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Cabbies stake claim on an Allston stand

Dave Johnstone (left), a security officer contracted by Harvard, with Metro Cab driver Mahmood Rahman at the Allston stand. (EVAN RICHMAN/GLOBE STAFF)

For three decades, cabs from Cambridge queued up at the taxi stand at the Harvard Business School -- that is, until four weeks ago, when the city of Boston ousted them.

The stand, owned by Harvard, is in Allston, part of Boston. It's a plum spot: A breeze from the Charles River cools the air; a grassy quad dotted with shade trees gives a feel of an urban oasis.

On top of that, the business school students have more cash to burn than the undergraduates across the river, and the hike to the nearest T stop is inconvenient.

At the stand, drivers get out of their vehicles, chit-chat, lean their faces toward the sun. Though it may seem to be a sleepy spot in a distant part of Boston, it's lucrative. Boston cabdrivers say they get a fare every 15 minutes .

In contrast, in bustling Central Square, Cambridge drivers say they wait an average of 25 minutes for a fare. And while they wait, they put up with heat, panhandlers, and fumes of passing buses.

"It's not right," said Christos Kasseris , who drives an Ambassador Brattle cab. "Our business is suffering. It's meant a 40 to 50 percent loss of income for me."

Supporters of Cambridge taxis say those drivers served a part of town no one wanted until recently, as development picked up in Allston. They suggest Boston share the stand with Cambridge drivers in a nod to 30 years of service.

"It's a simple matter of fairness. When Boston didn't want to be there, our drivers were there," said Cambridge City Councilor Anthony D. Galluccio.

According to law, cabdrivers from out of Boston who pick up passengers within city limits, unless summoned directly by phone, receive at least a $500 ticket.

"I can't speak for how long [Cambridge cabs] were poaching in Boston," said Mark Cohen, director of the licensing division for the Boston Police Department, ". . . but now it's over."

Yet Cambridge taxi drivers are putting up their dukes, petitioning the City Council to intervene with Harvard and work out a deal. At the May council meeting, nearly two dozen appeared to seek help.

"Boston taxis didn't care about this area for a long time," said Galluccio, who penned a policy order to request that the council ask Harvard to work with Boston Hackney to protect the stand for Cambridge drivers. C ouncilors unanimously support ed the order.

Galluccio said Harvard should have some sway, but Cohen said no way. The owner of the stand doesn't matter, Cohen said; it's Boston's turf. "There is no chance that we will share this stand."

His office already has worked closely with Harvard. "They want to obey the law, " Cohen said.

Harvard s pokesmen said they had no information on the issue.

The law allows Boston police to seize the cab or its meter and arrest the driver, said Cohen, who added, "We try not to do that."

But one driver at the Harvard stand did wind up in jail. An officer stopped the driver, who had passengers, to give him the $500 citation, said Lieutenant Robert Ciccolo, commander of Boston's Hackney Carriage Unit.

"That driver refused to produce his license and registration," Ciccolo said, "and he locked the passengers in the car." After police freed them , Ciccolo said, the driver held the luggage hostage and dropped the keys down his pants.

That incident, with pressure from Boston City Councilor Jerry P. McDermott and a plea from Boston taxi drivers, put the stand in Cohen's sights, though he said it had been on his radar before.

Ciccolo's not so sure Harvard will cooperate with a request from the Cambridge City Council. "Harvard is apparently very pleased with the service they're getting from Boston, " he said, adding that the school switched its voucher accounts from a Cambridge company to a Boston company.