Each medallion owner was to contribute $50, which would have set aside $75,000 for taxi drivers’ families. A police spokeswoman said the fund has been inactive for nearly a decade and there are no plans for an official investigation into the money’s whereabouts “absent any evidence of wrongdoing.’’
If Cohen was unable to address some elemental questions, on two points he was clear:
Times are good for medallion owners.
“The health of the industry from the ownership point of view is very, very strong,’’ Cohen said.
And, he said, stories told by some cabdrivers about a minimum-wage existence for long hours and no benefits must be taken with a grain of salt.
“If you say to a cabdriver, ‘Are you making any money?’ they’ll say, ‘No. We’re going broke. It’s terrible. It’s terrible out there,’ ’’ Cohen said.
Cohen’s outlook makes him a lightning rod for cabdrivers who believe that the city’s hackney unit is enabling the economic squeeze they feel. Many drivers said they consider him imperious and dismissive, as if they were petulant children.
“I think contempt is a mild word for how he feels about cabdrivers,’’ said Donna Blythe-Shaw, staff representative of the United Steelworkers and the Boston Taxi Drivers Association.
In a casual conversation last fall with two Globe reporters in the lobby of police headquarters at 1 Schroeder Plaza, that antipathy seemed clear.
“How did you get into this business?” Cohen was asked.
“I used to teach kindergarten,’’ he quipped, a wry smile creasing his face.
Instructing 5-year-olds, he explained, is a perfect training ground for working with cabdrivers.
Little satisfaction for drivers
The Globe investigation found that most drivers are well aware of — or directly victimized by — the pattern of overcharges and the expectation that palms will be greased if you want to drive. That makes it infuriating to them that the hackney division professes to know nothing of the grimy reality of life in the city’s taxi garages.
“Most of us cabdrivers, we wonder why hackney, who’s in charge of this business, refuses to go to Boston Cab and look at Boston Cab’s files and say to them, ‘You can’t treat cabdrivers like that,’ ” said cabbie Robert Bruce, a native Haitian who’s been driving in Boston for about five years. “I really don’t know why. This is the question that all of us have.’’
Drivers told the Globe that they and most of their peers are wary of complaining to hackney for fear of retaliation when word gets back to the garage. And even when they do speak up, they say they receive little or no satisfaction.
Take Pierre Nammour, for example.
Nammour, a native of Lebanon and father of three, has been leasing a medallion for 10 years from a small owner.
The medallion owner recently transferred the license to her son. A paperwork goof left the medallion unusable for seven days.
That left Nammour without wages for a week, and still owing a healthy chunk of his monthly rent payment to the medallion holder.
Hackney’s rules on this are clear: If a driver loses time because his cab needs repairs or is out of commission for such glitches, the owner must pay him $8 an hour.
Nammour said when he reported the violation to a hackney police officer, Sergeant Mark J. Fleming, he was encouraged to tread lightly. Fleming told him he could win his case but might anger the medallion owner and risk their 10-year business relationship, according to Nammour.
Were he to overcharge someone $10 in his cab, Nammour said, the hackney unit would exercise no such genteel diplomacy. Discipline would be swift, he said.
“They don’t treat us with respect,’’ Nammour said. “He didn’t tell me, ‘Listen, what’s the medallion number? Who’s the owner? We’ll take care of it. Don’t worry about it.’ ”
A police spokeswoman said Fleming does not recall the complaint. Hackney officials, after the Globe’s inquiry, said they are now investigating.
Drivers aren’t expecting much to change.
“The drivers are terrified because they [the owners] have control,’’ said Bernie Allen, a veteran driver who’s been robbed four times and is about to leave the business. “And if you really want to get out on a Friday night, of course you’re going to give them $20.’’
Lengthy, tiring shifts
Taxi drivers, or at least some of them, are not the most sympathetic characters in town. Most passengers have encountered a surly cabbie, or a driver who spends the ride on his cellphone, or doesn’t know the basics of Boston geography, or claims he can’t take a credit card for payment.
But put yourself in their world, and some of that misbehavior seems easier to understand.Continued...