HOUSTON – After they land, grab their bags and walk out of the airport, visitors to the city of Houston are greeted by eager taxi drivers ready to get them safely to their hotel.
But that drive from the airport in to town isn't very scenic. The city's Convention and Visitor's Bureau is counting on taxi drivers to sell the city.
Channel 2 Investigates was curious. Days before the Final Four hit town, how are taxi drivers doing on that task?
Channel 2 Investigates went undercover, taking taxis from Bush Intercontinental Airport and Hobby Airport to and from downtown hotels.
PRODUCER: "Are you guys getting ready for the Final Four this weekend?"
DRIVER: "Yes, yes, yes. Eager, too."
The cabbie said he moved to the Houston area from New Orleans. But aside from the restaurant scene, he's not very big on Houston.
DRIVER: "New Orleans is more rocking than Houston."
PRODUCER: "What about things to do in Houston?"
DRIVER: "Houston doesn't have to offer too much."
He thinks Houston is too expensive, and it's not safe for cabbies.
"I've been threatened in this cab. He wanted to slit my throat," he said. "There was a driver sitting at the light, waiting for the light to turn green, and he heard shots. Some teenagers actually had a gun and aimed and shot at his window."
It's the kind of cab ride that makes Mike Waterman cringe. He's president of the Greater Houston Convention and Visitor's Bureau.
"Clearly, the story could have been a better story. We want our ambassadors to be proud of where they live and proud of where they're taking their customers," Waterman said.
It's not all bad news. The cabbie Channel 2 Investigates hired on a ride up to Bush Intercontinental from downtown was true ambassador for the Bayou City. He told about all the attractions.
"This is the fourth largest city in the U.S.," he said. "Houston has got like the Space Center. We've got the zoo. A lot of museums. Houston Rockets, Texans. Other than that, there's a lot of fun places to go. Downtown here, we've got the aquarium. That's very nice. Every area of Houston has got a lot of stuff to do. We've got more than 25 museums in the same area. Museum district. Fine arts, natural science."
Waterman was asked to grade the cab driver on his performance.
"I give him a B, a B+. He was really friendly, which is really what we're trying to teach," Waterman said.
The CVB has actually started a class called Top Taxi. It's a quick 25-minute course, teaching drivers customer service.
Three hundred cabbies have been through the program so far, including 20-year veteran Anthony Onibokun.
"Once a customer gets into your car, they're happy with the service, nice car, help them with their luggage. They will relate that experience when they get home," Onibokun said.
Drivers who get certified are also eligible for cash awards.
"The whole purpose of the Top Taxi program is for us to create the most positive experience possible," Waterman explained.
The program is voluntary, but the goal is to train all 3,700 drivers in Houston. Eventually, passengers will actually be able to request a Top Taxi driver when they call for a ride.