No Right of Refusal

MAC puts teeth behind a revised taxi cab ordinance—Rebecca Kragnes interviewed

The issue of cab drivers who deny rides to people who use dog guides comes and goes. Rebecca Kragnes, former president of MN Guide Dog Users, has been involved in the recent public hearings of the Metropolitan Airports Commission (MAC) to address this issue. The resulting action taken by MAC is intended to put a stop to the use of religion, or any other excuse, as a reason to deny dog guide users their civil rights to public transportation by taxi cab drivers. Last month, Kragnes took time to answer a few questions on the status of the hearings, and the new ordinance that takes effect May 11.

How will MAC’s rewrite the taxi cab ordinance ensure that users of dog guides will no longer be denied rides by cab drivers?

When the new regulations go into effect May 11, the only reason a driver can refuse someone is if they feel threatened or unsafe. The other refusal reasons, like alcohol, vouchers and credit cards, will not be options for cab drivers. If they refuse for any reason other than safety, they will be suspended for thirty days as a first offense. If they are found refusing a second time, they won’t be a licensed cab driver at the airport for two years. Because there are cab starters — people watching and helping travelers get to cabs, the drivers aren’t as likely to refuse us there with these severe consequences described above. I think with most guide dogs standing placidly by their owners’ sides, it’s going to be hard to use the safety refusal.

Describe the way the current MAC taxi cab ordinance will benefit cab drivers as well as users of dog guides in future taxi cab rides.

I think the rules are going to be more black and white. The current refusals are gray areas — not exactly wrong but not exactly right. Right now, a refusal gets the cab driver sent to the back of the line which is essentially a slap on the wrist. Sometime soon they will be signing contracts in which they are agreeing to follow the new rules. They will know the consequences of an invalid refusal, and I believe there will be much less conflict about cab service. The line will hopefully move faster, and both cab drivers and customers can get down to business.

Why did some drivers at the MAC meeting in March state they wanted the MAC to allow them to continue denying rides to blind customers who use dog guides?

If we are still talking about the February 27 hearings, I don’t recall that any drivers ever said such a thing. In fact, they argued that they never refuse blind people with guide dogs and wouldn’t in the future. We’ll see how true the latter is when these new rules come down. Most of the arguments for having refusals stem from not wanting to transport alcohol.

What position has the National Organization of Guide Dog Users taken with regard to the MAC ordinance?

Guide Dog Users Incorporated is supportive of the ordinance. Even though, technically, it doesn’t change the current regulations for guide dog refusal, the ordinance does close loopholes drivers can currently use to refuse a person with a guide dog. Right now, they can say, “I didn’t refuse her because of her dog. I refused her because she has to use a credit card, a voucher, or because she is carrying alcohol.” Those excuses will not be available to them after May 11.

What have taxi cab drivers done to diffuse the tension between some taxi cab drivers who discriminate against guide dog users and those who need dog guides?

A group of cab drivers publicly stated that they are willing to give free rides to people with guide dogs during a state convention of the National Federation of the Blind and this summer’s national convention of the American Council of the Blind. [Cab driver] groups are also approaching blindness-related organizations to dialog on these important issues.

How will these efforts reduce discrimination against users of dog guides?

Obviously, there are no guarantees that we won’t experience refusals. After all, this is one subgroup of cab drivers at the airport. There are companies all over the city who are not participating in this campaign. But I do think it shows that they are willing to prove—in the best way they know how—that this subgroup of cab drivers won’t discriminate. I can only hope that the peer pressure this subgroup puts on the rest of the cab driver community, plus the new ordinance itself, will lessen refusals significantly.

What are schools that train dog guides doing to educate cab drivers about the rights to equal access and use of transportation by users of dog guides?

I know Guide Dogs for the Blind has a video called “Taxi Please,” and Seeing Eye has a poster on this topic. Most importantly, they are letting their students know how to deal with access issues when they do occur. Schools have very little influence on cab drivers, but they can equip students with the tools to advocate for themselves.

What are some of the experiences you’re aware of in which users of dog guides were denied taxi cab rides and what did these people do about it?

One woman actually took the discriminatory driver to court and won. Others simply called the company and stopped there. What they don’t realize is that the company won’t report such instances to the licensing people, because the company will get fined along with the driver for such discriminatory action. It’s always important for people with dog guides who have been refused to talk to the entity that licenses the cab driver who discriminated against them. Taking them to court is also a fantastic idea. I admire the persistence of the woman who took the driver to court, and based on her action, now I would probably do the same thing. She told me that it takes a lot of patience and jumping through hoops, but it’s worth it in the end.

I’ve had several experiences of my dog and I being refused, both when alone and with my husband and his dog. When there are two dogs, sometimes the drivers really have a tizzy. I wasn’t as educated back then about procedures as I am now, and all I can say is that it would not be very smart if they refused to take me today. I know my rights!