I CAN'T ever get a cab after [Orioles] games," said the San JTC Francisco businessman. "What's wrong with you guys? Why don't you come to Camden Yards?"
We are in my cab. I have picked him up at Obrycki's Crab House on East Pratt Street. "It's not the cab drivers," I tell the man. "We'd love to pick you up at the stadium. We need all the fares we can get. But the cops won't let us in except by one route that's hard to use in heavy traffic."
"That's stupid," he said. "This is a great city, and that's a great ballpark. Tourists depend on cabs. Don't your cops know that?"
"I guess not," I said. "They seem to have enough trouble without worrying about cab drivers."
My passenger said, "I'm not worrying about you guys. I mean, cabbies are important, but what about the restaurants and bars? I walked along Pratt Street and finally got a cab to Fells Point, but most of the people in my group didn't bother. They went back to the hotel, where they probably went to sleep. I spent at least $50 on dinner and drinks, just by myself. Good cab service means more guys like me out on the town spending money."
I don't reply. I stop at his hotel, Stouffer Harborplace, where the man tips me $2 -- on a $3.80 fare -- and gets out of the cab.
His complaints I've heard before from out-of-town passengers. In Baltimore, cab service after major sporting events is hard to come by, because stadium traffic plans make it hard for cabbies to "work" the stadium crowds.
Our worst recent event, from a cabdriver's standpoint, was the Canadian Football League exhibition game held at Memorial Stadium last month. During that event, taxis were not allowed to approach the stadium, even by the single, rather tedious route used when the Orioles played on 33rd Street. It was raining when the game ended, and hundreds of football fans were clustered near the Memorial Stadium cab stand, waiting for taxis that never came.
Plenty of cabs were out, and willing to come, but police officers turned them all away with varying degrees of hostility and obscenity. Repeated requests to talk to a supervisor and open a "taxi lane" to Memorial Stadium were refused.
I gave up after one officer, his hand on his gun, told me exactly where all cabbies could go, and he wasn't talking about the cab stand I was trying to reach.
The Orioles are riding high and selling out, so they may not care if fans can find taxis after games. But for our new CFL football team, taxi service should be a real concern. A new franchise, trying to build a base of support, can't afford to lose fans because of poor transportation. Bars and restaurants, especially those more than a few blocks away from either stadium, should also have a few words to say about post-game taxi service, because good cab service means more money in their pockets, game after game, year after year.
Cabbies may not be important to police, but $50 in extra spending per tourist, multipled by only 100 tourists who need taxi transportation after each game, should be enough to make police realize that taxi access to post-game crowds is important. And 100 tourists at $50 each is a conservative estimate; even with current constraints, a veritable stream of taxis carries fans to Little Italy and Fells Point after every game. Most of these cabs are occupied by three or four passengers, who typically are hungry and thirsty.
It would take no more than a brief meeting between a few experienced cab drivers and a representative from the police department's traffic division to come up with safe and efficient taxi routes to and from stadium events. Those access routes could then be faxed to area cab companies, so that all drivers would know what they are.
Police assigned to stadium traffic details could then be briefed on taxi rules and could enforce them with out the current pattern of obstruction, vagueness and threats.
Doing so would bring more tourist dollars into the city, make life easier for local fans, and end a nagging source of friction between the police department and Baltimore's 2,000-plus licensed cab drivers.
Robin Miller writes from Baltimore.