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THE NUTS AND BOLTS
By Fred Anderson
We’ve said before that eliminating the license cap in 2006 crippled the taxi industry in Minneapolis. So, for those who don’t understand, or say they don’t, what’s been going on for the last eight years, here’s the scoop:
- The oft-sited Shaller Report recommends 340 cabs for a city the size of Minneapolis, the number before the cap was lifted. Removing this licensing restriction resulted in approximately a thousand at the beginning of 2014. Nearly tripling the number of cabs brought in that much higher of a percentage of troublesome drivers. Cab-riding customers found it three times as likely to have a bad experience and made their future transportation decisions accordingly, patently unfair to the vast majority of good drivers. This is also grossly unfair to the average customer only wanting a ride.
- Enforcement staff was not increased until just a few were added within the last year. The increased number of problem drivers quickly became aware of how much easier it was to get away with disruptive behavior.
- Removing the cap caused a reduction of the value of a transferable cab license to approximately 10% of its previous resale value. This loss rate calculated for 270 transferable licenses amounts to nearly $6,000,000. We agree the previous system was hopelessly flawed, but its replacement dealt a financial deathblow to many license owners and caused extreme hardship for others who, after all, purchased their licenses under a system created by a previous City Council.
- Most of the new small companies could find no inroads into the resident market already sewn up by larger companies, who with their larger fleets could provide more dependable service. This caused additional driver frustration, given the dramatically increased competition for an unchanged number of street-hails.
- The unhealthy and uncertain business atmosphere created by the ordinance changes of 2006 drove many of the best cab drivers out of the profession into other transportation occupations or into unrelated fields. Hiring good cab drivers became nearly three times as difficult for cab companies.
- Several cab companies have, as we predicted in 2006, gone out of business. Others are on the verge. Eight years of added expense, restriction, and regulation have brought the industry to a point where no Minneapolis cab company is prospering, not even the ones the 2006 ordinance changes were designed to help.
- Additionally, the mandated 10% wheelchair-accessible taxi fleet policy created over $150,000 in unnecessary expenditures for equipment that, although recommended by City of Minneapolis Licensing officials, was wholly inadequate for transporting wheelchair-bound passengers.
The result of these policies has been taxi chaos in Minneapolis. In 2006 the cap on the number of taxis licensed in Minneapolis was removed and by 2010 anyone could get one for $475. Removal of the cap by the Council was promoted financially and legally by a right-wing organization, the “Institute for Justice”, whose primary motivation was ideological. They believed, according to their own website, essentially in deregulation for the sake of deregulation, and most of us know that applying factually deprived political theory to practical concerns rarely works. In any profession, a tripling of personnel performing the same task for an unchanged market, no matter what the rationale, makes no sense. Envision a referendum, backed by an outside organization with deep pockets, designed to triple the size of the City Council because they have been found, by this organization, to be not responsive to the public. Examples of Council inadequacies, misbehavior, and malfeasance would be presented to the public in the most slanted fashion to press the argument. The resulting referendum would dissipate each Council member’s power and dramatically alter working conditions, for no Council member would be granted more office space or additional staff. The Council chamber would not be changed because by sharing office and chamber desks Council members would be encouraged to spend more time helping constituents. The process would be left open to expansion in case the City Council fails under this new system as it did under the old one.
If this sound ridiculous then imagine how we feel; it happened to us! How popular would these ideologically inspired rule changes be with the City Council? Would the Council be perceived to be whining and crying about the unfairness of it all? Well, we don’t care about revenge. The nuts and bolts of our issue is that other cities have a well-operated and regulated taxi system and we can too! Here are a few things that have worked elsewhere and will work here:
1. Establish a permanent task force composed of taxi professionals, City Council members or staff, and city inspectors, to suggest policy change. No task force memorandum could be issued without the agreement of all three entities.
2. Upgrading driver training by Courtesy Cab Training Program to include GPS training and an increased emphasis on safety and customer service.
3. Increase the power of inspectors to issue tickets and license suspensions or revocations in order to control the disruptive elements in the taxi industry. We want the drivers and owners who can’t be professional out of business in Minneapolis!
Fairness is our goal, and with all that’s happened in the last eight years, we just might be a little loud until we are heard!
FINALLY THE STORY CAN BE TOLD
By Fred Anderson
Quick, shortsighted, and arrogant decisions are nothing new in government circles (Michele Bachmann comes to mind). In Minneapolis, taxi drivers, owners, and managers have witnessed a slew of rash policies forced upon them while being denied the chance to seriously discuss them with the implementing officials. The wheelchair-accessible taxi program is such an example.
In 2006 the Minneapolis City Council, during their victory over the taxi industry in lifting the cap on the number of taxis in the city, casually announced that the wheelchair-accessible taxi fleet would be 10% of the existing cabs. Council Member Diane Hofstede, long an outspoken advocate for the disabled, took great pride in this statement and refused to heed claims from cab personnel that the program was economically unfeasible and presented a great financial burden to taxi companies and taxi owners. It was put before the Minneapolis cab community as a fait accompli; a done deal, take it or leave it. The long-suffering cab drivers took it, but in a literal sense that the city did not anticipate.
This is not the first time Minneapolis has had a wheelchair-accessible taxi plan. From 1996 to 2002 Rainbow Taxi took over from Yellow Cab’s Joseph Miller, who was the first wheelchair-accessible taxi owner in Minneapolis. Eventually Rainbow had five full-size conversion vans, two of which were subsidized by the Minneapolis Community Block Grant Program (after all, conversion vans cost two or three times what a normal van costs). In the six years of operation the program only came close to breaking even during one of the years, mostly because the demand for service was inconsistent. In 2002, after requests to the city to forego the vehicle age requirement were denied, Zack Williams, CEO of Rainbow Taxi, was forced to discontinue wheelchair service. He told the City Council the wheelchair-accessible taxi program needed “specialized vehicles and professionally trained drivers.” He was not listened to.
As has happened before with Minneapolis taxi regulation, their plan wasn’t well considered. Minneapolis currently has over 150 wheelchair-accessible cabs, so many mainly because one sop left to owners was that the age waiver was lifted (five years too late for Zack Williams and Rainbow Taxi). After owners added the $1100 worth of mandatory wheelchair equipment, they operated as any other cab would. They did not have to take wheelchair-accessible orders because they knew what the city wouldn’t acknowledge, THEIR DRIVERS WERE NOT STATE CERTIFIED! Our estimate is that there are less than fifty state certified drivers in the city, almost all at the company who provides the vast majority of this service. As you can imagine, this led wheelchair customers to do exactly what they did prior to 2006; call the company that consistently provides the service. And thwarted at every turn to present a workable program, the cab industry kept quiet as to the shortcomings of the Council’s policy.
In 2013 the city finally noticed that in a standard van (Dodge Caravan, Ford Windstar, etc.) a customer in a wheelchair would have to bend his or her head to the side to get in the vehicle up the back ramp, and also would have to bend his or her head once inside the vehicle. While this situation is not beyond repair, it certainly is not proper. The State of Minnesota, as horrified city inspectors discovered, only inspects the equipment for correct installation and overall compliance with the law. During the taxi industry meeting of September 12, 2013 taxi company officials were confronted by very nervous regulators who probably felt betrayed. Some of them were betrayed of course; not by cab drivers but by their own employers. However, Grant Wilson, Manager of Licenses and Consumer Services, is more culpable than other inspectors in that he told all applicants which ramps, etc. to use, not bothering to find out if it would actually work. Waleed Sonbol of Blue & White Taxi summed it up when he told Mr. Wilson at the industry meeting that the Minneapolis Taxi Ordinance only states that these vehicles must be wheelchair-accessible; it doesn’t say anything about transporting a passenger in the wheelchair. I don’t think that was what Grant Wilson wanted to hear, but, it was he who recommended the equipment for the vans and it was he who didn’t notice for seven years that this huge loophole existed.
The nervousness of licensing officials noticeably increased as the meeting wore on. It was at last apparent to them that taxi personnel, for the last seven years, had no incentive to say anything! Taxi experts hadn’t been listened to, and the industry had been herded down a path that was forced upon them, as the lawyers say, without recourse. Furthermore, now that the drawbacks of the program are exposed, is the taxi industry is expected to roll over and meekly follow the new guidelines, including having drivers acquire State of Minnesota Certification and providing vehicles that are physically able to transport wheelchair-accessible customers, all by February 1, 2015?
The answer from the taxi community is “NO!” They want what should have been done in the first place; a professional and thorough study to be followed by an adherence to its findings. Those responsible in Minneapolis city government should know that unless current policy changes there will be a fight. There is no other city in the country with an unsubsidized 10% wheelchair-accessible taxi fleet, and there was zero research done by city officials before instituting this harmful and stupid policy. It is therefore unacceptable to the taxi community, who, in 2006 and after, presented several alternatives directly and indirectly to the Council, all workable and all rejected.
This is about what’s best for Minneapolis. The taxi industry is more than willing to step up and work with a City Council ready to listen to the advice of those who have practical experience with implementing and operating a wheelchair-accessible taxi program.
THE $10 HANDSHAKE
By Fred Anderson
We’ve seen it before - the $10 handshake; when a limo driver pulls up to a downtown hotel, shakes the hand of the doorman (with a ten dollar bill on his palm), and five or ten minutes later loads a customer’s luggage into the trunk. Make no mistake, there is a two-tiered for-hire transportation system in the Twin Cities, particularly in Minneapolis. One major participating group are the owners and drivers of the nearly one thousand taxis in the city. Taxi owners pay nearly $500 per year for vehicle licensing and over $5500 per year in insurance. The other group is limo drivers and owners, who pay no fees to the city, whose insurance rates are approximately half what a taxi owner pays, and who have virtually no fear of consequences.
The taxi customer base can be divided into these categories: 1) customers at events, such as concerts, games, theatrical plays, etc. 2) locals (i.e. people who live and work in the Twin Cities), and 3) travelers. If there are no scheduled events or it is a slow travel period (the days surrounding holidays, for example) the relatively small Minneapolis population can only support so much of the massive Minneapolis taxi fleet. What has happened in the last ten years is that limo drivers have slowly taken away a large portion of the traveling clientele through widespread bribery of hotel front desks and doormen.
In 2006 Minneapolis had 340 licensed cabs, which, coincidentally, is the number national surveys tell us is appropriate for a city our size. Since then the removal of the cap on the number of cabs allowed in the city has caused it to grow to nearly a thousand. Add the two hundred or so limos doing business unimpeded and the result is a theoretical drop in taxi business of over 350%. Add to that the number of hotels who, through their limo-compensated employees, will not put a customer in a cab unless there are no limos available and none expected shortly, and the number zooms to an estimated 500% proportionate drop in taxi income over the last eight years.
Taxis in Minneapolis are supposed to follow the rules set by the city, made much more difficult by the reduction of cabstands from even the 2006 level. Limos are not subject to local government regulation; they are supposedly controlled by the State of Minnesota, and the State does virtually no regulation of limousines. At a meeting with State limo regulators in August 2013, Manager of Licenses and Consumer Services Grant Wilson was told that, “The State does not want to further regulate limos.” In other words, given their past record, there are specific rules limos are supposed to follow but the regulating body has no interest in enforcing them.
In most metropolitan areas we have observed, one governmental entity controls both limos and taxis. Does this guarantee no conflicts between the two ever arise? No. Does it make it easier to resolve conflicts between the two? Decidedly yes. If the situation
was reversed and taxis were unregulated, the whine and outcry from limo drivers would be larger than large. Can city officials really expect that cab drivers will stand by while lack of enforcement destroys their business? With the City Council being revamped by the 2013 election it is perhaps the right time for us to do something.
So what do we do? We have told inspectors and council members in the past that we will not present a problem without presenting a workable solution. Our solution is for the Minneapolis Taxi Ordinance to incorporate, word for word, certain sections of State law. We suggest particularly Minnesota Limousine Regulation Section 8880.0300, which mandates rate charges be more than a taxi, Section 8880.1000, which mandates limo drivers keep track of trip records and “referral records,” the 2013 Minnesota Statutes 221.84, which mandates limos only pick up on a prearranged basis, and 2013 Minnesota Statutes 609.42, which outlines the penalties for bribery. It is thought by some in our profession that the State might welcome help with an area it has had little success regulating. We don’t know that for sure, but we do know that the State of Minnesota does not prohibit local law enforcement from issuing tickets to, or arresting, violators of State law.
The City of Minneapolis extracts nearly a million dollars annually from the thirty-five or so cab companies and the fifteen hundred or so cab drivers it licenses. What we ask in return is a little protection from the single most economically disruptive force we face. Each month thousands of bribe dollars trade hands between hotel personnel and limo drivers, and we know that if you leave a problem alone it doesn’t go away. An unchecked problem will only get larger, and the longer it is left alone the larger it will become. We urge city politicians, licensers and regulators to act before things get so out of hand that it can only be fixed by extreme, and consequently embarrassing, action. We us hope clear heads will prevail, and we continue our efforts to insure that they do.
THE THREAT OF UBER & LYFT
By Fred Anderson
It was only a matter of time before someone decided to use 21st Century technology in the transportation industry, and Uber and Lyft, which are “ride-sharing” services, have jumped into the apparent gap. But the astounding thing is that the shortcomings in ridesharing are so patently obvious and egregious that they are a testament to the power of money in politics, especially local politics. Apparently, big-buck Uber and Lyft feel that if you throw enough green around you can sell snow to Eskimos.
There have been a number of websites recently exposing the deficiencies of ridesharing (whosdrivingwho.org is a prime example). The number one problem for the likes of Uber and Lyft is insurance. They have yet to spend, by criteria set by local governments, sufficient amounts to cover an injured customer in the event of an accident. They do not have commercial insurance, which is illegal in Minneapolis. In fact, in the case of Lyft no one has seen a copy of an actual policy! We are supposed to take their word that the public is protected and, as you may have guessed, we don’t. Most of us know from experience that if someone is deceptive about some things it may not be a good idea to trust them with other things, no matter how much money they toss at you.
Another rideshare shortcoming is in training. I trained drivers for Minneapolis, St. Paul, and the Airport for eight years, and one thing I stressed is that the information I provide in this eighteen-hour course is only sufficient for a driver to begin doing the job. 90% of what you will know at the end of your first year you will have learned on the street. Rideshare drivers have no specific training and virtually no background checks. Putting your friends or relatives in a rideshare car is therefore a dangerous proposition.
This is going to be a long and tortuous struggle. Council Member Jacob Frey will be introducing the bill, some say at the prompting of Council Member Lisa Goodman, who no doubt knows how much opposition there will be and wishes to avoid it for herself. What is obvious is that ridesharing services have very deep pockets, and they are not afraid to lose money at first to gain entry into a Market. In a few metro areas drivers are initially put on a salary until business can be built. What cab company can do that? But if we persevere we have a shot. Wish us luck.
MARCH 13, 2014
By Fred Anderson
The latest industry meeting between city inspectors and taxi company representatives dealt in large part with the phenomena sweeping American urban centers: ridesharing services, most predominantly Uber and Lyft.
Uber and Lyft have had mixed results nationwide. They’ve gotten into California and Chicago and been rejected in Washington state, Colorado and Texas. They have now set their sites on the Twin Cities, with St. Paul already given at least taciturn approval. Minneapolis, on the other hand, proclaims Uber and Lyft are illegal operations, at least initially. City inspectors’ interpretation of the taxi ordinance finds that the operating principles of ride-sharing services are identical to taxis, and therefore, if unregulated, in violation of Minneapolis law.
We applaud this view! Ridesharing has caused a nation-wide controversy, with contentious results virtually in every city they have attempted to enter. In our city there are two council members (both newcomers) who have expressed interest in sponsoring ordinance changes that would allow them to pick up on Minneapolis streets. The City Attorney has, according to inspectors, given his legal opinion of their noncompliance, but we’ve seen in the past where the Minneapolis City Council poops on a plate and calls it prime rib. What we must do is convince city politicians that at present the Uber and Lyft downside outweighs any benefits.
First of all, they are insufficiently insured, and this will become obvious to everyone the first time a major accident occurs and the passenger is left out in the financial cold. Uber and Lyft drivers are untrained and unprofessional. There are no background checks to speak of (apparently there were some cities where registered sex offenders were hired by Uber or Lyft) and, as ridesharing drivers get to pick and choose their customers, service occurs less in less affluent neighborhoods, where crime rates can be higher. There also is no twelve-hour rule for them; they can legally drive as many hours in a row as they like. This certainly can present a safety issue for customers and drivers. Uber and Lyft drivers can also charge as much as they want when it is busy and not many real taxi vehicles are available; we have heard stories of it costing $85 to go from uptown to downtown. This is called “surge-pricing”, and it has definite disadvantages for customers.
So what is the upside of ridesharing? Well, they ostensibly have no problems taking credit cards, making the process simple and quick. We’ve been saying for years that taxi drivers not accepting plastic is shortsighted and profoundly stupid. Uber and Lyft also have a system of drivers evaluating customers and customers evaluating drivers, which they point to as an effective method of keeping peace in their vehicles. U & L claim there are few if any complaints, although to whom customers would complain is another question entirely (try to contact the corporate offices of Uber and Lyft and you’ll see what we mean). Customers with smart phones, especially technologically proficient ones, prefer the ease with which they can get a ride. One thing they cannot count on, of course, is how good their driver will be. It is sad thing for the taxi industry when we get beat by apps that some taxi companies, in the last eight years, have been unable to afford.
What can we do then? Certainly we can study how and why Uber and Lyft were accepted in some communities and rejected in others. We can point out that there should not be another level of transportation providers unhampered by city rules and regulations. If they really are better than us let’s see it on a level playing field. That’s really all we want.
A few other interesting pieces of information were presented at this meeting by taxi inspectors. First, they claimed that at the end of 2013 there were 956 cabs in the city and by March 13 there were less than 700. I find this very hard to believe. If Minneapolis lost nearly 260 cabs from the city’s fleet in ten weeks, it might be some sort of a record! That’s twenty-five cabs a week! Is there any city in the country that lost a quarter of its cabs in a seventy-day period? Again, I don’t believe there is.
In the following discussion about what to do with trouble-causing drivers, Licensing supervisor Pat Hilden put it all on taxi companies for hiring bad drivers in the first place. I pointed out to him that there are a number of drivers at Rainbow Taxi, where I work, that we let go and are now working at other city taxi companies. Mr. Hilden asked why they would be rehired and was told that there is no set system in place for dealing with problem drivers on an inter-company level. The point we stressed is that it’s the city’s responsibility to police bad drivers. I told Mr. Hilden that we can’t be expected to efficiently perform this task when the city has the mechanism and the authority to do the job and we don’t. This comment was not well appreciated. Oh well.
It looks like Minneapolis is finally at least talking about doing something about taxi vehicle licenses expiring in May while being stickered in February. They’ve at last realized that the non-renewing cab owners are just leaving their cabs on the street until May because no one is stopping them. Maybe there’s some hope after all, who knows.
We’ve got our work cut out for us, no question about it. Uber and Lyft are going to be in town with their high-priced lawyers and we’ve got to be ready. It is a very important fight. It is a fight for our right to exist as an industry, and what could be more urgent than that? Stay tuned; we will keep you informed.
WHAT’S UP WITH WHEELCHAIR-ACCESSIBLE TAXIS?
By Fred Anderson
Taxi officials have been meeting recently with Minneapolis City Council members to work out a new agreement for the wheelchair-accessible taxi program. Waleed Sonbol of Blue & White Taxi has procured a well-respected and well-known local attorney and has presented alternatives to the council. Other taxi community personnel have also been in attendance.
Proposals made so far have received interest from especially the newest members of the council. It must be remembered that there are seven new council members out of thirteen, and that at least a couple of the incumbents have been past supporters of our efforts. Yet some points were not viewed favorably by one new member’s chief-of-staff, who was formerly chief-of-staff for Gary Shiff, the council member never allowed the truth to get in the way of his anti-taxi efforts. Yet this new member stated, in effect, that he understands his chief-of-staff’s previous relationship but will make up his own mind. This is refreshing if it is true. We’ll see.
Part of one of Mr. Sonbol’s proposals stipulated that, as part of a larger agreement, “additional license issuance would freeze except for L315 wheelchair–accessible vans.” The aforementioned chief-of-staff saw this immediately for what it was; an effort to bring sanity to taxi regulation in Minneapolis, and objected vehemently. However, we would like to take this opportunity to point out that the removal of the cap on new licenses was largely an effort by a right-leaning political organization and that, 1) almost all of the cities sited in 2006 that lifted their caps on new licenses have since rescinded these changes, and 2) making practical decisions based on ideology rarely works. We see this on a national level as well. After all, how successful was the deregulation of Wall Street in the late 20th century? Most of us can look at our bank statements for the answer to that question.
A major proposal made by Mr. Sonbol’s attorney was more or less a copy of the system in Chicago; that where there is one common number for wheelchair customers to call. The orders would be circulated amongst the taxi companies on a rotation basis, and companies would be responsible for funding dispatch and complaint response. Annual reviews of service for wheelchair-accessible passengers would make adjustments and modifications. This point will be, in our opinion, the most readily acceptable part of the plan.
We all know that the city screwed up big-time in 2006 and shortly thereafter. It is heartening to see actual cooperation between the entities. We hope it continues.
A WORLD OF CAB DRIVERS
- In Chicago, wheelchair-accessible taxi driver Tarig Kamill laments the shortsightedness of average cabbies in his town, “I think they are lazy. They can make more money picking up passengers on the street, so they don’t want to bother (picking up disabled passengers). They don’t see they have a responsibility to help other people.” We don’t imagine he’s too popular with certain taxi drivers in the Windy City.
- In Tulcea Romania, an apparently crazy and alluring Angelina Jolie “lookalike” forced cab driver Nicolae Stan to have sex with her and then stabbed him when he refused to continue. He was stabbed six times with a 4-inch blade but managed to take refuge in a bathroom and call police. Stan told authorities he would have tried to overpower her but was afraid of being accused of rape. The father of three knows he will experience teasing from friends, but he said “I think anyone would have trouble performing with a knife at their throat.” (You can't make this stuff up!)
- In Washington D.C. the governing D.C. Council is considering a measure allowing customers to pay a fare based on the demand at the time. This change would only apply to riders using a smart phone or tablet. This is an interesting take on the rideshare phenomenon sweeping the country, but it appears to need more than a few fixes in order to make it even halfway workable.
- In Wasilla Alaska, hometown of political gadfly Sarah Palin, Mayor Verne Rupright has taken aim at the influx of gypsy cabs, whose insurance is “not in compliance with common carrier insurance.” Hizzoner was less than impressed with unlicensed vehicles and the skirting of regulations that could adversely affect public safety. Does any of this sound familiar?
(Sources; Huffington Post, The Taxi News)
TWIN CITIES CHECKERED TRANSPORTATION HISTORY
By Fred Anderson
The mistakes by the Minneapolis City Council in taxi regulation over the last few years are only the historical tip of the iceberg when it comes to transportation policy. There have been decisions made in the more distant past that have been, if it’s possible, even more shameful. It’s time to review, not for the purposes of gloating, but to get a perspective on how corruption can work against the common good and how we might gain insight on how to avoid it in the future.
The Twin Cities from 1875 until 1954 had streetcar service that stretched from Lake Minnetonka in the west to Stillwater in the east, a distance of over forty miles. At its peak there were 524 miles of tracks, and it was said that at that time every person in Minneapolis and St. Paul lived no further than 400 yards (less than a quarter of a mile) from a streetcar line. Thomas Lowry, who has his name on streets and hills in the Mill City, founded the Twin Cities Rapid Transit Company in 1890 after a merger of the Minneapolis line with the St. Paul line. This firm also owned and managed buses, a practice which eventually led to the undoing of the streetcar system.
Streetcar ridership reached its height in 1922 with over 226 million passengers. That, by the way, is nearly three times the number of people who used both trains and buses last year. Depression in the 1930’s and war in the 1940’ss caused the fortunes of TCRT to fall and rise and inevitably fall again after the end of the greatest war in history. Reaching the same point of decision, many other cities made plans to adjust service in the post-WWII era. The advent of mass ownership of automobiles and a movement of many urban dwellers to the suburbs made streetcar systems all over the U.S. face the same dilemma.
Other players soon appeared on the scene. An organization called National City Line (NCL), which was bankrolled by General Motors (a primary manufacturer of buses), Standard Oil, and Firestone, made a nation-wide effort to destroy streetcar systems all over the country. In 1949 here in TC land, Charles Green, a Wall Street investor, wrestled control of TCRT from D.J. Strouse, who had been determined to do whatever necessary to preserve Twin Cities’ streetcars. Green, self-described as “a man always looking for a way to make a fast buck”, thought he could do it again in our metro and was probably discouraged to find overhaul of the system was necessary. He made the decision to dismantle streetcar service, which was cut short by the discovery of his ties to organized crime. Control of TCRT was then assumed by his lawyer, a man named Fred Ossanna.
Ossanna also had connections to criminal elements, a fact not discovered until after streetcars were replaced by buses in 1954. He went to prison for fraud, after it became known he was taking kickbacks from salvage yards anxious to procure the scrap from discarded rails and tracks. But as I said, by that time it was too late.
Twenty years ago an elderly customer of mine told me that as a city council member during those years he saw how corruption reached all the way to Council chambers. Minneapolis is probably no more corrupt than any other city, but in the days before bloggers and electronic media it was seemingly much easier to get away with it. A few other cities resisted the influence of National City Line and modified their streetcar systems to fit the new economic realities. The Twin Cities did not, and for many years afterward had to face the fact that it was the only large metropolitan area in the country without mass transit other than buses. It is my view that this carefully hidden embarrassment was at least partially responsible for the creation of the Metropolitan Council. Although it is denied publicly, the movers and shakers of this community know that we cannot afford to have gangsters make such far-reaching policy decisions because they will always decide for what makes them the most money. Although many people don’t like that the Met Council is appointed and not elected, it is unlikely that with them we would find ourselves in this position again.
Choices made can have serious repercussions down the road. We lost, in streetcars, something that made us unique. Not only that, it was a crucial element; the Twin Cities at one time had the best public transportation in the country. Removal of the streetcar system ended any chance of that continuing. The transportation decisions we make today are therefore more important for the future of our city than most of us realize. We do indeed have to get it right.
A RESTAURANT REVIEW
Tradewinds Buffet - Treasure Island Casino
5734 Sturgeon Lake Road – Welch MN
By Fred Anderson
A few years back my youngest son was playing in a baseball tournament on a field adjacent to Treasure Island Casino. As these games rarely start on time I had the chance to sample the food at the Tradewinds Buffet. It was a memorable experience.
As most gamblers know, casinos often reduce food and drink prices to keep customers from taking their money elsewhere. Years ago when on the road I used to eat a full meal in Nevada casinos for only a dollar! Tradewinds operates on that principal. The buffet had several top-line seafood dishes, which I indulged in without hesitation. The salad bar and side dishes rival any that I have seen in major big-buck restaurants. In fact it was better than a few I know of that cost many times as much.
As you may have surmised, I thought the food was outstanding, which is perhaps a testament to how much money Treasure Island makes on its casino floor. What they lose in one day at the buffet can be made back by just one high roller gambling for an hour or two. I paid approximately ten dollars for a meal that would easily cost a hundred at a top-line eatery anywhere in the Twin Cities. The service was nothing special, but then again, when you pay these cheap prices who’s gonna care! There was no effort by any of the staff to entice me into gambling, which I was surprised at initially. But on second look I realized that it wasn’t necessary. I saw no shortage of gamblers on the premises, and I could also see none of them needed any encouragement to continue wagering. As gambling is not my scene, I needed no encouragement to enjoy the unwitting fruits of their activities. I was simply delighted with the spread they financed, and that was enough with me.