- The Washington Times - Sunday, December 23, 2001

BALTIMORE (AP) Nearly 2,000 taxi drivers will be taught and tested on basic knowledge of the city's culture, geography, economy and history as part of a program aimed at making a good first impression on tourists.
The mandatory Maryland Taxi Host training program, inspired by a state law that views cabdrivers as "hospitality professionals", was presented Wednesday.
Drivers are encouraged to learn that the state flower is the black-eyed Susan and that America's first railroad was the Baltimore and Ohio Railway Co.
"These are front-line ambassadors," David S. Iannucci, secretary of the state Department of Business and Economic Development, said at a news conference at the Baltimore Zoo.
"A greater depth of knowledge leads to better tips and encourages people to return," he said. "I don't think we can overestimate the importance of work force training programs for hospitality professionals."
Although tourism has decreased since the September 11 terrorist attacks, it is a large part of the economy of Baltimore city and Maryland, accounting for 16,000 jobs in the city and 100,000 jobs statewide, tourism officials said.
Under terms approved by the General Assembly last year, all current cabdrivers must complete eight hours of training by early 2003. To keep or obtain a license, drivers will have to score at least 75 percent on an exam of about 30 true or false questions.
Some drivers have been through a pilot training class and have passed the test.
"This has increased my earnings and helped reorganize my thinking as a businessman," said Joe Matthews, a retired military police officer who drives a cab.
He said the exercise is important to building the city's self-esteem. "Sometimes our own citizens don't know the first thing about their city.
This isn't Washington, it's not Philly it's Baltimore."

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