PHILADELPHIA – The Philadelphia Parking Authority, who will assume oversight of the city’s 1,600 limousines and taxicabs from the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission on April 10, is requiring all drivers to take a training course that they hope will turn rude, sloppily dressed drivers into friendly, knowledgeable and professional ambassadors. All drivers will have completed the course within the next two years.
In addition, the authority will be able to track their movements through Global Positioning System navigation technology.
Visitors will encounter drivers who know the city’s streets, historic sites and cultural attractions. They will be given a printed receipt at the end of each ride because of new mandated technology. Rewards for the drivers include preferred routes at desirable locations such as the airport.
Drivers are not embracing this change, however. The plan has drawn fire from a taxi drivers group, which thinks the requirement should apply only to new drivers. The National Limousine Association is trying to negotiate a deal to exclude its industry from the new requirements.
It’s clear to the authority that there is room for improvement. The Public Utilities Commission received 1,224 complaints regarding cabs last year, up from 708 in 2002 and 1,009 in 2003.
Drivers will now be subject to more extensive screening, including driving record reviews dating back three years, criminal background checks and English tests.
The five-day, $100 course will include training to familiarize drivers with the city and its historic sites and cultural attractions; regulations involving rates and pickup zones; and customer service, including dealing with disabled and disgruntled passengers. A day will be devoted to driver safety and another will cover technology such as meters and GPS navigation systems.
Drivers can opt out of the course and just take the final test, which they can study for by buying a course CD.
Within nine months, new rules will require GPS systems in each vehicle and vehicle inspections every six months. Vehicles will be equipped with panic buttons so drivers in danger can alert dispatch stations remotely. The dispatcher will be able to pinpoint the car’s location through the navigation system.
The NLA feels that this new plan duplicates efforts – limousine operators are already inspecting their own vehicles and training their own employees, the association says, and these operators should not have to pay for additional inspection and training.