If you think D.C. cabdrivers are an ignorant, rude and disheveled lot, Bill Edwards is out to change your mind.
Edwards, general manager of the Washington Hilton Hotel and chairman of the D.C. Private Industry Council, said most of the city's 10,000 cabbies are good drivers who deserve recognition for their hard work. And he and a committee of local business leaders along with the D.C. Taxicab Commission will be spreading the word through a campaign geared to bolster the image of the local cabdrivers.
Fashioned after the "Miami Nice" program that improved the professional image of cabdrivers in that city, the local campaign will include a mandatory training class emphasizing good manners, knowledge of the city and a neat appearance. Drivers will be given an item to display in their cabs to show they have graduated from the course, Edwards said.
But it is the minority of the city's drivers -- the ones who don't know local geography, who overcharge their customers and who grump instead of smile -- who are the real targets of the get-nice project, Edwards said.
"Our position is that this is the nation's capital and we should have nothing but the best in service here," he said. "We are interested in motivation, recognition and training to improve both service and image."
Edwards said the short training course will be handled by the University of the District of Columbia and he expects graduates will be on the street in time for the summer tourist season.
The Private Industry Council is a 10-year-old, nonprofit organization of business, labor and government volunteers that provides training and employment opportunities for low-income residents.
The cabdriver campaign is sponsored by American Express, which has donated $25,000, said Terry Savage, manager of the company's philanthropic program. Local businesses are expected to donate matching funds to finance the entire program, he said.
Savage, who met with PIC members last month, said he took a cab to the meeting.
"The fellow driving decided to make a left-hand turn from the right-hand lane across a crosswalk filled with pedestrians and against a red light," he said. "I knew right away we had picked the right town for our campaign."
Savage said his company has sponsored similar programs in Chicago, Atlanta and New York as well as Miami.
David Watson, spokesman for the taxicab commission, said Chairman Arrington Dixon is pleased about the campaign. "We think it is a wonderful idea, especially with the major users of cabs -- hotels, restaurants and business people -- involved in the program," he said.