TLC sends record numbers of cabbies back to school

They’re known for speeding, cutting corners, mouthing off to passengers and driving like maniacs. But now, bad cabbies are being sent to reform school at record rates to shape up — or else.

“We teach them about anger management. We let them vent,” said Andrew Vollo, instructor for the Taxi and Limousine Commission’s etiquette school in Long Island City. “Most of these guys haven’t been in school in over a decade.”

Drivers who speed, curse out passengers or commit other serious offenses can get their licenses revoked. But those who break lesser TLC rules, such as busted headlights or illegal parking, are sent to two days of classes in driving etiquette.

But taxi drivers typically aren’t thrilled about sitting in school instead of making money behind the wheel. Plus, there’s homework.

“He can’t teach me anything,” said Cheikh Mbaye, 47, a driver for six years.

Some “students” have wracked up complaints over the years from passengers, Vollo said, and they tend to have a chip on their shoulders.

“There are a percentage of workers who are burnt out to the extreme,” Vollo said. More than 300 cabbies have taken the course so far this year, with 274 others in the pipeline, according to TLC records. Only 40 went through the class in 2008, and the TLC is now chipping through a “backlog” that resulted from having to comb through driving records by hand, an agency spokesman said.

“There is no question in our minds that drivers who (take classes) deliver superior service,” a TLC spokesman said.

Drivers who skip class lose their hack license.

During a recent session with 15 cabbies, some drivers railed against aggressive TLC cops. Others whined about rude passengers, including one who was accused of driving “like my grandma.”

Vollo repeatedly steers the complainers back to his main message — acting courteous means better tips. It’s also less stressful.

“Before, I thought that to make money I should go fast,” said Eddie Lee, a driver for 14 years. “This has changed my driving. I’m more smooth.”

Some hacks weren’t down for the pep talk, but the majority said they appreciated the chance to vent. Plus, they made about $25 a day in extra tips by acting gentlemanly.

“This class should be held for everybody,” said Milan Kesic, a 55-year-old limo driver. “I didn’t realize how important it was to be nice.

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Taxi rules
-    Cab interior must be clean
-    Must always be able to change a $20 bill
-    No driving for more than 12 consecutive hours a day
-    No threatening, harassing or abusing of passengers
-    Must be able to speak English and be of “good moral character”

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Andrew Vollo, 55, of Whitestone
Director of the taxi school at LaGuardia Community College; driver for 16 years; founder of “Taxi Yoga”
Tips for drivers:
Communicate — Make sure you know exactly where the passenger is going.
Keep the air conditioning on, even if it means $5 more a day for gas
Ask riders if they have a preferred route
Help people with their luggage
Don’t take it personal; you want to be like Teflon with problems, not Velcro

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