San Diego Cabbies Cry Foul over Body Odor Test

Elliot Spagat, ABC News, September 12, 2014

Body odor is among 52 criteria that officials at San Diego International Airport use to judge taxi drivers. Cabbies say that smacks of prejudice and discrimination.

For years, inspectors with the San Diego Regional Airport Authority run down their checklist for each cabbie–proof of insurance, functioning windshield wipers, adequate tire treads, good brakes. Drivers are graded pass, fail or needs fixing.

Anyone who flunks the smell test is told to change before picking up another customer.

Leaders of the United Taxi Workers of San Diego union say the litmus perpetuates a stereotype that predominantly foreign-born taxi drivers smell bad. A 2013 survey of 331 drivers by San Diego State University and Center on Policy Initiatives found 94 percent were immigrants and 65 percent were from East Africa.

Drivers wonder how inspectors determine who reeks. Driver Abel Seifu, 36, from Ethiopia, suspects they sniff inconspicuously during friendly conversations in the staging area. Airport authority spokeswoman Rebecca Bloomfield said there is “no standard process” to testing.


The airport authority says it is enforcing a policy of the San Diego Metropolitan Transit System, which regulates taxis throughout the region, that prohibits foul-smelling drivers and promotes regular bathing. It also says the practice is about satisfying customers.

“Taxi drivers are often the first impression that travelers receive when arriving into San Diego and we want to encourage a positive experience,” Bloomfield said. Only about three drivers fail to get a passing grade each year, she said.

Inspectors have been smelling drivers for years. There was no controversy until a union employee waded through a 568-page airport board agenda and noticed the checklist, which had been approved in July for revisions unrelated to the body odor test. {snip}

San Diego’s policy appears to be unusually explicit about sniffing out smelly cabbies. Chicago requires that drivers be “clean and neat in their appearance.” New York City’s wording is similarly broad.


Daniel Johnson, an 18-year-old Marine who came from Flint, Michigan, said it’s fair to grade on body odor, especially considering the $70 fare to get to his base. He has felt trapped in smelly cabs in other cities.

“The smell puts a sour expression on your face and you’re thinking I just don’t want to be in here,” he said.


Share This

We welcome comments that add information or perspective, and we encourage polite debate. If you log in with a social media account, your comment should appear immediately. If you prefer to remain anonymous, you may comment as a guest, using a name and an e-mail address of convenience. Your comment will be moderated.
  • Truthseeker

    Being considerate of others is part of creating a livable society. We Whites instinctively understand this, but it seems some other races have trouble with it.

  • LHathaway

    “body odor is among 52 criteria (used) use to judge taxi drivers. Cabbies say that smacks of prejudice and discrimination”.

    You can’t make this stuff up. I’m beginning to suspect, contrary to all appearances, evil rich racist whites do run this country.

    • bilderbuster

      That cabbie wasn’t White.

  • Evette Coutier

    As bad as they smell, this is not a matter for Big Brother. Don’t buy their services.

    • [Guest]

      I agree. Immigration policy, however, is a matter for the federal government, and we wouldn’t have this problem, among so many others, if the government weren’t remiss in that duty.

      Keep the immigration of people from alien cultures to a minimum, I say, regardless of whether they stink.

      • Evette Coutier


  • Alexandra1973

    I was in Family Dollar not too long ago and there was this hugely overweight couple, you could smell them a couple aisles over. Imagine having to deal with an employee there that reeked.

    I would not want to be trapped in a vehicle with someone that thinks that bathing is only a suggestion.

    • saxonsun

      A young black male passed us on the street some time ago. He stunk like s**t.

  • [Guest]

    Multiculturalism is the state religion, and to discriminate against smelly foreigners is prohibited.

  • Lewis33

    Does anyone doubt that foreign cabbies are the reason for the massive success of Uber?

    • I’d like to think so, but it turns out the demographics of Uber/Lyft drivers ceteris paribus aren’t much better than the “normal” cab drivers.

  • Growing up in the Deep South, we children learned early from adults that “N*****s stink.” Of course, that would be confirmed by our own childish smell tests when in close proximity to one of them, say at a bus stop.

