Beer, Wine and Spirits. Tastings and Travel. News and Events. Classic Flavors from Breweries, Wineries and Distilleries Across the Drinks World.

Sunday, January 28, 2007

Cab Drivers as Moral Compasses

U.S. Transportation Safety Administration rules that restrict our ability to carry on to airplanes containers with more than 3 ounces of liquid have made it much more difficult to bring home a bottle of wine or six pack of beer. I used to regularly do this when business or leisure travel took me to a new part of the country and I found something worth sharing with the folks back home. Security often checked the packages to make sure the bottles were sealed and sometimes reminded me I could not consume them on my flight. The loss of this freedom is small in the scheme of fighting terrorism, but is still a loss.

Sure, you can pack the beverage in your checked luggage, but you face the obvious issues of lost bags, damaged contents and even theft. If you are traveling internationally, you can buy alcohol at duty free shops inside the terminal to bring back home. However, if you live in Minnesota and use the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport, what the TSA has not eliminated airport taxi cab drivers have decided to try to block.

On one side of this struggle are tanned vacationers returning from places like the Caribbean with duty-free rum and California with some cabernet sauvignon discovered while touring wine country. On the other side are Somali cab drivers who say that under Muslim religious law they must refuse passengers carrying alcohol. They also refuse to transport people with dogs -- even guide dogs for the blind -- because of Muslim teachings that dog saliva is dirty.

This would not be really much of a problem, except for the fact that about 75 percent of the 900 taxi license holders serving the airport are Somali Muslims. Minneapolis-St. Paul is a fairly busy airport, with 40 million passengers traveling through it every year. Airport officials say that they know about 5,400 people being refused cab service during the last five years. Imagine arriving back in Minnesota in the middle of a January cold snap and not being able to get a cab driver to take you home. You have the fare and are well mannered. Your offense? That bottle of Scotch you picked up in the duty free shop.

Officials at the airport are talking about stiffer penalties, including suspension of airport licenses, for cab drivers who refuse service to passengers. This would include drivers who refuse passengers because the trip is too short and the fare would not be large enough. Right now all that happens is the driver is sent to the end of the line.

Minnesota law allows taxi cab drivers to refuse service if they feel their life might be in danger. Beyond that and the law in Minnesota and most other places considers the ability of a citizen to hail a cab to be public access issue. The Minnesota chapter of the Muslim America Society has proposed placing a light or color coding cabs that will not accept passengers carrying alcohol or dogs. That would not solve the problem facing passengers stuck at the airport where potentially three out of four cabs would ban them.

One of the great things about living in America is our diversity. Diversity can only succeed when people are tolerant of the beliefs and lifestyles of others. It is a two way street. My wife and I have friends who, because of religious beliefs, do not drink and do not bring alcohol into their homes. When we have been guests in their homes, it is a non-alcoholic gathering. When they have been to our home we serve them soft drinks, but have never had an issue about enjoying a beer at the same table. When we have been out to dinner, the same applies. I'm not going to attempt to convince them to have a glass of wine and they don't try to tell me I cannot have a cocktail. Tolerance, people, tolerance.

The case of the Somali cab drivers runs even deeper than the concept of social tolerance. If I am not breaking the law and I'm not a danger to the driver I should have the right to use a publicly licensed transportation service. I'm not looking for a cab driver to serve as my morale compass. What would happen if instead of alcohol the drivers decided that, because of what Muslim religious law says about women, they would not pick up any female fares unless they dressed in burqas? If they want to apply this rule to their personal vehicle, fine. However, as soon as they hang that taxi license in their cab, it becomes a public access issue.

America is a secular society. If we start to allow any group to impose religious rules on public transportation, we could slide back to the days where people had to ride in the back of the bus because of the color of their skin. Do we want people to be refused service at a hotel or restaurant because they are "different" than the owners? I don't think as a country we should let any group convince us that is a place where we want to return.

No comments: