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January 17, 2005 // UPDATED 1:48 pm - April 26, 2007
By: Kristopher Wenn
Kristopher Wenn

Hail, no! The rules of the cabbie game

Ever try to whistle or flag down a taxicab only to have it pass you by, even when the cab is empty?

No, the drivers aren't heartless, ignoring you and your friends or family in pursuit of an easier or more attractive customer. Most likely, they're just not licensed to pick up flaggers Downtown.

The city of Minneapolis licenses only certain companies to respond to street-level hails - the cab companies up to city snuff sport a bicolored sticker, either white-orange or blue-white, on the cab's rear window.

Taxicab drivers and their companies go through strenuous testing to qualify to earn that sticker, according to James Moncur, director of licenses and consumer services for the city of Minneapolis.

Moncur said drivers in these vehicles have gone through background checks, graduated from the city's cab school, and must also abide by the city's rate rules and cabbie dress code.

In addition, the city has a fleet of traffic control officers who inspect cabs for violations of the city's taxicab ordinance for good measure.

City-licensed cabs come with other advantages, as well, Moncur said. "If, for instance, you lose your belongings in a city-licensed cab, the driver must notify the dispatcher of the lost luggage and an effort will be made to contact the passenger."

He also noted that it's easier to file a grievance with a licensed taxicab company.

To flag or not to flag?

Whether to pick up a flagging customer is the driver's decision. If he (most drivers are male) doesn't know where you're headed or feels uncomfortable about picking you up for whatever reason, he might not give you a ride. If it's a busy night, he may just pass by on his way to a reserved ride.

Moncur said he's seen some changes in the way the people catch cabs and that flagging is becoming less common. It appears that customers have caught on that calling ahead is a better way to go. One cab company licensed by the city, Blue & White Taxi Cab, openly recommended that passengers call ahead when they can.

A Rainbow Taxi cab driver, who requested anonymity, said problems can ensue when customers flag a cab. A chief complaint of passengers who flag down vehicles is that the cabbie doesn't know where he's going. He said this is the chance you take with flagging, since the cabbie doesn't know where the flagger is headed and doesn't have time to think about it, let alone check a map or call in to the office for directions.

He also said the mistrust can run both ways - "I think some drivers won't stop because it's hard to trust flaggers," he said. (Although he declined to elaborate on why this is, it is noteworthy that the 2004 death of a cab driver was at the hands of a flagger.) Meanwhile, the passed-by customer may think the city is full of "rude [cab] drivers."

A selection of taxicab companies licensed by the city of Minneapolis:

- Blue & White Taxi, 333-3331

- Red & White, 871-1600

- Minneapolis Taxi Cab Co., 998-1555

- Air Connect Taxi Cab Services, 362-8888

- Yellow Cab, 824-4444

- Rainbow Taxi, 332-1615