from The News Leader
Laurel, Maryland. July 23, 1970.
“Stawinski Says … “
Two passengers entered a certain Prince George’s County cab whereupon the taxi driver rang up 20 cents extra on the meter. Complaint of the extra charge was met with the driver’s response, “Slawinski says that’s the extra charge for an extra passenger, and there you see it.”
Though the taxi riding public doesn’t know who Stawinski is, every cab driver in Prince George’s County does.
Henry P. Stawinski, is the Director of Taxicabs, Inspections and Licenses. He is also a member of the Prince George’s County Police. During his 14 years activities as a policeman he attained the rank of Detective Sergeant.
Now, his authority as Director of Taxicabs is unquestioned. Whether drivers like or dislike him they admit he has upgraded the life of cab drivers in the county. In the instance of the extra 20 cents charge, Slawinski did not alone make the decision. The Prince George’s County Commissioners have the final word on that subject. But it is true that after meeting with cab owners, Director Stawinski recommends the rates. “What is good for the taxi industry is good for the public,” he declares.
“Some regulatory agencies take a person’s money and forget the persons they represent. We feel responsible for them and desire to help our people. We will listen to all legitimate complaints of drivers and owners. And certainly new ideas are welcome to this department.” It is this philosophy that has earned Stawinski respect in the taxicab industry.
When Director Stawinski first assumed command of the taxi bureau he took over what he described “a tough situation.” His “tough” approach to the problem was revocation of 357 cab drivers’ licenses. Their offenses ranged from too many speeding tickets to involvement in crimes.
Director Stawinski is very closemouthed about the previous administration. Strangely, most old time cab drivers say little about the conditions which formerly beset the taxi industry in Prince George’s County. Allegedly, the major trouble was laxness in enforcing the rules governing the drivers.
To her credit, Mrs. Louise Markwood (with the bureau since 1961) is the only hold over from the previous administration. Newcomers to the industry will find her helpful, knowledgeable, and quite positive about the procedure of obtaining licenses. She is very firm with drivers and probably more familiar with drivers’ attitudes and behavior than any person in the county.
A recent addition to the bureau is Miss Audrey Smith, whose duties as clerk also aid many a driver.
The two inspectors of the bureau are Sgt. Phil Souder and Officer John Nagy. Like their boss they are Prince George’s County policemen. Their duties require them to enforce the regulations and inspect taxis which are brought to the Bureau’s office for inspection.
Thus, five persons are charged with the job of overseeing 900 drivers and 176 independent cab owners. Of course. any local, county or state policeman may stop, investigate, and interrogate any cab driver at anytime.
All Prince George’s County policemen study the regulations governing taxis.
“I like to think my drivers are the best informed in the country,” states the Director. The almost weekly bulletins which emanate from his office is designed to see that they are, and woe to the driver who declares that he doesn’t know the regulations.
Early in his career as Director, Stawinski was prompted to call in a driver who had overcharged a pregnant woman 20 cents. This taxi man’s excuse was he thought he could charge for the unborn baby! Because he was a new driver he was let off with a warning, but the Director still chuckles when he recalls the incident.
Of major concern to the bureau is the safety of passengers and the driver. During Director Stawinski’s tenure of office no passenger has been killed in a taxi accident. Likewise, any driver. One person hit a taxi and died in the accident. In this case suicide was strongly suspected. Of accidents involving taxis about half have been the fault of the drivers.
There are many outstanding drivers whose service to the county precedes World War II. The Bluebird Cab Company has the distinction of having two drivers who have driven many years without chargeable accidents. William Tayman last year was awarded a gold watch for 19 years of safe driving and William Lloyd, for 16 years.
SAFETY RULES STRINGENT
To achieve the goal of safe taxis the owner of the car must have his cab inspected twice a year at the Bureau’s office. All safety features must be perfect. Also, every owner must put a new car on the street every 2 years or 200,000 miles. One views few cabs with dents because after an accident the taxi must be repaired promptly.
The safety of the drivers during holdups is of major concern. Director Stawinski advises, “All drivers should give holdup men their complete cooperation.”
There have been requests to allow policemen to drive cabs on their off duty hours, but the Sergeant is “not in favor of allowing policemen to operate cabs because a policeman has taken an oath to be on duty twenty-four hours a day. If he were to see a crime being committed or even be approached by a disorderly person he would be obligated to neglect his taxi duties.”
It should be noted the Director has issued a directive in which he quotes Maryland law that cab drivers may not carry weapons.
Two way radios are a big deterrent against holdups. The department also recommends the use of “trouble lights. to Trouble lights are green lights placed behind the grill of the cab. When turned on, anyone observing the lights should notify the police immediately and give the cabs’ location.
Taxi holdups have been few in Prince George’s. In 1969 there were seven. In 1970 there have been four. Of particular note is the middleaged, motherly woman who gets into a cab, pulls a gun on the driver and directs the driver to drive-in windows of banks. She then holds up the bank and disappears. Thus far, she has eluded capture.
Population alone does not determine the location or number of cabs. The needs are determined on the number of persons who need the service. Rich people do not ride cabs, so a ghetto produces more passengers than a rich residential area.
Speaking of future needs, Director Stawinski says, “The better mass transportation, the better the cab business. The completion of the subway system in D.C. will mean shorter runs, more money, as the system’s passengers leave their cars at home and ride cabs to the subway stations.”
Continuing, he states, “There are 78 major shopping centers in the county.
More will be built, and more people will travel by taxi than ever before.”
In 1967 there were 1 ,600,000 passengers transported. The year following over 2 million passengers rode taxis. This was, the year public confidence was restored due to the meters being installed in all county cabs. Thus far the first four months of 1970 have seen one and a quarter million passengers. Prediction; over 5,000,000 persons will ride cabs in Prince George’s County this year.
It’s a taxi riding county as the 657,000 population will attest. That the future of the industry is assured there is no doubt.
The Laurel area, in, particular, has a critical shortage of drivers and cabs. Other areas are more fortunate but Director Stawinski does welcome inquiries. Actually, there is a waiting list in most areas.