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Wednesday, June 16, 2004

Immigrant cabbies claim ticket bias - Wednesday, 06/16/04

Immigrant cabbies claim ticket bias - Wednesday, 06/16/04

''They think they can do anything,''

Immigrant cabbies claim ticket bias



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By ANITA WADHWANI
Staff Writer

A police lieutenant's crackdown on downtown taxi stops has some cabbies upset.

In traffic court yesterday, Judge Sue McKnight Evans heard very different explanations about a flurry of tickets being issued by a Metro police lieutenant to cab drivers working the late-night shift along the busy tourist venues on Broadway.

Lt. Calvin Hullett told the judge he had begun a campaign to ticket drivers when he took over as supervisor of the 11 p.m.–7 a.m. police shift in the area in February. Instead of waiting at taxi stands, he noticed drivers blocking traffic by idling outside bars to beat their competition to riders.

Drivers like Hassan Sheikh, 29, disputed that in the case of his tickets. He was one of 10 drivers who appeared in court yesterday to contest their tickets with their attorney, Jerry Gonzalez.

Sheikh had just dropped off passengers in front of the Tootsie's Orchid Lounge on Broadway. It was March 22. About to drive away, he instead was stopped by Hullett, who issued him a ticket for blocking traffic.

Hours later, Sheikh was sitting in his taxi in a parking space on Broadway near Fifth Avenue when Hullett issued him a $10 ticket for not stopping instead at a taxi stand.

''I've been driving six years in this city, and I've never had this problem before,'' Sheikh said.

Sheikh, who is Somali, and cabdriver Habib Hashi, 32, also separately told the judge that Hullett told them to ''go back to Africa,'' a comment Hullett vehemently denied yesterday.

Hullett, who is white, said the cab drivers and their attorney ''were making it into a racial thing. Somalis aren't the only ones getting tickets,'' he said. ''But 90% of the cabdrivers are Somali.''

The cabdrivers were among a group of about two dozen Somali, several Kurdish and Pakistani drivers who turned to the Somali Community Center in south Nashville for advice. That's where they were connected to Gonzalez, a local attorney.

Transportation Licensing Commission Director Brian McQuistion said he had been working with police to figure out how cabdrivers can do their jobs without running afoul of police. Unlike many other cities, Nashville has a local ordinance that requires taxi drivers to pull over to the curb with passengers, he said. There is also a Metro ordinance that requires cabs to stop at taxi stands, unless they are picking up or dropping off passengers.

On Broadway, where the curbs are lined with parked cars and there is only one taxi stand, that provision has long gone unenforced, McQuistion said.

Gonzalez told the judge yesterday that the two local laws contradict each other and a state law, which allows cabdrivers to stop in traffic, and local law contradicted each other on whether taxis could stop in the street to pick up passengers.

Cab company owner Johnny White, who heads the American and Music City cab companies, said his drivers were trained to pick up and drop off passengers wherever the passenger requested, as long as it created no major traffic problem.

''Now they are saying it's illegal to hail a cab in Nashville?'' White asked. ''Should we be taking a 70-year-old passenger and have her discharged at a taxi stand and have her walk? Are they going to get us for cruising next?''

Ultimately, the local law will hurt tourism, White said.

In Sheikh's case, the judge dismissed his parking ticket and asked him to attend traffic school for first offenders for the violation of stopping in traffic. She dismissed several other tickets, but most drivers were found guilty of at least one violation.

Hullett said he plans to increase his enforcement of cabdrivers. After yesterday's court hearing, he has decided he will now enforce a Metro ordinance that allows him to ticket cabs for not dropping off passengers at the curb.

''They think they can do anything,'' said Hullett, a supervisor who isn't required to issue tickets but says he does it to set an example for his officers. ''Now they know me and if one of them sees me, they'll get moving.''

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