Taxi drivers face body odour test in the US

Critics say the test perpetuates stereotypes about cab drivers.
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Body odor is among 52 criteria that officials at San Diego International Airport use to judge taxi drivers, leading drivers to make accusations of prejudice and discrimination.

Leaders of the United Taxi Workers of San Diego union say the test perpetuates a stereotype that predominantly foreign-born taxi drivers smell bad.

Also included on the checklist is proof of insurance, functioning windshield wipers, adequate tire treads and good brakes.

Anyone who fails the smell test is told to change their clothes before picking up another customer.

Drivers have spoken out to question how inspectors determine who has a body odour issue and airport authority spokeswoman Rebecca Bloomfield admitted there is “no standard process” to testing.

The checklist has a separate item for a vehicle’s “foul interior odors”, which Bloomfield said may include gasoline, vomit or mildew.

The airport authority says it is enforcing a policy of the San Diego Metropolitan Transit System, which regulates taxis throughout the region, that prohibits foul-smelling drivers and promotes regular bathing. It also says the practice is about satisfying customers.

“Taxi drivers are often the first impression that travellers receive when arriving into San Diego and we want to encourage a positive experience,” Bloomfield commented.

Only about three drivers fail to get a passing grade each year, she said.

Inspectors have been smelling drivers for many years but it was not until a union employee read a 568-page airport board agenda and noticed the checklist, which had been approved in July for revisions unrelated to the body odor test, that the controversy arose. 

A 2013 survey of 331 drivers by San Diego State University and Center on Policy Initiatives found 94 percent were immigrants and 65 percent were from East Africa.

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