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Cabdriver protest caravan clogs traffic in downtown Minneapolis

Cab Drivers Association spokesman Mohamed Dorley, center, voiced grievances to Rick Bertram, left, general manager of theMINNEAPOLIS MARRIOTT CITY CENTER hotel. — Aaron Lavinsky

The drivers say limo drivers are tipping hotel staffers to steer them more business, a practice they call unfair.Taxicabs by the dozens clogged traffic at a major downtown Minneapolis intersection Tuesday afternoon in a dispute pitting cabbies and limousine drivers over fares at hotels.

The cabs were creeping in a single-file line from hotel to hotel, bringing other vehicles to a crawl or stop. The streets were also filling with Metro Transit buses as the afternoon rush hour approached. Police were on the scene attempting to get the cabs to move along and issuing tickets.

The drivers object to the practice of front-door and front-desk staff members at the hotels accepting $10 tips from limousine drivers in exchange for passengers.

“This is not supposed to happen,” said Walter Mendez, a Minneapolis cabdriver who is participating in what he called “a strike.”

Mendez said door attendants will “hold customers until a limousine comes.” He said he’s complained for the past month to city officials to no avail.

A group of about 20 cabdrivers crowded around Rick Bertram, general manager of theMINNEAPOLIS MARRIOTT CITY CENTER hotel Tuesday afternoon as Mohamed Dorley, a driver, addressed him on their behalf. In total, 72 drivers had protested at the Radisson and Marquette hotels.

“We just need some respect,” Dorley said to Bertram.

Honking filled downtown as drivers got back in their cabs, heading to the next hotel: Loews. Another driver, Tamru Gezahgne, said they’d head to the Hilton and Hyatt after that.

He said hotel employees are greeting the cab caravan by “harassing us, telling us to get out of here.”

“The city doesn’t care about it,” said Gezahgne, adding that they went to City Hall earlier in the morning.

Bertram said he would be happy to work with the taxi companies.

If Marriott employees are receiving tips for their services, it’s not a process that is coming from a policy or management — it’s on an individual basis, just like a guest tipping a door attendant, Bertram said. He said he doesn’t know of it specifically happening at the hotel.

Car-sharing companies like Uber may have magnified the issue, he said; more competition means “the pie has gotten smaller.”

The city has also experienced a dramatic increase in the number of taxicabs.

Minneapolis currently has 950 licensed taxicabs and 1,300 licensed drivers, according to Grant Wilson, Minneapolis’ manager of licenses and consumer services. In 2007 there were 373 licensed cabs and 942 licensed drivers. This growth came after the city lifted a long-standing cap on the number of licenses in 2006.

A similar protest was staged roughly three weeks ago, about the time when cabdrivers started meeting with city officials about this issue, he said.

He said officials explained to the drivers that limo operators are licensed by the state, are required to charge more than cabs for the amenities they offer and can tip in exchange for fares.

However, Wilson added, cabdrivers are licensed by the city and are forbidden from doing the same. “We said, ‘Why don’t we ask the City Council to amend that code [and allow tipping by cabdrivers] and have a level playing field?’ ” Wilson said. The drivers rejected that suggestion.

Wilson said drivers met again Tuesday with staff from the mayor’s office, and he suspects the cabbies could well come around to such a change.

Mike Noble, owner and innkeeper of the Best WesternNORMANDY INN and Suites on S. 8th Street, said he’s aware of the tipping by limo drivers but “I didn’t know cabdrivers couldn’t do the same. I think it should be a level playing field.”

But Noble said he’s not willing to even things up by ordering his staff to not accept tips from any ride provider.

“I don’t think it’s my personal responsibility to fix this problem in the community,” he said.

Noble said his clients often prefer a limousine because the vehicles are “immaculate” and the drivers are smartly dressed in a suit and tie.

“There is an es·prit de corps,” he said.

Cabs, however, “just pull up to the curb, and probably the floor is dirty,” Noble said.

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