A Montreal Taxi driver is contesting a $1400 fine for decorating his dashboard with flags, family photos, and mezuzas (Hebrew scrolls). The Taxi Bureau issued the ticket to Mr. Perecowicz in accordance with a municipal bylaw which limits the decor within a taxi to items “required for the taxi to be in service.”
The story has Radio Canada contemplating whether taxis constitute a public space.
This debate brings to mind all the unique, sometimes garish buses that I rode in Central America, where “public transit” is almost always privately owned. Bus drivers own and carefully maintain their vehicles, which often proudly sport paintings of Jesus, Bruce Willis, or the drivers’ daughter. Stepping inside a bus, you may find yourself dazzled with posters, streamers, Christmas lights, dangling disco-balls and music pumping as loud as any discotheca.
While being bombarded with Reggaeton at all hours of the day or night is not my favourite, I’d still rather deal with a bus driver whose livelihood is tied to his vehicle, route and schedule than many of the grumpy, cog-in-a-machine transit employees you’ll find in this town.
Usually Spacing Montreal is all for the creation and celebration of public spaces. But in this case, public space seems to be equated with BLAND space.
Personally, I’d rather be in a place that somebody cares about and takes care of. Cabbies spend long days behind the wheel – why should they be prohibited from creating an environment that reflects this? I sincerely hope that few Montrealers would be offended by a glimpse of photos, flags, religious symbols or cultural artifacts. If we can’t handle that, maybe we need MORE rather than less displays of cultural and religious diversity in public space. (Obviously laws pertaining to really inappropriate stuff like hate material and pornography would still apply.)
Mr. Perecowicz says he has never received a complaint from a customer.
Meanwhile, Mayor Tremblay has expressed the desire to create a unique and recognizable brand for the city’s taxis. Well, perhaps the answer is right under his nose. More than many other public-service jobs, taxi-drivers represent Montreal’s cultural diversity. Instead of creating a fleet of identical, yet unremarkable cabs, why not capitalize on our diversity and actually encourage drivers to personalize their taxis? Tourists will scrable to hail cabs for every trip with the promise that each car offers a unique ambiance.
What do Spacing Montreal readers think? If taxis function as a public space once a client steps inside, do we prefer professional neutrality or a glimpse of the personality behind the wheel?
Photo by Alexandra Gaudreau: Buju Banton bus in Panama.