A Cabbie's Crusade

Javier Peña is a maverick cabbie on a mission to turn the notorious Miami taxi industry into a respectable profession. So far he's been threatened, shot at, fined, and fired. In other words, he's making progress.

Joe Mora seems like a nice enough fellow, if cautious and bureaucratic. A question about whether the county, with only 27 inspectors to regulate taxis, jitneys, limos, buses, and other forms of licensed passenger transportation, can muster the manpower to seriously tackle door-buying in Miami Beach, elicits the following response: "Ma'am, we are utilizing our resources to address the issue. But again, there are other issues." That would be a no, then? "We believe we're adequately prepared to enforce the ordinance," Mora clarifies. So, yes? "We are actively enforcing this, but we are also enforcing all the other ordinances," he adds weakly.

Is door-buying the big problem taxi drivers seem to think it is? "I wouldn't say it's a big problem, but it does create an unfair playing field," Mora affirms. According to his office, county code-enforcement officers made 1750 visits to 224 hotels countywide in the last six months of 2002 with the aim of catching, or at least discouraging, door-buying, but issued just 31 $500 citations for the offense. Mora says it's difficult because the violators basically have to be caught in the act. But he says just the presence of the officers, both county code enforcement and Beach police, at the hotels inhibits the practice.


Steve Satterwhite
It's a time-honored tradition for hotel concierges, valets, and cabbies to make money off each other
Steve Satterwhite
It's a time-honored tradition for hotel concierges, valets, and cabbies to make money off each other

At a smoothie shop on Alton Road and Sixteenth Street, a handful of taxi drivers sit on a couch and loveseat in the corner of the store. One of them runs over to the Dunkin' Donuts for coffee, returns with it, and plops down on the loveseat. Peña recounts with an odd relish the events of an evening a few weeks prior, when he had a run-in with county inspectors. Five drivers were standing around on 23rd Street, chatting and complaining, as usual, about the state of the industry. "All of a sudden two inspectors pull up at 50 miles an hour and blocked everybody in," Peña sputters. "It was like Starsky and Hutch. One of the inspectors says to me: 'Give me your fucking [taxi driver] license.' I said, 'Fuck you, I'm not driving. I don't have to give you my license.'"

Peña explains that the inspectors thought he'd been driving a friend's taxi, even though his license had expired. "The inspector says, 'I've been looking for you for three days now.' My friend was around the corner getting coffee, so they towed his car. Then they called his boss and told her that he was letting me drive his cab and I was a troublemaker. And she threatened him if he ever let me drive his car. But I wasn't driving. It's the county coming after me. It's insane!"

"We're not after Mr. Peña," counters Joe Mora wearily. "We're not after any driver. Issues of compliance is all we're interested in."

Peña is unconvinced. "I'm going to sue them for harassment," he mutters. "This isn't the end of me."

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