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When D.C. cabbie Beshah Shiferan Feyisa dropped off Florida businessman Donald Faller and his family at the FBI building last summer, he found a handsome tip lying in the front seat. On his way out of the cab, Faller had dropped a roll of green totaling $1,484 that had been in his pants pocket. Although Faller figured his chance of recovering the cash was “about zero percent,” Feyisa promptly returned it to the concierge at his hotel.
Feyisa’s gesture of good citizenship was enough to win him the first-ever Driver of the Month award, a designation introduced this January by D.C. Taxicab Commission Chairman Novell Sullivan. When Sullivan took over the commission last year, he found a cab industry dogged by a familiar set of evils, some of which he was accused of propagating: corruption in the handling of taxi licenses, clueless drivers, and broken-down cabs. In an effort to boost consumer confidence in the industry, Sullivan turned to the oldest trick in the business-management primer.
Sullivan describes the Driver of the Month award as a work in progress. Although his staff selected the first winner, Sullivan hopes to form a panel to make the sticky choices in the future, as the profile and prestige of the distinction push the stakes higher. However, seating a volunteer panel may be a stretch, given the number of already unfilled slots for unpaid city positions. Perhaps the commission could entice volunteers by dipping into the half-million-dollar assessment fund, which is funded by the hacks and traditionally used to pay for taxicab confabs.
This is not to suggest that the judges will make out better than the award winners. But so far they won’t end up any worse off. Feyisa, after all, didn’t win a certificate, cash award, free fill-up, car wash, or a new coat of paint with a hack-of-the-month design. Nor is his photo plastered on sun visors in cabs all across town.
Yet the coveted award cannot be taken lightly. Anyonepresumably even cabdriverscan nominate someone for the award. And Sullivan says he needs more nominees to choose from. He implied that he picked Mr. January from a nominee pool of about one.
To nominate someone, all you need do is write a letter explaining why a cabdriver performed above and beyond the call of duty. Feyisa won the award for not stealing someone else’s money, so the bar hasn’t been set too high for the winning driver. But there are some do’s and don’ts to be aware of before submitting your name for nomination:
•Prove you have a valid driver’s license. This will place you on the elite tier of nominees.
•Do the extraordinary: Pick up a black male as a fare. Take pictures. Get an affidavit from your passenger. Then do it again. Imagine how your application will look alongside those of drivers who’ve been cited for “failing to haul.”
•Submit your letter in English. Commission members do not speak Amharic. You may have paid money to avoid taking the University of the District of Columbia’s mandatory taxicab training program, but that was business, and the award is government. Different standards apply. Ask a friend to translate your nomination letter.
•Answer a radio call in less time than it would take a person to walk to workor to the hospital. Again, obtain proof.
•Do not send money with your application. Though you’re accustomed to paying to skip classes and obtain “face cards,” it has not been demonstrated that this award is for sale. Wait at least until the number of applicants climbs into the double digits.
•When discussing popular tourist destinations, do not refer to the 7-Eleven at Columbia Road and Wyoming. That’s your most popular destination, not your clients’.
•Ask passengers to leave valuables in the back seat so you can return them. Large sums of money are good, but be creative. Consider jewelry, top-secret documents, or small children. Finding valuable items that fall behind the seat earns you extra credit. Also, it will give the judges the notion that you occasionally clean your cab.
•Use the words “White House,” “Capitol,” and “Smithsonian” in a complete sentence. Name three Washington neighborhoods and write something that proves you’ve been there.
•Take a photograph of a passenger enjoying air conditioning in your cab. Angle the photo to show closed windows. Submit with the passenger’s affidavit.
•Prove you know your way around the District. Never, never refer to Anacostia as an endangered bird from California. Attach a receipt for a District map as “Exhibit A.”
But remember: Don’t go overboard and mention all those intangible skills you deploy every day on the streets of D.C.like the way you search your pockets and glove box before telling your passenger that you have no change or the circuitous routes you take to charge an extra zone or two on the fare, or your uncanny ability to block all lanes of Connecticut Avenue at rush hour. Those won’t set you apart from your competitors.CP