San Diego is Cracking Down on Cab Drivers Who Smell

The San Diego airport is requiring cab drivers not to smell bad. And the cab drivers are livid.

For years, inspectors with the San Diego Regional Airport Authority have run down their checklist for each cabbie — proof of insurance, functioning windshield wipers, adequate tire treads, good brakes. Drivers are graded pass, fail or needs fixing.

Anyone who flunks the smell test is told to change before picking up another customer.

The cab drivers say it’s racism and unfair. And indeed, cab drivers do tend to be immigrants.

A 2013 survey of 331 drivers by San Diego State University and Center on Policy Initiatives found 94 percent were immigrants and 65 percent were from East Africa.

Here’s the thing. Smell can be subjective. But smell can also be bad and if there’s an issue, and the government is in the business of licensing cabs and granting authority to operate (and until Uber and similar services, allowing little competition) then there ought to be minimum standards.

This objection from the cab drivers struck me as unpersuasive:

Others drivers question how inspectors distinguish between them and their cars. The checklist has a separate item for a vehicle’s “foul interior odors,” which Bloomfield says may include gasoline, vomit or mildew.

It’s unfair to assume they smell, when it really could be their cars — which would somehow be.. ok?

Now, I do feel for them being required to take any passenger willing to pay, since apparently another objection is that customers smell too. (The “I know you are, but what am I?” defense.)

I’m generally more concerned with the state of repair of taxis that pass inspection, they usually don’t have suspension systems in proper working order in my personal experience. And I’ve gotten into more than a few cabs late at night in my time where I’m convinced the driver has been drinking or the driver hasn’t slept in way too many hours to be driving.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. Think about how silly this all is in the context of any other market out there. Does the government require grocery store clerks not to smell bad? How about coffee baristas?

    The reason they don’t smell bad is competition, and the pressure entrepreneurs face to run a quality operation. It’s also what pressures Uber & Lyft to have high-quality drivers (Uber drivers must maintain a 4.6 rating). The taxi racket of course faces no such competition, and so spats like this are unintended (but not unforeseen) consequence of granting monopoly privileges to a small group of entitled folks.

    As is often the case, customers & open competition does a far better job at ensuring quality than government decrees in a closed market.

    Taxi drivers are just digging their own grave. Not smelling bad is now “racism”? Absurd.

  2. Such atrocious use of our fine language! You smell, I stink, is more appropriate. Suffice to say these hard working drivers of cabs do not, for the most part, smell badly – in fact most probably have at least average olfactory perception. However, I am quite sure some do stink to high heaven!

  3. Many taxis drivers shut off the AC to save money on gas even on a hot day
    Others don’t shower to conserve water having a ripe smell

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