Andrew Vollo loves to tell about the time Tony Danza rode in his cab in the early '80s. "I said, 'You look familiar,'" recalls Vollo. "'You drive for the same garage I do?'" The Taxi star was amused. "It was a $4 or $5 ride," says Vollo, "but he doubled it for a tip." The moral: An engaged passenger is often a generous passenger.
It's just one of the tips Vollo dispenses as the assistant director of Taxi Charm School, as it's known, at LaGuardia Community College in Queens. More than 46,000 drivers have taken the four-hour course, which is mandatory for New York City cabbies.
Vollo, 48, who drove a taxi for 16 years, tells his students that passengers should be treated "like they're your guest." Among his rules: Mind your own business and keep a positive attitude. Started in 1997 to teach drivers how to accommodate disabled customers, the class has become a place where drivers learn to take the high road. "Irate passengers come with the job," says Vollo. "I tell them, 'Don't personalize it.'"
The advice appears to be working. "Six years ago the majority of our letters were complaints," says Taxi and Limousine Commissioner Matthew W. Daus. "Today what I see is, 'You wouldn't believe what a nice thing my cab driver did.'"
Classes, says Vollo, who lives in Queens with wife Doris, 39, and year-old son Matthew, can turn into a kind of group therapy. "Sometimes they just succumb to the stresses of the job," says Vollo. "I'm trying to give drivers back their humanity."
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