In August of 2015, Cambridge taxi drivers took to the streets to protest the ever-increasing presence of Uber and Lyft. The demonstration was organized as a catalyst to encourage public discussion and to encourage the city to level the playing field between Cambridge taxi drivers and every ride-hailing company or TNC’s that transport passengers in the City of Cambridge, including, but not limited to, Uber and Lyft.
At that time, the Cambridge Taxi School Board unanimously agreed to publically address some of the issues around the protest and to fight for the survival of the school, which is truly valued, yet currently endangered.
For more than 20 years, Cambridge has held the unique position of having the only taxi school in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts that is organized and overseen by major stakeholders of the industry. Board members are medallion owners and taxi drivers, as well as representatives from business associations, hotels, the License Commission, the Police Department, the Traffic, Parking and Transportation Department, radio dispatch services and the Council on Aging.
The genesis of the school began with a taxi driver, Arthur J. Santoro. Mr. Santoro, along with other leaders, established the school with the goal to professionally train drivers to ensure the best possible service and the safest possible experience for the general public. The curriculum of the school is taught by industry practitioners, city employees and Cambridge police officers. Training sessions include: an industry overview, the day in the life of a driver, geography and navigation, serving the elderly and disabled, customer service and professionalism, diversity, taxicab communications, rules and regulations, driver safety and defensive driving.
Over the years, the school’s curriculum was expanded to include a significant vetting process that incorporates criminal background checks, English proficiency, the City of Cambridge Senior Discount Coupon Program (which serves the City’s senior and disabled residents) and competence in navigating the back streets: an absolute necessity when unexpected road closures or traffic situations arise. Cambridge is unique in so many ways and we are proud of it. Attending Taxi School is a just another progressive, thoughtful and vigilant part of our process. No hackney driver is licensed in the City of Cambridge without attending our taxi school and passing a written test. Over the years, thousands of Cambridge taxi drivers have been professionally trained and properly vetted to safeguard the public. Our training and background checking gives us confidence that the quality of our drivers and the service they provide is exceptional.
We believe that every driver picking up passengers within our city limits should be held to the same high standards that we, at the school teach, promote and have held Cambridge taxi drivers to for over 20 years. Most significantly and unlike Uber and Lyft, or other TNC’s, our drivers go through extensive criminal background checks. This disparity may change soon, as, according to a recent Boston Globe article, “The Massachusetts Chiefs of Police Association has added its clout to the call for mandatory fingerprinting of drivers hired by ride-hailing companies such as Uber and Lyft.” The Cambridge Taxi School, as well as the taxi industry in Cambridge is in jeopardy. There have only been a few sessions since last fall due to lack of students. Drivers have said they no longer earn enough money to raise a family. The number of medallion holders declaring bankruptcy has increased. These developments have a profound impact on public safety, industry professionalism and competition.
It is important for the taxi industry to admit its shortcomings. Many drivers were slow to accept credit cards, and in developing a city-wide taxi app. Both issues have been addressed, and the folly of not embracing change quickly enough has been acknowledged. In fact, some in the industry have indicated that this reluctance to accept change helped spur the current situation.
The taxi industry provides a critical public service that serves all people, without exception. Cambridge residents, particularly those who are elderly and disabled, as well as all our visitors, deserve safe, clean, affordable and fully accessible transportation by drivers who have been properly trained and vetted. We at the school expect no less; the public deserves no less.
Secretary, Cambridge Taxi School