Last week, 17 drivers were arrested or cited by police for picking up passengers at BWI airport without the required permit.
At least three drivers, including Creecy, told The Capital they were handcuffed in front of longtime customers and kept in a police holding cell at the airport for eight hours overnight Tuesday.
The arrests and citations were issued during an authority police initiative to “enforce the policies and regulations regarding the standards of transportation services providers are required to adhere,” said Cpl. Robert Thibodeau, an authority police spokesman.
“Our job is to protect the customers who are using those services,” Thibodeau said.
Operators claimed they didn’t even know the permits were still required.
“My business has been around for 15 years,” Overmier said. “We used to have to have a permit to operate (at the airport) hanging on our rearview mirrors. We’d get notice every year to renew them.”
Overmier said he didn’t receive a renewal form in 2005. When he inquired with the Maryland Aviation Administration about renewal, he said airport officials told him they were not issuing new permits.
Over the years, the old permits cracked, faded and were eventually taken off rearview mirrors.
“All of us (businesses) just figured we don’t need them anymore,” Overmier said. “Since 2005, we’ve gone to and from that airport a little more than 20,000 times. We’ve been stopped (by transportation authority police) on numerous occasions for cracked windshields, headlights out, and no one has ever said anything about a permit.”
It’s been so long since the permits were used, that drivers who are new to the chauffeur business don’t know they ever existed.
That BWI hasn’t really enforced their licensing requirements for several years creates a natural experiment, especially since it created a situation where drivers didn’t even know the licensing was required.
How many passenger incidents were there in 2006-2009? How many in the four years prior to that? On a per-passenger basis?
If the rate of dangerous incidents didn’t go up from 2006 onward, then it’s hard to argue that there’s a safety justification for licensing.
I called the BWI aviation administration’s media folks looking for this data. They called me back promptly but told me they didn’t have this sort of data. That seemed strange to me, I’d think that a licensing authority would want to know about incidents in their jurisdiction, among licensed and unlicensed operators, and would want to know whether their licensing scheme was effective.
I rang up the aviation authority policy, as the media contact had suggested. They transferred me to airport operations, who was thoroughly confused. If anyone has suggestions on how to get this sort of data I’d love to hear it in the comments.
That said, I suspect that there isn’t a significant protective effect from licensing drivers, but I’d sure love the statistics to find out one way or another.
What I wouldn’t mind seeing, however, is an airports authority “stamp of approval” — a certification that the airports authority has run a background check on the driver and validated their insurance, for instance. Even if the airports authority only wanted to let such drivers queue up in the designated taxi lanes, and no other unlicensed drivers, that would be fine.
But there’s no reason to make it illegal for drivers to pick up passengers. Customers could use this airports authority certification if they wished, and many passengers unfamiliar with the area likely would. Signs and announcements could even encourage it. But it’s silly to make it illegal for a pre-arranged driver to pick up a passenger at the passenger’s request.
In my own personal experience at Washington-Dulles, where there isn’t just licensing but a monopoly, I’ve had clearly impaired drivers on multiple occasions. I’d much rather have found my own in the terminal.
And ending these requirements has both productivity and environmental benefits. There’s no good reason for most airport trips to be one way. Cabs drop off passengers at the airports, they should be able to pick up passengers as well rather than riding back empty. Instead, forbidding the practice roughly doubles the number of vehicle trips, with all the dropoff cabs returning empty. And for little demonstrated benefit.