"I'm not going to another funeral, and we're not going to have another cab driver killed if I can help it," said Leonard in a recent interview with the Mercury. He immediately called Broadway Cab to ask what could change this situation.
But the cab companies were not so willing to hop aboard the change wagon. Seeing their cabs as their personal fiefdoms, cab drivers were reluctant to give up any control over where, when, and how they operated. The suggestion to put video cameras into each cab, as a means to record illicit activity, was roundly met with opposition. Cab drivers thought the camera might scare away some of their more sundry business. Moreover, they later admitted, they did not want a complete record of everything that happened within their cab.
The battle over regulations grew so intense that in early August a driver pulled his cab over the curb and onto the pavilion in front of City Hall. According to witnesses, he calmly got out, locked the doors, and split. At the time, 170 of the city's 650 licensed cabbies had signed a petition opposing any city regulations.
In fact, even before last February's murder, City Commissioner Jim Francesconi had already tried to set up new regulations for cabs--but dropped the matter when he ran into stern opposition from drivers. Since then, besides the normal speeding and traffic laws, cab drivers have pretty much been an unprotected and unregulated industry.
But last week things changed when city council set in place new pricing structures for airport runs and Leonard pushed forward with plans to place video cameras in cabs as soon as January.
"These guys epitomize the hard-working working class, and no one's doing anything for them," Leonard said. A former firefighter, Leonard still very much displays that hero-to-the-rescue mentality in his position at city hall. When constituents complained that towing companies were charging astronomical fees, Leonard started an eight-month long process to put in place far-reaching regulations. (On Wednesday, after press time, city council voted whether to adopt those regulations.)
Leonard has been both congratulated and reviled for this bulldog tenacity.
"I've got guys coming in here (from the towing companies) so mad they're spitting when they talk," Leonard explained.
However, with the cab companies, Leonard has taken a slightly more conciliatory approach. He invited cab drivers to help him put together a plan to avoid further robberies and murders. (Three cabbies have been killed in Portland in the past decade.) After months of negotiations, cab drivers agreed to a plan where video cameras will feed images into a hard-drive. Those images can only be downloaded by police and only if a crime is reported by the cabby.
Starting on Saturday at 1 pm, Radio Cab (1613 NW Kearney) will give away a turkey dinner and "make Christmas happen" to any person or family who can show proof of unemployment over the past year. Anyone who cannot make it to Saturday's giveaway may also send a letter requesting a holiday dinner to "Radio Cab Turkey Project" at 1613 NW Kearney, Portland, OR 97209.