Driven out by druggies

December 06, 2000

Driven out by druggies

What two gasoline shortages, three recessions and six would-be competitors couldn't do, Hagerstown's underworld drug trade accomplished: It's driving Turner's Taxi out of business, sort of.

George Turner, known throughout the city for his blue-and-white cabs and the free rides he generously offers on Christmas and New Year's Eve holidays, announced last week that he's leaving the taxi business proper, replacing it with a scaled-back "sedan service."

According to Turner, a sedan service is like a taxi service, except drivers can be more choosy about whom they pick up and where they go and when they operate. Instead of hailing a cab on the street, you will have to call ahead for an appointment. Sort of like a hairdresser. And if the company believes you to be up to no good, it can tell you to take a hike - literally.

Apparently as it stands now, under state law, hacks can't refuse a fare from, say, a shady thug or an armed robber, so long as he is "orderly" while he is in the cab driver's presence. This is the same theory utilized by school bus drivers and George W. Bush.


I guess this means there's a niche industry open in Hagerstown now for anyone who cares to begin one of those "incubator business" start-up industries: A taxi service that caters to the drug clientele.

You could give it a clever little name like The Crack-Hack Co. "Destroying Innocent Lives Since 1982." You could even have one of those little signs over the visor: "Drivers carry less than 20 grams at all times" or "Thank you for smoking."

Shows how out of the loop I am. I never knew pushers did home delivery, sort of like pizza. Twenty minutes or less or your smack's free.

Turner said something like 30 percent of his drivers in recent years may have been drug users. Sort of changes the first question you want to ask a cab driver upon getting into the car. Instead of "Do you know how to get to Maple Avenue?" it might be worth asking "Not that I'm implying anything, Mr. Taxi Driver, but objectively speaking, what are the odds you are going to freak out to Pink Floyd and land roof-side-down in the Antietam?"

Turner says he wants to distance his company from the drug trade, be it driver or passenger, which makes sense. But there is also a window of opportunity here for law enforcement, I would think. I don't like to tell Hagerstown Police Chief Arthur Smith how to do his job, but I do smell an opportunity here. After all, if the drug dealers can use taxis, why can't the police? Pull all the taxi drivers and replace them with undercover agents.

Police cars look a lot like taxis anyway - two-tone paint, lights on top. Just scratch out the word "Police" and paint in "Taxi."

If the drug dealer happened to notice the police radio, rear-seat cage and sawed-off pump shotgun and started to ask questions, the officer/cab driver could just say "I'm glad to see you're thinking" and drive him straight to the calaboose.

As for Turner's business side of things, I'm not entirely certain this move fits into a strong financial model. I can understand wanting to avoid "bad" neighborhoods, but if you restrict your taxi, I'm sorry, sedan, service to "good" neighborhoods - well, people in "good" neighborhoods generally own their own cars.

It's like the makers of Poli-Grip insisting that they will only sell to people who still have their original teeth.

There is precedent, of course. Banks won't lend to people who really need the money, insurance companies wouldn't think of taking a risk on a person who is sick and newspaper columnists try to generate excitement about things people obviously couldn't care less about. It's the American way, and to the sedan companies of the world, I say welcome.

Tim Rowland is a Herald-Mail columnist

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