Hello from the Top of the Rock!
Celebrating 2007's Cream of the Crop at Top of the Rock!
This month's column is devoted to our licensed drivers, for whom I have the utmost admiration and respect. Our drivers are the face of New York City, and are often the first and last people that most city visitors see - forming lasting impressions and perceptions. The overwhelming majority of drivers serve as unsung heroes, working hard - day in and day out - driving safely and providing exemplary customer service to almost one million passengers each day. Since I was appointed Chair about seven years ago, I started a driver recognition program, which includes an Annual Driver Recognition Ceremony to honor outstanding drivers that keeps getting better every year. Providing incentives for exemplary behavior is just as important as enforcing our regulations - and this ceremony is one small way to show our appreciation for a job well done.
This year, the event was held at Top of the Rock - atop Rockefeller Center - and drivers enjoyed prizes, free food and fantastic views of the city - as well as a day off from work. Drivers were selected based upon good deeds that were mostly brought to our attention by passenger compliments received through the city's 311 hotline. We were joined by industry leaders and several TLC Commissioners - including Commissioners Iris Weinshall, Elias Arout and Ed Gonzales, as well as Matthew Sapolin - Commissioner of the Mayor's Office for People with Disabilities. Many thanks go to Tom Madden of Tishman Speyer and Top of the Rock for donating the facilities and food to the drivers, as well as NYC & Co.'s CEO George Fertitta, whose staff helped arrange for most of the gifts to our drivers.
Pictured, left to right are: TLC Commissioner Elias Arout, black car industry leader Victor Dizengoff, Driver of the Year Charles Kabbani, Vital Transportation President Berj Haroutunian, TLC Commissioner Edward Gonzales (rear), TLC Chairman Matthew W. Daus, TLC Commissioner Iris Weinshall, Cash Cab host Ben Bailey (rear), and "A Catered Affair" star Tom Wopat.
As always, we had a group of principal honorees, who were just as special as could be. They ranged from Usman Arshad, who was singled out for his compassionate and professional service to a disabled passenger and her elderly mother; to Mark Thomas, whose return of critical medical records saved the life of a Manhattan woman's beloved dog; to Ahmed Ibrahim, the famed "Matchmaker Cabbie" who just gets more and more famous with each Valentine's Day for driving his "Love Boat" on wheels. Of the six principal honorees, it appears that "Going the Extra Mile Award" winner Douglas Guldeniz and his historic trek from Queens, NY to Sedona, Arizona received the lion's share of notoriety, which is understandable…..who could resist such a tale?
We not only had our share of drivers who returned lost property, or who exhibited superior customer service skills, but we also honored two drivers this year whose actions are on another level altogether……they saved lives!
First, there was Adil Aboussalham. What began as a calm, ordinary September Saturday morning turned into a surprise opportunity for Mr. Aboussalham to show great heroism when at approximately 5 a.m. on September 28, 2007, he witnessed a violent assault while looking for a fare on First Avenue, between 10th and 11th Streets. Without realizing that the driver had witnessed his criminal actions, the attacker hailed his cab in order to quickly escape his bloodied victim. Thinking quickly, Mr. Aboussalham immediately locked his back doors and jumped out of the cab, trapping the perpetrator inside and giving him an opportunity to call 911. Within moments, a fellow cab driver pulled up closely to the vehicle, cutting off his escape on one side, while Mr. Aboussalham stood by at the other side, staying at the scene until Police arrived, and until the victim's wounds were tended to. "That girl could be my sister, my mother!" he was heard to say.
It was later discovered that the perpetrator was wanted on seven counts of sex assault, as well as charges of burglary, possessing stolen property and robbery.
It was finally my great pleasure to present Mayor Bloomberg's proclamation to the TLC's "Driver of the Year" on behalf of all of the drivers we honored at the ceremony - as well as those who provide outstanding service every day. For 2007, our Driver of the Year was Mr. Charles Kabbani, a black car driver who has worked as driver of Car #204 for Vital Transportation for over 20 years. On August 23, 2007, Mr. Kabbani picked-up a female passenger at the World Financial Center, and began to take her to Grand Central Station. While the passenger said she did not feel well right from the start of the ride, they chatted for a few moments and all seemed normal until she stopped talking and Mr. Kabbani noticed that she was having a seizure. Drawing on a similar experience from 20 years earlier, Mr. Kabbani knew that the priority was to keep her breathing pathway open, and prevent her from swallowing her tongue. Thinking quickly, Mr. Kabbani placed a small plastic ruler in her mouth, and stayed with her until help arrived. An Emergency Room doctor confirmed that the woman would have likely suffocated were it not for Mr. Kabbani's quick actions.
Well that certainly would have been enough to keep things moving at any ceremony, but we were also honored to welcome such special guests as Ben Bailey, the beloved host of Discovery Channel's Cash Cab who returned for his second year joining us, and Tom Wopat, of Dukes of Hazzard fame, who is ready to bring the house down in Broadway's A Catered Affair, in which he stars as a 1950s cabbie who must choose between his daughter's wedding and the taxi medallion he had always dreamed of. They each spoke eloquently and from the heart, and really paid a very special homage to our men and women behind the wheel - which was easy to do since Mr. Bailey was formerly employed as a limousine driver himself, and Mr. Wopat is currently undertaking an acting role as a cab driver.
I look forward to another year of outstanding service in 2008, and to honoring even more drivers in years to come. Congratulations to all of our drivers, and keep-up the great work!