    My own theory was that it was Negro personal grooming products that caused the problem. I had read somewhere that Negroes drenched themselves in what I called “Negro foo-foo juice,” a mysterious bottled concoction sold in Negro stores in their neighborhoods. I think there was some truth in this belief.

    Growing older, we also learned that certain ethnic groups ate a lot of garlic, which caused them to reek. All this knowledge about smells made me want to stick with Nordics, who seem to have no issues in this regard.

    • [Guest]

      What it comes down to, I believe, is that people are best off keeping their cultures—including their stinks—to themselves.

    • Blacks sometimes complain that white children smell like wet chickens. We shower every day here, and the only remarks I have occasionally received in this respect is that I smell like sawdust, burnt metal or motor oil.

      • More than once I’ve heard blacks say that white people who just showered smell like dead dogs. A more adventurous version of myself would have retorted that:

        “Black people who haven’t showered smell like live *******.”

        • Kenner

          My brother always said blacks smelled like burning tires.

          • Moenn

            That’s all the aforementioned petroleum-based grooming products they use. Even Eddie Murphy made fun of this in his “Coming to America’ flick. The America negro who was the boyfriend of the Popeye’s-like fast food joint left a water/oil spot on upholstered furniture when he got up. Hilarious.

          • bilderbuster

            Their smell can best be described as Eau de Orangutan.

          • bilderbuster

            I always thought they smelled like a bus.
            Or was it that buses smelled like Black people?

          • Cid Campeador

            Only in the back of the bus.
            After all the demonstrations during the sixties over Blacks not being permitted to ride in the front of the bus, when groups of them DO board, they always gravitate to the back.

  • NoMosqueHere

    Arabs have a cultural aversion to using toilet paper. They think its use is barbaric. Instead, they prefer using their hands, which they claim are washed after bathroom duty. But, after reading this article, I wonder if their bathroom practice is really superior to the “american way.”

    • captainc

      They use water. They don’t like that dry stain between cheeks of your butt.

  • [Guest]

    I’m not naive, but I admit that I didn’t anticipate body odor
    becoming a civil right.

    • Alexandra1973

      What isn’t a “civil right” nowadays?

      • none of your business

        During the early days of the gay rights movement in San Francisco they wanted to claim the “civil right” to have sex in public. They were having it in public parks in the bushes but they wanted the civill right to do it where they were totally visible to the passing public.

        Then they all gave each other AIDS and turned to fundraising to give themselves well paid jobs raising gay consciousness.

        • saxonsun

          And? Straights have always indulged in public sex.

          • I never did that. It takes a long time if one is doing it properly, so behind a closed door is best.

      • model1911

        Being white and to be left alone.

      • [Guest]

        Good questions. I’d say that exercising our rights according to the Constitution is iffy.

    • lily-white

      And soon we’ll be told that complaining about body odor will be just another indicator of white privilege… I can already see this one coming…

      • [Guest]

        That sounds absurd and yet likely.

      • bilderbuster

        Is it a White Privilege to notice the foul odor of third worlders?

  • I stole this line, but I’ll say it anyway:

    American foreign-military policy is 20 years behind the demographics of cab drivers in major urban centers.

    • LHathaway

      I didn’t get it. It’s rare that your genius escapes me.

      • Not my genius, someone else’s genius.

        If we go to war or get involved in some major almost-war intervention somewhere in the world, we inevitably taken in some people from those countries as refugees. And they eventually become cab drivers.

        • none of your business

          Or Vice presidents of “Diversity and Outreach” like or First Lady.

        • Paleoconn

          Not sure who coined it but I know this phenomenon by ‘invade the world, invite the world’. Liberal/neocon hobbyhorses.

  • guest

    “They say policy requiring drivers not to stink is “discrimination.”

    Whoever decided this must have smoked one joint too many.

    “Taxi drivers are often the first impression that travelers receive when arriving into San Diego and we want to encourage a positive experience,” Bloomfield said.”

    A taxi driver with terrible BO will definitely leave an impression – just not a positive one.

  • Moooochelle

    Being forced to smell the stink of some Somali is an assault, as far as I’m concerned.

