URBAN ANGST: Transport Tales of Two Cities

New York: Can't Catch a Cab

Undercover New York police officers try to hail a cab in a November crackdown on drivers who refuse to pick up African Americans and other minorities.

Pickusup.com creator Larry Carty says the city's increased vigilance isn't enough.

African-American film star Danny Glover made headlines in November when he complained that several New York City taxi drivers refused to pick him up. His story of racial bias drew plenty of attention, but for black New Yorkers the story is hardly new.

In the wake of the Glover incident, independent filmmaker and Brooklyn native Larry Carty launched the Pickusup.com site, which aims to make it easier to file complaints to the watchdog Taxi and Limousine Commission, or TLC. "The purpose is to let people know that there's somebody else watching," says Carty, who once couldn't flag a cab to get to the hospital during an asthma attack.

One week after its Dec. 14 launch, Pickusup had logged 300 visitors, nine of whom filed complaints, says Carty, who has to fax the complaints to the TLC because it doesn't give out a public e-mail address. Geared to fight bias against minorities, the site could eventually become a clearinghouse for all sorts of taxi-related complaints, like cell-phone distraction and rudeness.

TLC spokesman Allan Fromberg, who can sound as skeptical of Carty as Carty does of the agency, stresses that the only way someone can be sure to log a complaint is to call (212) NYC-TAXI, or visit www.ci.nyc.ny.us/taxi.

The TLC site, Carty counters, has an awkward address and a confusing complaint form; it seems to require the cabbie's name, which could discourage complaints if the cab never stopped in the first place. What's more, Carty says, some TLC employees aren't familiar with their own site, a charge borne out when The Standard called the complaint number and asked how to file online. The woman who answered said she didn't know anything about a Web site. "Isn't that just terrible?" she asked, and offered a fax number.

Carty says he filed two complaints in the past year without hearing back, but the agency says it has no record of them. Complaints "couldn't be monitored more closely," says Fromberg. "This is an ironclad process."

Carty doesn't expect to attract huge numbers, but he wants to be ready for the next high-profile case. "Since the Danny Glover incident, I think the city's much more on guard," he says. "Some-thing like Pickusup will keep the issue hot." - Susan Orenstein, New York London: Down, Underground If there's one thing Londoners complain about more than the weather, it's the subway system, aka the Tube. After being trapped underground one hot summer day, ex-investment banker Samir Satchu vented his anger by creating Tubehell.com. The site (mantra: "I am not a sardine. No, by God, I am a human being") is a cheeky poke at how miserable the Tube can be. Most of its fury is directed at John "Two Jags" Prescott, the hefty transport minister who suffered tabloid abuse last summer for being chauffeured 200 yards in his Jaguar. A Tubehell petition asks Prescott to ride the Tube for four days straight. If he does, Tubehell will donate 5,000 p0unds (about $8,000) to Prescott's charity of choice.

Of course, the site needs money to do that. Satchu has some ideas. For one, he'll ask local businesses to offer discounts and deals to Tubehellers, with the site taking a small cut of each transaction. He also plans to offer Tube travel information over mobile phones and to sell tickets at the site - if the London Transport agency allows it. So far, Satchu hasn't made many friends there. (The agency wouldn't even let a BBC camera crew film him riding the Tube.) Another idea: a dating service where Tubehell members can identify each other by wearing sardine pins on their lapels. That won't be easy; it's an unspoken Tube rule that commuters don't talk on the train, says Satchu. "But I can understand it. It's the only time in the day when people have time to themselves." - Dianne See Morrison, London

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