WICHITA — The taxicab driver who shuttled Sandy Keathley’s family to Wichita Mid-Continent Airport recently for a trip to Florida “was very cheery for 4 a.m.,” she says.
“Couldn’t say that much for our family,” she joked.
The driver, from Best Cabs, Keathley said, arrived early, greeted her family politely and schlepped their bags into the van.
When the family got back to Wichita, they caught a van at the airport to come back home.
That experience was nothing like the trip out, Keathley said.
The cab, from American Cab, was dirty and smelled of smoke, Keathley said. The interior needed to be “cleaned badly,” she said, and the driver was napping in the back seat when the family approached the taxi at the taxi stand.
That experience illustrates why Wichita is working on revising its rules about taxis for the first time since 1984.
The city wants visitors and residents to have better experiences in Wichita cabs. Three cab companies serve the city: ABC and American, owned by the same person, and Best Cabs.
The Eagle and Kansas.com asked readers to weigh in on their taxi experiences. In addition, a reporter took two cab rides Thursday — one from the airport to her home in North Riverside and one from her home to Old Town.
Most readers who responded spoke of bad experiences — cabs that smelled of smoke, drivers who didn’t look and act professionally and, in some cases, drivers who didn’t seem to know the city very well.
Keathley said her family had to tell their driver “turn by turn how to get us home. If somebody had gotten off that plane and didn’t know Wichita, they would have been so fried.”
Wichita resident Marilyn Rieken said she has taken cabs to and from the airport but no longer will.
Once, she said, a cab driver picked her up at the airport and then, after driving away, told her he had to pick up another customer.
The cab stopped at a hotel off Kellogg near downtown, and the driver picked up three men.
Rieken, who is 74, sat in the back seat between two strangers and behind two men she didn’t know, including the driver.
She was scared.
“I did not feel safe at all,” Rieken said.
In addition, she said the cab was not clean.
She said she’s been in other cabs in which the smell of cigarettes was overwhelming.
“I’ve yet to get in a cab that didn’t smell like smoke,” Rieken said.
Valorie Martin, 32, said she has taken a cab a few times in the past year. The first time was to pick up her car after a night out.
“The cab I got was filthy, the driver was smoking, and there were ashes and cigarette butts all over the place. It stunk and the cabbie was in a tank top,” Martin said. “He was nice enough and drove OK; I didn’t have another choice in the matter, so I just dealt with it.”
But Martin said she is allergic to smoke and had an asthma attack later.
The last two times she called a cab, she did so because her car was in the shop.
In the first case, the driver was “fairly clean, the cab was way less dirty than the first time.” The cab still smelled like stale smoke, she said.
However, the last time she took a cab, she said, “the driver nearly got in two accidents because he was a terrible driver. He didn’t know the city at all and was hard to direct because of it. He chewed tobacco and had a spit cup half full of chew juice in the cup holder, leaving me nowhere to put my own bottle of water, not that I would have put it down in his filthy cab anyway.”
Sacks from fast-food restaurants littered the floorboards, she said, and the cab “stunk of rotten food.”
“Next time I need to go somewhere without my car, I’m taking the bus. I’ll just have to remember to allow an extra couple hours to get there,” she told The Eagle.
A man who would only identify himself as “Big John” said he moonlighted as a cab driver in Bakersfield, Calif.
He said cab drivers had to wear black pants, a white shirt and a tie as well as a badge.
“We weren’t allowed to smoke, and we would greet people, ‘Welcome to Bakersfield.’ We were always clean-cut and very polite. I don’t see why Wichita can’t be the same.”
He said he saw a cab driver at a Wichita Dillons store in a tank top.
“Half his belly was showing; he didn’t look clean at all. It was disgusting. They’re maybe fine Christian people, but when you’re working for the public and representing the city of Wichita, which you are, you need to be clean-cut and look presentable.”
Mayor says he’s tired of complaints
Wichita Mayor Carl Brewer said at a recent workshop about taxi regulations that he was “tired” of hearing complaints about drivers.
The proposed changes center on improving customer service, including generating faster response times. The changes also would shift licensing and enforcement to the city’s finance department.
Cabs would be inspected twice a year.
The city would ban drivers from wearing tank tops and similar items of clothing. Smoking would be prohibited. Drivers would go through customer service classes via Go Wichita, the city’s convention and visitors bureau.
The city took a look at rules in other communities when drafting the proposed changes, said Brandon McGuire, a public management fellow in the city manager’s office.
Those cities included Omaha, Tulsa, Denver, Kansas City, Memphis and Louisville.
“What we found is that, while essentially the operations of taxicab industries are obviously similar, local market factors dictate each community’s needs from its taxicab industry,” McGuire said. “We tried to tailor our findings to meet Wichita’s needs.”