SO THE MAYOR OF BOSTON, channeling his inner Captain Renault, is shocked – shocked! – to find that Boston's taxi industry is a rigged and pitiless racket.
Why, until he read about it in the Boston Globe, Tom Menino never had a clue that in the city he has presided over for 20 years, cabbies are commonly treated like serfs, abused by multimillionaire owners who flout the law with impunity. If it hadn't been for the Spotlight team's detailed exposé, the mayor still wouldn't know about all those besieged Boston cab drivers, most of them immigrants, who have to work exhaustingly long shifts as "independent contractors of earning a living wage. He still wouldn’t without benefits or job protection — and with no assurance't know about the bribes and swindles many cabbies are forced to endure if they wish to stay employed. Or about the grossly underinsured cabs that put passengers and pedestrians at grave financial risk. Or about the Boston police regulators who do nothing – and claim to know nothing – about the corruption endemic in a system that empowers fleet moguls to gouge drivers in much the way that unscrupulous landowners gouged sharecroppers in the post-Reconstruction South.
To hear Menino tell it, these revelations all came as news to him. "I'm very concerned about it," the mayor said in an interview with the Globe last week. "We're not going to tolerate this nonsense." Except that he does tolerate it. The Menino administration "turns a blind eye to this climate of casual exploitation," the Globe reported. "Worse, city officials – in ways both subtle and obvious – enable it."
Stung by all the negative publicity, not to mention the fact that federal prosecutors have launched a criminal investigation, Menino is promising a wall-to-wall review of the city's taxi industry. He vows to "revamp" the hackney division of the Boston Police Department – maybe even get the BPD out of the business of regulating the taxi business altogether.
Far be it from me to doubt the mayor's newfound zeal. But like Captain Renault's aversion to gambling in Casablanca, Menino's distress over the exploitation and ill-use of Boston's cabbies was never something he was known for in the past.