    For the smelly Africans to scream racism is essentially saying they have the right to shove their stink up my nose because they’re black.

  • SouthronKittie

    If you need a cab and have it, use Uber; my drivers, even in Dallas, have been white decent men.

  • Sloppo

    When I was young I didn’t live near many blacks. I was driving my pickup truck home from high school one day at about 35 miles per hour with my window open and I smelled what I immediately thought was a black person smell. I looked out the window and there was an African pedestrian walking on the sidewalk. They have a powerful odor which is their own and I prefer to let them keep it for themselves.

  • Jim Henry

    About 60 years ago I asked my grandmother why “Moslems” smell bad and she stated it was because they were not baptized. She really believed that.

    Another myth I used to hear is the reason colored people smell is because their pores are large. I kinda believed that.

  • Rurik

    When I was in Viet Nam, everyone stank all the time, including me. Its just part of the nature of soldiering in the tropics. For that matter, the Vietnamese also stank. But what I noticed was the different races stank differently. I don’t understand the biological reasons, but it seems to be a racial characteristic. And each pack finds its own stink preferable.
    And yes, many North Europeans also seem unconcerned with body aromas. Germans seem almost proud and smell stronger even than the Russkis.
    Maybe a good reason for sticking to your own.

    • LHathaway

      Perhaps the different smells were a figment of your imagination? As a white man in the West, you’ve been victim of so much Genuine racism over time it’s no surprise your contused mind would react to this in such a fashion, raising possible alarms.

      They say the sense of smell is closely tied to memory. Make yourself good smelling if you can’t maintain a neutral smell. And for God sakes, if you are a white man and you cook for your daughters, don’t cook anything that sticks to high heaven at any point of the cooking process?

      • Rurik

        Set down your purple lean boy, it seems to be affecting your “thinking”.

        • LHathaway

          lol, what is purple lean?

          ‘anti-racists’ have proved human smell is the result of diet (although the amount of it might be contingent upon bathing) and surely, in the military, you were subjected to the same diet as were your Asian and Black comrades?

    • cletus mcnegro

      Yes, Vietnam did stink, incense burned to cover the smell of sewage, nouc nam, not to mention a host of other items, you weren’t imagining anything

    • One of my friends is a retired Green Beret, and his solution to them smelling him was eating only local food. He still hates Asian food.

      When I was in Croatia, I probably smelled like urine because I used to piss my pants. So did everyone else.

    • JohnEngelman

      I have read that Communist soldiers waiting in ambush could detect the approach of Americans by their smell. However, it was not body odor, it was shaving lotion and deodorant. They said the Americans “smelled like girls.”

      • Rurik

        On occasion, doubtless true. That is why when I arrived in 1969, our in-country orientation stressed never using that stuff. Hell, it was so hot that if you tried using deodorant, by the time you had finished applying under your second arm, it had already sweated off the first. But the point I was trying to make, and ol ‘Hathabrain doesn’t want to consider is that different races/ethnic groups exude different aromas when they sweat, perhaps influenced by diet, but also by genetic metabolic differences.
        Of course our enlightened “betters” solve the puzzle by denying it out of existence.

  • A Freespeechzone

    Frankly, I discriminate in my life every day–from what I eat, who I choose to associate with, who I choose to buy from; without regard of what anyone thinks or says.

    I would NOT get into a cab where it reeked of foul and disgusting odors and wouldn’t give a damned if I offended the cabbie or anyone else. I vote with my feet and my money.

    No apologies.

  • cletus mcnegro

    More diversity, gotta love those sub-humans.

  • JohnEngelman

    Leaders of the United Taxi Workers of San Diego union say the litmus perpetuates a stereotype that predominantly foreign-born taxi drivers smell bad.

    – Elliot Spagat, ABC News, September 12, 2014

    The way to change the stereotype is not to end the smell test. It is for foreign born taxi drivers to wash and brush their teeth on a daily basis.

    • ZB01

      You nailed it. Usually the simplest solution is the correct one.

    • Those of us who pay for taxi service instead of taking a bus do not want to be culturally-enriched. We want to get from point A to point B without having to throw up out the taxi windows at the hideous stench of the driver.

