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Body Odor Test for San Diego Cabbies Called 'Dehumanizing'

 / Updated  / Source: Associated Press
Image:
Cab driver Daniel Afeweki looks out from his Toyota Prius cab as he waits in line for his turn to pick up fares at the airport Wednesday, Sept. 10, 2014, in San Diego. Airport inspectors are judging how taxi drivers smell, a practice that some drivers say may lead to discrimination against immigrants. Gregory Bull / AP

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Body odor is among 52 criteria that officials at San Diego International Airport use to judge taxi drivers. Cabbies say that smacks of prejudice and discrimination. For years, inspectors with the San Diego Regional Airport Authority run down their checklist for each cabbie — proof of insurance, functioning windshield wipers, adequate tire treads, good brakes. Drivers are graded pass, fail or needs fixing. Anyone who flunks the smell test is told to change before picking up another customer.

Leaders of the United Taxi Workers of San Diego union say the litmus perpetuates a stereotype that predominantly foreign-born taxi drivers smell bad. Drivers also wonder how inspectors determine who reeks and how inspectors distinguish between them and their cars. Inspectors have been smelling drivers for years, but San Diego's policy appears to be unusually explicit about sniffing out smelly cabbies. Chicago requires that drivers be "clean and neat in their appearance." New York City's wording is similarly broad.

Bhairavi Desai, executive director of the 18,000-member New York Taxi Workers Alliance, said her face reddened with anger and dismay when she learned about the San Diego practice. She suggested the airport leave it to customers to complain about body odor. "What a dehumanizing way to treat your workers," she said.

— The Associated Press

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