Taxi drivers celebrate their day with a downtown horn symphony Baltimore shows its appreciation for drivers

June 05, 1996|By Alex Gordon | Alex Gordon,CONTRIBUTING WRITER

At high noon yesterday, in the middle of downtown traffic, more than 35 Baltimore City taxi drivers conducted a unique horn symphony -- using their cabs for instruments.

In a 30-minute "Hail to the Taxis" motorcade that began at Camden Yards and circled around to Harborplace, the taxi drivers blasted in unison the horns of their ticker tape-decorated cabs.

Drivers from city cab companies -- including ABC, Arrow, Diamond, Independent, Royal and Yellow -- took part in the first-ever Baltimore City Taxi Appreciation Day declared by Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke. Baltimore is the first city in the United States known to honor its taxi drivers with such recognition.

A Baltimore taxi driver for 41 years, Manuel Toro, 71, headed the procession. Adorned in a nostalgic taxi driver uniform complete with cap and leather boots, Toro drove a gleaming 1937 Dodge Yellow Cab (its license plate reads "LEGACY"). The Dodge is the only cab of its kind in the city.

"This is my gem," Toro said, pointing proudly to the 59-year-old cab. "I am the only one who drives it; no one else touches it."

In a taxi-driving career covering five decades, Toro has come to understand Baltimore's streets well -- for which he received the "Most Knowledgeable Driver" award from his cab company.

After the motorcade, the city literally rolled out the red carpet for Toro and 35 other drivers, who were recognized at an awards ceremony at the Harborplace Amphitheater. Drivers were honored in six categories, including best all-around, best safety skills, most courteous and best-kept taxi.

Yet Maryland's Taxi Driver Appreciation Week honors the taxi rider as well. The cab companies have established a Taxi Rider's Bill of Rights, which includes: a courteous, English-speaking driver who knows the streets of Baltimore and the way to major regional destinations; air conditioning on demand; a clean trunk; and the right to refuse a tip if any conditions are not met.

Yesterday, several tourists who had taken rides in the city's cabs praised the ability and professionalism of Baltimore's taxi drivers.

"Our cab driver was a nice guy, safe in traffic, charged a reasonable rate and took us directly to where we were going," said Andy Salerno, visiting from New Jersey.

Vince Sgro, a friend of Salerno's, agreed. "Unlike in New York City," he said with only a hint of sarcasm, "the cab drivers here stop to let you in and out of the cab, use their brakes and obey red traffic lights."

Pub Date: 6/05/96

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