      • JohnEngelman

        In the way home from church, I patronized a tavern with lots of blacks in it. I did not smell anything. I think soap, water, and toothpaste dispels negative ethnic stereotypes.

        • My wife says I currently smell like sawdust. This may because I have been doing some woodworking. I am a little sweaty because I have been woodworking. My breath likely smells like vodka because I have been drinking iced mint tea with vodka after I finished woodworking. I’ll take a shower before dinner.

          The raunchy, awful smell of some people isn’t anything like those.

  • Emblematic

    You can smell some aborigines from 20 yards away.

  • LHathaway

    What is a ‘sexual assault’ in Australia, asking for a passengers phone number? I bet it constitutes a crime of some kind if you are a white male driver.

  • lily-white

    “Taxi drivers are often the first impression that travelers receive when arriving into San Diego and we want to encourage a positive experience”… doesn’t the phrase “You can’t have a first world nation with third world people” apply here?…

  • bubo

    “Yo homes, smell ya later.” ~ the Fresh Prince.

    • Dale McNamee

      ROFL !

  • disqus_irCdmAu8It

    Hopped into a cab driven by a Paki. Nearly gagged from his foul odor.

  • Chip Carver


  • Moenn

    I suppose the taxi authority will soon approve a fare increase to cover the cost of soap and deodorant for the immigrant cabbies. Or is deodorant against their religion?

  • Moenn

    Not a bad idea. White Cab instead of Yellow Cab.

  • paul marchand

    we are all equal, and nobody should discriminate due to smell !

  • jayvbellis

    Prohibitions against keeping severed heads of infidels, that ‘s also racist.

  • model1911

    Send them back.

  • The problem with drinking is that alcohol disables critical brain functions, especially reflexes and situational awareness. Situational awareness is the first to go, and then reflexes become more important, but they’re also messed up. I had very bad S.A. after what was either a mild stroke or a very bad TIA in 2006, but playing combat flight simulators got me tuned back up. I am still weak down my left side and can’t run.

  • IstvanIN

    It would not be real discrimination, regardless of the SCOTUS disparate decision, if the rule was a cab driver had to practise good personal hygiene and the majority did not, all that would mean was that the majority broke the rules. Society is entitled to have sensible rules, otherwise you have chaos, ala Latin America.

  • Dale McNamee

    Maybe Uber,Lyft,and Sidecar can exploit this opportunity… Their drivers are clean,decently dressed,get you to your destination for less, and above all, they speak English !

    Also, the riders are offered mints, bottle of water,etc. Conventional cabbies don’t…

  • Paleoconn

    I’d sooner walk in the rain than jump into a filthy cab where Hasan sneers at you as you pay him, and drives while jabbering on his mobile in the language of the blessed prophet, peace be upon Him.

    • Pigs be upon him.

      • Paleoconn

        He’d probably like that. After all, we’re talking about a guy who banged a 9-year-old.

  • LHathaway

    Just like illegals are deported from the US?

  • MekongDelta69

    If it walks like a foreigner, talks like a foreigner, and stinks like a foreigner… guess what? It’s a foreigner.

    ‘Stereotypes’ are created from factual reality.

  • We don’t always get into the first cab in the queue. I’ve had some altercations over that, but no, it turns out that I do not have to get into a cab driven by a Somali. I got out of one cab and threw the annoyed Somali out into traffic. I am a mostly white man in a mostly white country, so I get to make the rules when it comes to my own money.

  • Alexandra1973

    They were white, unfortunately.

    On that note I seldom see blacks in there. Of course they’re concentrated mostly on the other side of town, which is 97% white.

  • Toilet paper is cheap.

  • saxonsun

    The fact that you mentioned it means you think it is an excuse.

  • Cid Campeador

    They murder their daughters for having a crush on a male who isn’t Muslim but they don’t mind raping women.

    • bilderbuster

      More homosexual porn is watched in Pakistan than anywhere in the world and they stone their women for adultery all the time.

      • Cid Campeador

        The “Religion of Peace”.
        The problem would be solved if there were a world wide revolt of Muslim women.

  • Mrfinoni

    its called febreeze!