Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Volunteer Taxi: American Dream to Serve as Nashville’s First Driver-Owned Taxi Company Deferred by Racism, Politics.

Nashville, TN June 12, 2012, Representatives from organizations including the Tennessee Immigrant and Refugee Coalition, the NAACP, and the Interdenominational Ministers Fellowship have enlisted their support to the  sixty–one Ethiopian taxi drivers hoping to become Nashville’s first owner-operated taxi service.

On June 13, 2012, members of the Metro Council, during its 4:30 departmental budget hearings, will have an opportunity to ask the Transportation Licensing Commission: Why after nearly a year, Volunteer Taxi has not been able to serve our community, when they have met all of the standards asked of them?

In the year-long saga, the members of Volunteer Taxi have faced an uphill battle to better the lives of their families. First, in the form of vocal opposition, physical intimidation, and firings from existing taxi companies.

Secondly, Transportation Licensing Commission Executive Director Brian McQuistion, who is supposed to serve as an unbiased servant to the Commission members, voiced his opposition to Volunteer Taxi. When he was asked by the Metro Council Minority Caucus why he opposed awarding permits to Volunteer Taxi, he stated that more taxis on the road, meant less money for taxi drivers, and that the drivers would then resort to prostitution, drug deals, and overcharging customers to make a living.

Thirdly, racially and ethnically insensitive remarks made by a taxpayer subsidized taxi inspector painted all Muslim taxi drivers as terrorists! Finally, on December 20, 2011, Volunteer Taxi received approval for permits. However, the permits were conditioned upon available funding in the upcoming Metro budget, effectively forcing Volunteer Taxi to lobby for the Transportation Licensing Commission and for their right to be on the road serving our great city.

According to a study conducted by Sekou Franklin, Ph.D., taxi drivers in Nashville are paid less that the federal minimum wage and are among the lowest paid workers in the United States.  “We need no study to tell us that we are overworked and underpaid; we live this every day and night,” said Adugna Denbel, Secretary of Volunteer Taxi.  “We fled horrible conditions in our old countries, but now we yearn to be free from the undue burdens and hardships from the taxicab owners here who maintain a paternalistic system, with no advancement.” 

Under the current taxicab company system, the taxi drivers, not the owners, are responsible for purchasing their own health insurance, their own vehicle and paying all of the expenses related to the operation, such as fuel, repairs, maintenance and liability insurance. In most cases, drivers are also responsible for repairs to GPS dispatch technology provided by the taxicab company.

Additionally, taxi drivers are forced to pay a weekly fee of between $150-$210 per week ($7,800 - $10,920 annually) for the right to work for the taxi company. “We are not asking for any handouts, only for the opportunity to take care of our families by exercising the American Dream through our market economy and we pray that our dreams are not deferred by racism and politics, says Mr. Denbel.
My Comment:
It is past time to let freedom reign in Nashville! Let immigrant and native born Americans pursue the American dream. End the paternalistic system of protectionism and crony capitalism and regulating to protect the rich and well-connected. It is time the Metro Council and this community embraced competition, innovation and free markets.

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