And now, a good-news story about the Philadelphia Parking Authority.
I can't believe I just wrote that sentence, either.
But the agency that everybody loves to hate gets props for its fast, appropriate handling of a complaint against one of its cabbies over discrimination based on sexual orientation.
Shortly after midnight on March 16, Joel Bautista and Michael Rios, who are gay and live a few blocks from each other in Point Breeze, hailed a taxi back to their neighborhood after spending the evening at a downtown sports bar. Cabbie Daman Sacko, driving for Philadelphia Cab Co., picked them up at Broad and Walnut Streets.
Bautista and Rios briefly discussed their love lives and had moved on to the topic of Lasik surgery when Sacko suddenly pulled over and ordered them out of his cab.
"We asked him why, and he said, 'I don't want that gay s- in my car,' " Rios says. "I said, 'But we're talking about Lasik surgery!'"
Sacko dumped them anyway and took off, but not before Rios snapped a photo of his driver certificate.
First thing the next morning, Bautista called the city's Office of LGBT Affairs and was advised to alert the PPA.
"We received his complaint at 10 a.m. and by 2:30, we had the cabbie in here for an interview," says Christine Kirlin, head of the PPA's Taxi and Limousine Division. "We took this very seriously."
A PPA investigator used info retrieved from the GPS system on Sacko's cab to verify the stops described by Bautista and Rios. As for why he ejected the men, Sacko's story shifted.
First, he said that Bautista and Rios had "talked dirty" in the cab. Then he said they propositioned him. Then he said the men asked him to pull over early and then refused to pay their fare.
Bautista and Rios were aghast.
"In the beginning, we didn't want to interfere with his livelihood; we just wanted him to know that what he did was wrong," Rios says. "But when we heard about the lies he was telling, we said, 'No, we want to go to court.'"
The PPA issued Sacko a citation on March 19, which he appealed. At his administrative hearing on July 12, hearing officer Sheldon Jelin found in favor of the PPA, fined Sacko $175 in fines and fees and suspended his driver's certificate for 30 days.
Bautista and Rios are gratified.
"The PPA had our backs," Rios says.
PPA executive director Scott Petri is glad to hear that. But he worries that passengers in ride-share vehicles, like Uber and Lyft, don't know that the PPA would have their backs, too, if they were similarly wronged.
That's because the PPA, which oversees certification of ride-share networks in the city, isn't automatically alerted when Uber or Lyft passengers file complaints with those networks about a driver's shoddy behavior. So the PPA doesn't know to intervene unless passengers contact the agency directly.
"It's frustrating," says Petri, who cringes when he hears tales of ride-share discrimination elsewhere in the country.
On New Year's Eve in Houston, for example, an engaged gay couple, Randall Magill and Jose Chavez, were kicked out of an Uber after their driver saw them engage in a "quick kiss." The driver dumped them on the side of a desolate freeway.
On May 5 in Indianapolis, a Lyft driver did the same to Ben Martella and Alec Jansen, for the same reason.
And last month in New York City, lesbian couple Alex Iovine and Emma Pichl got a driver's boot, too, for the little smooch they shared in his Uber. The woman recorded their subsequent interaction with the driver, which has racked up almost 24,000 views.
In Pennsylvania, Act 146 allows the PPA to randomly audit ride-share services like Uber and Lyft for adherence to policies, state regulations, and anti-discrimination laws. But the PPA has no authority to order ride-share drivers to receive anti-discrimination training akin to the mandatory classes, tests, and even role-playing instruction that the PPA provides to all Philly cabbies.
"It's terrific training, and we think it would benefit every driver and passenger," Petri says.
Granted, the training didn't seem to stick with the driver who dissed Bautista and Rios. But at least the PPA knows to re-train him. And if he messes up again, the PPA will seek cancellation of his driver certification.
Because, says Petri, "what happened was egregious."