Members of the Metro Council’s Minority Caucus say they are “offended and shocked” by comments the head of Metro’s Transportation Licensing Commission allegedly made about taxi cab drivers.
But Brian McQuistion, the director at the center of the controversy, suggested his words were misconstrued.
At issue are remarks McQuistion, speaking before the caucus this week at their invitation, delivered at a time when a group of Ethiopian cab drivers are attempting to start their own cab company called Volunteer Taxi. To do so, an existing citywide cab-permit limit of 585 would need to be increased.
McQuistion and the licensing commission oversee this process.
Multiple caucus members claim McQuistion said cab drivers, who tend to be minorities, would resort to crime, prostitution or drug-dealing if the cap on the number of cab permits in Nashville were increased and business among all cab drivers were stretched out.
The meeting wasn’t recorded or televised, nor was media present.
“Frankly, I can’t remember what I said,” McQuistion told The City Paper Thursday. “But what I meant was if drivers cannot make a living wage then there’s an increase risk of the following things happening: overcharging, overloading too many passengers into a cab.
“I’m not blaming any cab driver anywhere saying they’re going to do this,” McQuistion said. “But historically, the industry has the potential for problems involving other crimes that are just not related to cabs. That could be prostitution or drugs, or you name it.”
He added that six drivers were arrested a few years ago for illegally hauling alcohol to people. Other cab drivers, he said, have exceeded the number of hours they can legally drive to add income.
“Those sorts of things can be public safety risks, and that’s my concern. If you have the same amount of money spread among more drivers, you’re going to have less income, and there is a point in which it becomes a public safety concern,” McQuistion said.
Months ago, the minority caucus announced its support of Volunteer Taxi’s efforts.
Many of the group’s 10 members have objected to McQuistion’s remarks, including caucus president Jerry Maynard. According to him, McQuistion referenced a “gut feeling” as he made his analysis.
“I think his gut feeling was based on his own prejudice that he has regarding the people who drive cabs,” Maynard said, pointing out many Ethiopian cab drivers were in the room to hear his comments.
“He didn’t say they would become rogue. He didn’t say they would begin to do things like give rides without the meter being on. He said they would respond by going into prostitution and drug dealing. And we were shocked. We were shocked by his statement,” Maynard said.
Councilman Scott Davis, also a member of the caucus, said he as “offended” by McQuistion’s comments.
“We were just trying to ask Brian McQuistion some basic questions,” Davis said, adding that the caucus was caught off guard with the “drug dealing and prostitution” comments.
In December, the transportation licensing commission voted to increase the 585-permit cap to 673, which includes 60 permits for Volunteer Taxi, which would become Nashville’s first driver-owned cab company.
Its final approval, however, is contingent upon funding in next year’s budget, set to be finalized this spring.
McQuistion has said authorizing more cab permits would require additional staff to inspect vehicles, hence more funding.