ATLANTA (AP) _ Atlanta's taxi industry, considered by some a blight on the city's polished image of Southern hospitality, is sending drivers to school to teach them how to be nice to all the visitors expected for the Democratic National Convention.

Organizers are aware that a cab and its driver are often the first to greet visitors. And they want at least 1,000 of the city's approximately 1,800 hacks to go to charm school by the time delegates, reporters and party leaders begin arriving in mid-July.

The goal of the Atlanta Ambassadors program is ''first to sensitize the industry to the level of services that are expected and then secondly ... to try and change the public's perception of the industry,'' said Joseph Hall, a retired Army colonel who for the past year has headed the city's Taxicabs and Vehicles for Hire Bureau.

Leslie Breland, director of central Atlanta marketing for the city's convention bureau, admits Atlanta taxi drivers have had a bad reputation in the past, ''mainly because the drivers have been pretty much a hodgepodge of different companies without a sense of cohesion and purpose.''

The Ambassadors program is modeled on a similar effort in Miami dubbed ''Miami Nice.'' The three-hour class, now required for all cabbies who apply for or renew their licences, teaches courtesy and professionalism, Atlanta history and rules and regulation of the industry.

One of the concepts the course teaches is for the drivers to think of their cabs as their office.

''From the physical standpoint, the taxicabs are looking better and cleaner,'' Ms. Breland said.

She believes the program is having an impact already. A recent computer trade show brought about 60,000 people to Atlanta and she said the convention bureau has yet to receive a negative letter.

''Our comments from both the business community as well as the visitors are that the cabs look clean, the drivers look clean and a friendly smile goes a long way.

''From the driver's standpoint, those friendly smiles turn into bigger tips for them,'' she said.