Taxi drivers in Montréal are finally speaking up for themselves. Six doormen at the Fairmont Queen Elizabeth Hotel were recently charged with extortion, intimidation, and conspiracy “for allegedly forcing taxi drivers to give them money in exchange for better-paying fares,” according to the Canadian Broadcasting Corp. The doormen were arrested November 15 and the hotel suspended them pending investigation.
The report described a shakedown that is too common at too many downtown hotels. When a doorman spots a customer who represents a hefty fare—to an airport or across town, rather than to a restaurant around the corner—he funnels the business to a driver who pays a kickback of up to $30.
I’ve talked to too many drivers not to go ballistic when I see this kind of corrupt behavior. I think of the cabbies who spend 14 hours a day behind the wheel, in all kinds of weather, knowing they have to cover an exorbitant daily rental fee on their cab before they can feed their families.
This matters to our industry because taxi drivers are a part of the foundation on which successful meetings are built. When things go well on site, we make sure the meeting sponsors get the recognition (but remind them who was at their back when it’s time to plan next year’s program). But all of that unravels without the unsung heroes behind the curtain—the housekeepers, kitchen and maintenance staff, laundry and room service workers, and cabbies who cater to our participants from the moment they arrive.
If the front-door shakedown is carried out at a hotel when a major meeting is on site, it’s being perpetrated with our attendees’ dollars. I’ve spoken to hotel representatives about these scams. They thanked me for complaining, took down the details, but explained that they didn’t know how to solve the problem. That’s why I’m so glad the Montréal cabbies have brought the issue out in the open.
As meeting professionals and frequent travelers, we can help. If you show up with your suitcase and a doorman asks where you’re going, ask him why he needs to know. If you end up in a taxi that comes from the queue in front of the facility, rather than the “express lane” waiting around the corner for the best fares, ask the driver if there’s a scam going on. If there is, report back to hotel management and ask what they plan to do about it.
Mitchell Beer, CMM, is president of The Conference Publishers Inc., Ottawa, one of the world’s leading specialists in capturing and repurposing conference content. Beer blogs at http://theconferencepublishers.com/blog. Send comments, facts, arguments, or column ideas to firstname.lastname@example.org.