Courtesy and the Cab

No blaring horns. No profane shouts to "move it, buddy!" No taxi drivers behaving badly. And traffic that actually flowed rather than crept through the city.

That's what happened last Wednesday when New York City cab drivers called a one-day wildcat strike. They were protesting new rules on taxis proposed by Mayor Rudolph Giuliani, part of his campaign to return a sense of "civility" to the nation's largest city.

The regulations, to be voted on by the Taxi and Limousine Commission May 28, call for cabbies to be tested for drug use, ban smoking and the playing of loud music, and set fines of up to $150 for ignoring or cursing riders. Traffic violations could result in suspended licenses. The cabbies, who have called for a massive protest drive from Queens to City Hall this Thursday, say the tighter rules would put many of them out of work.

Last week, with maybe a few hundred taxis roaming the city instead of 12,200, New Yorkers and visitors faced a whole new world. Some explored the network of subways, hitherto unknown to them; some learned that buses will take riders near to most destinations. Others stretched walking legs in the sunny spring weather. (Striking on a slushy, ankle-numbing day in January might have been a better strategy for the cabbies.)

Mayor Giuliani has been forceful and innovative in "repositioning" New York as a livable and pleasant-to-visit city. Now he's threatening the unruly cabbies with new competition, perhaps from private vans, if they don't comply and clean up their acts.

It's not that the taxi drivers don't deserve sympathy. The long hours spent in these entry-level jobs can be frustrating and dangerous. But Giuliani's requests are not unreasonable. Showing a little courtesy will only put a brighter shine on the Big Apple.

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