But at the Logan taxi pool, where hundreds of cabs queue up at a remote parking lot waiting for an electronic signal to head to the terminals, that opinion is not widely shared.
Drivers, many of them recent immigrants who said they struggle to earn a living wage, reserved most of their discontent for the hackney unit that polices the industry.
Were hackney police protecting their interests, many cabbies said, they not only would root out misconduct by medallion owners but curb the siphoning of their business by gypsy cabs, livery cars, and out-of-town taxis making illegal pickups throughout the city.
Also, the cabbies said, police regulators would not permit medallion owners, banks, and credit companies to take 5 percent or 6 percent of every credit card transaction in a Boston taxi — a practice that even fleet spokesman Uritsky described as “definitely a problem.’’
“It’s very tough. We manage what we have to survive,’’ said driver Pinchinat Mondelis, who emigrated from Haiti in 1981 to escape the abusive regime of “Baby Doc’’ Jean-Claude Duvalier. “But it’s not a good life.’’
Why do they do it? Many drivers have identical answers: Look at the economy.
“It’s a horrible job,’’ said Bernie Allen, a native of Great Britain who intends to retire from driving this year.
Allen, a champion marathoner, a holder of multiple patents, and a onetime organic chemist, has been robbed four times, most recently late last year. He is eager to put the business in his rearview mirror.
“They totally exploit the workers,’’ Allen said.
As an ironic tribute to a business he has come to loathe, Allen has devised a board game loosely modeled on Monopoly. There are iconic game pieces and cards that spell out windfalls and financial collapse.
“Accident in Big Dig. Lose $10,’’ one game card reads.
Instead of claiming title to gold-plated real estate like Boardwalk or Park Place, the object of “TaxZee,’’ Allen explained, is to become the next Eddie Tutunjian.
Bring me a victim
Drivers entering the subterranean headquarters of Boston Cab, the behemoth of the city’s taxi industry, descend a ramp toward its nerve center, a dark-and-gritty workplace of oily floors, soot-stained ductwork, and cranky dispatchers stationed behind what cabbies call “the humiliation window.’’
On his first day of work, the Globe reporter approaches the window to add his name to the waiting list for the night shift. It is nearly 3 p.m., when cabs start to become available.
More than a dozen men jockey for position, the newcomer getting outflanked as the list grows. “You have to be more aggressive,’’ one cabbie tells him.
Two others offer advice: You need to tip, or bribe, the dispatcher to get a better cab faster. Instead, the reporter declines and waits two hours to begin his shift.
Tutunjian himself often is seated at a desk in the dispatch office as his employees hand out keys to his taxis. A man whose own road to riches began as a cabdriver, Tutunjian no longer has much in common with the drivers beyond the window. He quietly commands his empire as clusters of cabbies wait for keys, trading stories of a job that all too often leaves them feeling run over.
The Globe reporter, finally behind the wheel, later will see some of those drivers sleeping at the airport as they try to cover the costs — some of them improper — of doing business with Boston Cab. Since Jan. 1, for instance, Boston Cab has defied a police order barring medallion owners from charging drivers a premium fee for model year 2009 taxis.
Under city regulations, drivers may be assessed the surcharge — $18 per shift, or $170 for a weekly rental — only for vehicles less than five years old. Boston police distributed a notice to fleet owners in January reminding them they no longer were permitted to charge the fee for 2009 models.
Yet when the Globe asked more than 20 drivers how much they have been charged weekly since Jan. 1 to rent 2009 Toyota Camrys from Boston Cab, each said the price has included the $170 premium fee — a violation of police rules that over the first 13 weeks of the year cost each driver more than $2,200.
The drivers said they feared losing their jobs if they protested.
“I have no alternative,’’ one driver said. “I just shut my mouth and do what they say.’’
Boston Cab owns at least 75 2009 Camrys, which means the company could have reaped more than $165,000 since Jan. 1 through improper surcharges.
Yet the police have not stopped Boston Cab or USA Taxi in Dorchester, which also has charged the premium rate for its nine 2009 hybrid Ford Escapes since Jan. 1. Continued...