Cabbies say valets drive up long fares

Drivers say workers at Annapolis hotels expect them to tip

January 15, 1999|By Cheryl Lu-Lien Tan | Cheryl Lu-Lien Tan,SUN STAFF

Annapolis taxicab drivers are furious with an unspoken, dubious practice that they say has long been imposed upon their industry -- if they don't pay hotel valets $10 for high-paying trips to the airport, they don't get called.

In a city where hotels often have no space for taxicab stands and valets know they have full control over who gets high-dollar fares, Annapolis drivers want an end to a practice that some call bribery and many say is unfair to customers who sometimes are charged more to make up for the required tip.

Taxicab drivers and companies want city officials or hotel managers to intervene. But three Annapolis hotel managers contacted insisted the enforced tip does not exist.

"I have no idea what you're talking about," said Michael Connelly, a shift manager at Loews Annapolis Hotel who supervises valets. He would not comment further and hung up.

Colleen Huther, general manager of Annapolis Marriott Waterfront, refused to comment.

An assistant front desk manager who would identify himself only as Tom said the hotel's valets do not solicit tips.

"The cab drivers that we call, there are some that tip us but we don't expect a tip," he said.

Nathaniel Thomas, owner of Colonial and Arundel Cab Co., said he's heard denials before.

"Managers have to know what's going on," said Thomas, who said some valets even ask for $15 for trips to Washington Dulles International Airport. "They claim that this is not happening and they don't know anything about it but it's definitely happening. Ninety percent of the drivers can tell you the same thing."

Robert Eades, head of the Annapolis Taxicab Drivers Association, said the city's historic inns and bed and breakfast establishments aren't involved, but valets at Loews on West Street and Marriott on Compromise Street expect to be paid. Other drivers said this occurs at Hampton Inn outside the city.

Fares rise when drivers tip

Laurel Bassaragh, general manager of Hampton Inn, said "it was a shock" to hear about the practice because her guest service managers who call for taxicabs are not a part of it. "Our company doesn't believe in anything like that," she said.

Eades said he has had to transfer the burden of the tip to customers, charging people heading to Baltimore-Washington International Airport $40 from hotels where he has to pay the valet and $35 when he doesn't have to hand over money.

"A lot of people don't know that when their family comes to stay at these hotels that their families are being ripped off by the employees," Eades said.

Some taxicab companies have tried to solve the problem by talking to hotel managers. Robert Matthews, who owns Annapolis Cab Co. with his wife, said they asked a Loews manager more than a year ago to intervene.

"He said it was something he had no control of," said Matthews, whose company oversees about 30 cabs. Valets "get paid for their jobs, they get paid to be there. We don't want them to get a piece of our pie."

Matthews said he is considering calling the hotels' corporate offices to complain.

"Other cities have cab stands and doormen," Eades suggested. "It would eliminate this."

He noted that Loews hotel has a designated area for taxicabs to park but said that doesn't help the situation.

"If someone was to go park there, they would tell him he had to leave because that stand is for when they call a cab, not for cab drivers to wait," said Eades, an independent taxicab driver.

Not a Baltimore problem

In Baltimore, taxicab companies say some valets are pushy about tips but they haven't had a problem like the Annapolis drivers because hotels have cab stands.

"Even with the cab stands, [valets] can play a game where if there are three guests and one's going to Dulles and the other two are going to BWI, he'll give the Dulles [fare] to the driver who tips him the most," said Dwight Kines, general manager of Yellow Transportation Inc. in Baltimore.

The difference, he said, is Baltimore hotel managers have fired doormen who've tried to solicit bribes for bigger fares when taxicab companies have complained.

`Not proper business'

"We would just consider that stealing," said Jon Koscher, general manager for the Sheraton Hotel. "That's not proper business."

Eades said he wants to see Annapolis officials investigate and crack down on valets who solicit bribes.

"We want customers to look at the cab industry and respect us," Eades said.

Pub Date: 1/15/99

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