About three-quarters of the 900 taxi drivers at Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport are Somalis, many of them Muslim. And about three times each day, would-be customers are refused taxi service when a driver sees they're carrying alcohol.
"It's become a significant customer-service issue," said Patrick Hogan, a spokesman for the Metropolitan Airports Commission, on Thursday.
Now the airports commission has a solution: color-coding the lights on the taxi roofs to indicate whether a driver will accept a booze-toting fare. The actual colors haven't been decided on yet, but commission officials met Thursday with representatives of the taxi drivers and the Minnesota chapter of the Muslim American Society to continue working on the plan.
The airports commission has struggled with the issue for several years. Alcohol is a serious concern for devout Muslims, said Hassan Mohamud, an imam and vice president of the society. The Qur'an, Islam's holy book, strictly forbids buying, selling, drinking or carrying alcohol.
The observant drivers object only to transporting openly displayed alcohol, said Ali Culed, a Somali Muslim who's been driving an airport cab for eight years. They won't search passengers or quiz them about what's in their bags.
"It is a religious issue," Culed said. "I cannot force anybody to change their belief, but not in my cab. I don't want the guilt. I just want to be an innocent person." ...
The color-coding sounds like a good solution -- it lets cab drivers choose how to run their businesses, and it lets the airport provide its customers with the service they want. One can certainly imagine hypothetical situations in which such schemes would become too difficult to use; and I suspect that heavy government regulation of taxicabs (which I take it is present in Minneapolis, as it is in many other cities) causes extra problems here, because it sets up a barrier to entry. But given the situation as it is, some such mutual accommodation strikes me as quite sensible.