Tuesday, April 24, 2018
News Roundup

A Tampa taxi odyssey: Are our cabs really not up to snuff?

TAMPA — The taxi cabs here might not be the newest, swankiest ones on Earth. But are they really the "deplorable, embarrassing" pigsties that one critic alleges?

Hotel developer Lou Plasencia blasted the city's taxi industry during a recent meeting of the Hillsborough County Hotel Motel Association. Tampa cabs, which also go to St. Petersburg and Clearwater, give visitors a bad impression of the area, he complained.

To see for ourselves, a Tampa Bay Times reporter rode in seven taxis from six different companies earlier this week. Some observations:

• Though all six companies are licensed by Hillsborough County, their cabs varied widely in cleanliness and English proficiency of the drivers. The Times found the best were Yellow Cab and United Cab, the only ones allowed to pick up passengers in the taxi line at Tampa International Airport.

• All of the drivers were neatly, if casually, dressed. None had on shorts, which Plasencia has seen on other Tampa drivers and found unprofessional even in the city's sweltering weather.

• All of the drivers handed out blank receipts. That's good for business travelers hoping to cover the cost of an extra martini, not so good for suspicious accountants back at the office.

The survey began at Tampa International in a United Cab. It was very clean, with a heavy scent of air freshener or carpet shampoo.

Destination: the Marriott Waterside in downtown Tampa. Fare to all downtown sites: $25.

"Tip optional," the driver added.

From the Marriott, the plan was to hop a cab to the Aloft, a new hotel a short distance away. A Marriott valet motioned for the next taxi in line, from Addis Car Service.

Inside was hotter than outside. Dirty carpet peeked from under a torn vinyl floor protector.

"The Loft, where that?" the female driver demanded.

Unencumbered by directions, she stepped on the gas. The reporter bailed out, fearing an aimless, expensive journey around town.

Next up: an A-1 taxi. The carpet in this was soiled, too.

"Got cash?'' were the driver's first words after taking a swig of bottled water and wiping his mouth with his forearm.

As Plasencia complained to the hotel association, some licensed taxis don't take credit cards. Fortunately this was a short trip that cost a flat $6. Or $5 by the meter. Or $3 per person if there were more than two, as the driver tried to explain in uncertain English.

Aloft's valet, Frank Bonilla, had his own taxi story .

Seems that his friend Felix caught a cab in December at TIA. He gave the address to Bonilla's place on River View Avenue in Tampa, about six miles and 10 minutes from the airport.

Some 30 miles and 40 minutes later, Felix called from Riverview in southern Hillsborough.

"The driver had the city, the street, the zip code,'' Bonilla said. "All he understood was 'Riverview.' ''

Bonilla talked the driver to the correct destination and negotiated the fare from $100 to $40.

"There was no GPS. If you have foreign drivers why not a GPS?'' Bonilla wondered. "I was dumbfounded by that.''

From the Aloft, it was back to TIA in a clean Americab van. The driver asked whether the A/C was cold enough and even opened the door for his passenger, the only driver to do so.

The survey resumed the next day at the airport, with a fine United Cab ride to the Grand Hyatt at Rocky Point.

Valets said the most frequent complaint about taxis is that there aren't enough of them, especially during big events. Even on a dead midsummer day, it took 10 minutes for a Yellow Cab to arrive.

It smelled freshly cleaned and had far more notices plastered to its left passenger window than any other. In addition to required zone and rate maps, there were Yellow Cab numbers to call for "comments and complaints.''

The final ride was from the Tampa Hilton back to the airport in an Affordable cab. It had gone several blocks when the passenger finally thought to ask whether credit cards were accepted.

No,'' the driver said, prompting a frantic search through wallet crevices for $25 cash.

This taxi failed to have its cab number displayed on the back of a front-seat headrest, required so passengers can refer to the number if making a complaint. Al Asaqas, Affordable's manager, said rowdy passengers sometimes peel off the numeric stickers.

Curiously, the drivers for Affordable and A-1 presented blank receipts from United Cab. An A-1 dispatcher explained that its drivers are self-employed and have to provide their own receipts.

Rather than go to that expense, he said, some "borrow'' receipts from United drivers.

"A receipt is a receipt,'' the A-1 driver shrugged.

Addis didn't return calls seeking comment about its dirty cab. Inspectors from the transportation commission walk Tampa's taxi lines daily, checking for trash, ripped seats and torn headliners.

They also check the accuracy of meters — most complaints involve disputes over charges, inspector Anthony Italiano says.

