab and especially if you get in reasonably nicely dressed, you don't want to get in that cab. Not clean, old, used, all of those sorts of things.

GOODWYN: Officials at DFW Airport have tried to follow Dallas' lead and allow CNG cabs to go to the front of their line but a federal judge has stopped it at DFW for the time being. Gasoline cab drivers say they'll do what they can to disrupt the Super Bowl if the city won't change its policy. But city officials say they're not worried. They don't believe there are enough independent drivers to have an impact.

Wade Goodwyn, NPR News, Dallas.

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