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Posted Friday, February 17, 2012

Language barrier in Lynn cabs prompts call to review guidelines


LYNN — Ward 3 City Councilor Darren Cyr asked the City Council to consider revamping the city’s taxi guidelines after he watched three men who needed interpreters apply for taxi licenses during a recent City Hall meeting.

Pablo Garcia, of Garcia's Taxi, stands next to one of his cabs Wednesday. (Item Photo / Angela Owens

“I don’t care about the color of your skin, I don’t care where you’re from or what language you speak,” he said Wednesday. “But if you can’t speak English, I really feel you shouldn’t be driving a cab.”

Cyr asked one of the non-English speaking drivers Tuesday during a License Committee meeting how he communicates with clients who don’t speak Spanish. The driver said he speaks a little English, but that wasn’t good enough for Cyr.

“I think we need better guidelines,” he said. “I think the citizens of Lynn deserve better.”

Cyr asked City Attorney James Lamanna to research how other communities regulate cab drivers and to report back to the license commission.

The city has guidelines, but Cyr said they are vague at best.

Under new guidelines, he would like to require all drivers be Lynn residents, speak English and have a clean driving record for a certain amount of time before they get a new license.

All drivers are subject to background checks, but Cyr said often the results are ignored in favor of giving the driver a second chance.

Cyr said he is also thinking about asking for a cap on the number of licenses the city hands out.

“I’m not sure how many there are, but I think the number would be staggering,” he said. “Why are we giving out all these cab driver licenses? Half of them don’t even have jobs lined up.”

Robert Colucci and Angel Garcia, who own Tom’s Taxi, and Pablo Garcia, of Garcia’s Taxi, each said business is not like it used to be and competition between drivers is tough.

Pablo Garcia has 14 cabs with about 23 drivers. Colucci said he runs 12 cabs with about 20 drivers.

“It’s terrible,” Pablo Garcia said. “Business is not what it was like before … there are a lot of drivers out there.”

Angel Garcia said along with legitimate businesses, they also have to deal with gypsy drivers, people who are unlicensed but ferrying riders for a fee.

“It’s killing this industry,” he said.

However, none of the men feel there is a language barrier issue.

Colucci said he has a few drivers who speak mostly Spanish, but he tries to send them on calls where it won’t be an issue.

Pablo Garcia admitted he has a number of drivers who speak limited English, but said he works primarily with the Spanish-speaking community and has received no complaints.

“We do have a lot of English-speaking riders,” he added quickly. “It just hasn’t been a problem.”

Adil Faris and Randolf Alouidor, who both drive for Tom’s Taxi, agreed that language hasn’t been an issue.

Faris speaks English, French and Arabic, while Alouidor speaks English, French and Spanish.

Alouidor said he’s concerned with the competition.

“There are 40 or 50 cabs in the city,” said the 16-year veteran driver. “And this season, with no snow, business has dropped. It’s tough out there.”

Cyr said he isn’t looking to take jobs away from people, but he also doesn’t think “it’s fair to the citizens of the city that we give licenses as freely as we do.”

The License Committee voted unanimously to support Cyr and will take up the issue when Lamanna completes his report.

Chris Stevens can be reached at cstevens@itemlive.com.

  Copyright © 2012 The Daily Item

Published Thursday, February 16, 2012.
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