At least once a year all cabs are thoroughly inspected for safety and mechanical issues as well as general appearance. Drivers, too, are required to undergo certain checks and have special licenses to pick up passengers at TIA.

Passengers shouldn't expect them to speak like Oxford dons.

"They're only required to speak English proficiently enough to carry on a transaction,'' Italiano said. "But at least they should have enough knowledge to make change along with a knowledge of local geography so they don't take you on a wild trip some place.''

Contact Susan Taylor Martin at [email protected] or (727) 893-8642. Follow @susanskate.

Comments
The Daystarter: A Patrick-Jolly gubernatorial run in 2018?; Air Force major convicted of kidnapping his own daughter; and Romano writes St. Pete has a trust problem.

The Daystarter: A Patrick-Jolly gubernatorial run in 2018?; Air Force major convicted of kidnapping his own daughter; and Romano writes St. Pete has a trust problem.

Catching you up on overnight happenings, and what to know today.• Give thanks for drier air. There is a small rain chance this morning, but things dry out by the afternoon, according to 10Weather WTSP. Beats yesterday’s humidity. The high temperatur...
Updated: 12 minutes ago
Twin sisters from Tampa helping shape Fox’s ‘Empire’ say they’d like to tell Tampa stories

Twin sisters from Tampa helping shape Fox’s ‘Empire’ say they’d like to tell Tampa stories

JaNeika and JaSheika James’ television obsession was fueled by scarcity and convenience. As self-described "military brats" living in Germany, the girls treasured the VHS tapes their grandmother shipped overseas filled with English-language Saturday ...
Updated: 11 hours ago
Armed Forces History Museum collection has a new home, but new owner is a mystery

Armed Forces History Museum collection has a new home, but new owner is a mystery

LARGO — The contents of the Armed Forces History Museum have been sold, but no one is ready to talk about the future of the collection of military memorabilia.A collector named John Piazza used his personal collection to start the public museum, whic...
Published: 04/24/18
Tampa jury convicts former Air Force major of international parental kidnapping

Tampa jury convicts former Air Force major of international parental kidnapping

TAMPA — A jury Monday found a former Air Force major guilty of kidnapping his daughter and holding her overseas to stop his ex-wife from exercising her part of a Hillsborough County custody agreement.Andrew Haley Morcombe had argued that his 2014 jau...
Updated: 6 minutes ago
Deputies find parents who fled with newborn; 1-month-old is safe

Deputies find parents who fled with newborn; 1-month-old is safe

TAMPA — The 1-month-old infant reported missing Monday was found hours later about 300 miles north in Quincy, according to the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office. Sage Cooper was reported to be unharmed, officials said, and Gadsden Cou...
Updated: 8 minutes ago
Former Rays pitcher Danny Farquhar “progressing well’ after surgery

Former Rays pitcher Danny Farquhar “progressing well’ after surgery

As former teammates with the Rays and throughout baseball share thoughts and prayers, RHP Danny Farquhar is "progressing well" in a Chicago hospital after suffering a hemorrhage caused by a brain aneurysm on Friday.The White Sox on Monday released th...
Updated: 6 hours ago

High school scoreboard for April 23

Monday’s scoreboardBaseballCanterbury 10, Citrus Park Christian 0Northeast 12, Countryside 5
Updated: 6 hours ago
Man faces first-degree murder charge in 2017 death of woman

Man faces first-degree murder charge in 2017 death of woman

TAMPA — A 68-year-old man was arrested Monday on a first-degree murder charge, according to Tampa police.Officers took James Leon Jackson into custody at 2712 W Nassau St. in west Tampa at about 1 p.m. A warrant for his arrest had been issued Friday....
Updated: 7 hours ago
A new museum will honor America’s lynching victims, including those killed in Tampa Bay

A new museum will honor America’s lynching victims, including those killed in Tampa Bay

In May 1914, a Hernando County grand jury decided not to indict John Davis, a black man accused of attempting to assault a white woman in a hotel. But days after he was released from the Citrus County jail, Davis’s body was found beaten with a ...
Updated: 7 hours ago
Alex Cobb and Logan Morrison have ex-Ray vision. Here’s what they see.

Alex Cobb and Logan Morrison have ex-Ray vision. Here’s what they see.

ST. PETERSBURG — Absolutely, Alex Cobb was saying over the phone, it's going to be weird pitching Tuesday against the Rays.The organization that he owes so much for rearing him since high school, standing by him through assorted injuries, enabl...
Updated: 7 hours ago