`Host' a label to stick on cabdrivers

Stickers: The first pair of Baltimore taxis receive their markers as part of a program aimed to make their operators better ambassadors for the state.

July 27, 2004|By Lester J. Davis | Lester J. Davis,SUN STAFF

Baltimore visitors looking for tips on what to see and where to eat should also look for the sticker -- the one that identifies a cabdriver as a "Maryland Taxi Host."

A program that identifies drivers who have taken the classes to make them better informed about the city and its tourist attractions got its official start yesterday when the first two cabs had the stickers slapped on the passenger-side fender in a ceremony at the Pier Five Hotel at the Inner Harbor. The stickers are recognizable by the state flag on them, and all 1,200 of the city's taxis should have them soon.

The stickers tell passengers that the driver took an eight-hour mandatory course that teaches operators how to be more passenger-friendly.

"If you're visiting the city and you get a taxi, they are the first impression of Baltimore that you get," said Dennis M. Castleman, the state's chief marketing officer. "When someone asks, `Hey where's a great tourist attraction?' the [drivers] can talk about the scenic aquarium or the science museums."

While the taxi host stickers are new, the program is not, nor is the idea of encouraging drivers to be more helpful. The current program was created in November 2001 by the state Public Service Commission to help make taxi drivers better ambassadors for the city. There have been previous efforts to make taxi drivers more cognizant of city's charms and more helpful to their passengers.

Cabdrivers, who pay a one-time fee of $25 to participate in the classes, not only are taught about Baltimore's prime tourists spots, but also are tutored on how to deal with angry and confused passengers.

New taxi drivers must successfully complete the program to receive their taxi driver licenses and current drivers must pass the program in order to have their licenses renewed, Castleman said.

There is a written exam that drivers are required to pass with a score of 75 percent.

Questions range from the rudimentary (On most maps, west is at which side of the page?) to ones that are more tourism-rated, such as whether visitors can find food at the Lexington Market.

"Passengers will be really surprised at the wealth of knowledge these cab drivers have," said Karen S. Justice, coordinator of Maryland Tourism Workforce Training and Development.

George T. Spearman, 56, who passed the course in 2001, said riding with a driver who is a taxi host is the best way for travelers to get an initial taste of what Baltimore is really like.

"Tourists come here and you want to show them the best of this town and when they get into my cab that's what I like to show them," said Spearman, who has been a city taxi driver for 32 years.

He said the program also helped him improve his customer relations skills.

"Before [the program,] if someone got in my cab angry, it would make me angry. Now I have passengers who thank me for being pleasant," he said.

Joe Matthews, 56, who has driven a cab for eight years, said he expects the visibility of the Maryland Taxi Host sticker on the side of his car to help attract more customers.

"The thing about it is that if a customer sees that sticker, they know the driver is trained on tourism in Baltimore," Matthews said, "and that helps our business."

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