TO WASHINGTON'S chronic victims of passenger abuse at the hands of drivers pretending to be legal cabbies, today's report from the back-seat front lines may come as a shock. But it happens to be as true as it is noteworthy: it's about seven taxi drivers who have been hailed in a special way -- and deserved every bit of it. It's also about a hotel doorman who doesn't hit up taxi drivers for big tips in exchange for big-fare airport trips. This doorman, in fact, was instrumental in organizing a unique awards ceremony for the drivers at his hotel, the Westin, in the city's West End hotel district.

It all began when Westin Hotel official Heather Freeman came back from battle with a bad hacker and, during a discussion with doorman Leon O'Neal, complained "that there were nothing but bad cabdrivers in Washington. He said I was wrong, and he knew some good ones. I said find them and we will give them an award." Find them he did, and the hotel sprang for a three-course luncheon, brass plaques and flowery prose.

So what is it these drivers do or think that distinguishes their service? They like their work, take pride in the cleanliness of their cabsand treat passengers with courtesy -- doesn't sound like a lot, but these days it truly is. They also observe that there are others in the business who do the same -- and who resent those who wreck their business and their collective reputation.

In their business, the license with a photo of the driver is called a "face," and it is supposed to be prominently displayed. That's where you can look for the faces of the "Westin 7" -- and these are the names to notice: Harry Aiken, Ata Alai, Huseyin Chabuk, Terry Combos, Shahpouri Demehri, Donald Harrington and Manoochehr Shirzad.