Union representatives for San Diego cabdrivers are raising a big stink over the fact that officials at the city’s airport list “body odor” as one of 52 criteria on a checklist that drivers must pass before they are allowed to pick up customers and shuttle them around the city. If a San Diego cabdriver’s bodily funk offends the nostrils of an inspector, current protocol demands that a driver change his or her clothes before picking up customers.
For tourists visiting a town for the first time, taxi drivers often serve as ersatz ambassadors, the human gateway to the sights, sounds—and, often, the smells—of a new city. City boosters and tourism officials say that if the first sensation that greets a visitor is an olfactory punch to the nose that smells like a rancid Italian hoagie which has been rotting inside a moldy dumpster for three months, the tourist will forever associate this unpleasant odor with the city and be far less likely to visit again, much less encourage anyone else to visit. (To drive home the Italian-hoagie metaphor just a little further, I direct you to this story which features a photo of a San Diego cabbie whose last name is “Salami.”)
But Sarah Saez, a representative for the United Taxi Workers of San Diego, claims that the practice of forcing cabbies to pass a smell test is “demeaning” and “borderline racist.”
Human rights are often mutually exclusive, so I submit this question to the jury: Which right is more important—the right of a cabdriver to smell as bad as he or she wants, or the right of a passenger not to have to smell them in the first place?