Taxi drivers who refuse service to travelers carrying alcohol at the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport face tougher penalties despite protests from Muslim cabbies who sought a compromise for religious reasons, officials said Monday.
The Metropolitan Airports Commission said new penalties were needed to ensure customers get safe and reliable taxi service, and voted to suspend a driver’s airport taxi license for 30 days for the first offense and revoke it for two years for a second offense. The new penalties take effect May 11.
Airport officials say more than 70 percent of the cabbies at the airport are Muslim, and many of them say Islamic law forbids them from giving rides to people carrying alcohol.
Under the old rules, a driver who refused to transport someone carrying alcohol would be told to go to the back of the taxicab line. Airport officials said that since January 2002, there have been more than 4,800 instances of drivers’ refusing to take alcohol-carrying travelers.
Commissioners said the old rules didn’t prevent customers from being stranded at the curb or — as reported in a few cases — dropped off before their destination after drivers learned of their alcohol on board.
Some Somalis who testified Monday urged commissioners to reject the new penalties and find some other solution.
“We see this as a penalty against a group of Americans only for practicing their faith,” said Hassan Mohamud, an imam and an adjunct professor at William Mitchell College of Law.
The airport had proposed one pilot program that had drivers who wouldn’t transport alcohol display a different top light on their cab, but the public’s reaction was overwhelmingly negative and taxi drivers feared it would make travelers avoid taxis altogether.