METRO CAB ADMITS DRIVERS ON THE ROAD TOO MANY HOURS
Denver’s largest taxicab company, Metro, already attempting to block a driver-owned taxi cooperative from serving Colorado customers, has admitted to violating state rules at least 54 times by allowing its taxi drivers to work illegally long hours.
A state administrative law judge on Friday rejected a plea bargain worked out between state auditors and the company, and instead ordered a full hearing.
While Metro Taxi claims the five-county Front Range market is adequately served by the existing four companies, documents filed Friday with the state Public Utilities Commission show Metro has admitted to 54 violations of the so-called “80-in-8” rule.
The rule prohibits drivers from working more than 80 hours in eight consecutive days.
A startup company, Mile High Cab, is seeking to enter the Denver market, offering lower fares, better service to the suburbs, and eliminating surcharges for extra passengers or bags. A PUC judge earlier this year denied the 150-cab license after hearing from Metro and others that there are enough cabs already in Denver. The judge ruled that the lower prices and competition might end up harming consumers.
“What you have is Metro saying there are too many cabs out there already,” said Tom Russell, representing Mile High Cab. “Sure, if your drivers have to work too many hours in order to pay the company the $800 weekly lease rates Metro charges them. Nobody wants to work that much, but they have to. The result is you have exhausted drivers on the roads. And, as the PUC recognizes, that’s a risk for everyone.”
Russell says Mile High as a cooperative would charge its drivers around $250 a week. That would allow them to make a decent living working a safe number of hours.
“We heard testimony from Union Taxi’s drivers that their lower lease rate allowed them to take their children to school, go to religious services, continue their educations, and, most importantly, get enough sleep,” Russell said.
In a ruling issued Friday, Aug. 20, state Administrative Law Judge Mana Jennings-Fader found Metro agreed to a plea bargain in which they would pay $148,000 in fines. But state PUC staffers agreed to forgive $108,000 of that if Metro paid $40,000 up front and abided by the rules going forward. Metro faced a maximum penalty of $248,000, the ruling states.
Metro also agreed to file quarterly monitoring reports to the PUC, but the company asked for a 180-day grace period, claiming it first needed to learn how to monitor its own drivers. The proposed settlement also bars the state from imposing penalties on any future 80-in-8 violations that Metro self-reports.
And, in the proposed settlement, the state agreed Metro didn’t have to report on any driver who drove an unsafe number of hours if he no longer worked for the company. The judge found that meant that Metro could monitor its drivers, release any who had broken the rules, then simply not report the violation.
Jennings-Fader rejected the settlement as not in the public interest. The judge ordered a hearing Sept. 30.
“The existence of the 180-day grace period undermines Metro Taxi’s incentive to file accurate quarterly reports because, for the duration of the grace period, Metro Taxi is shielded from civil penalty assessments even for violations of the 80-in-8 Rule that Metro Taxi does not report and that Staff uncovers during an audit,” the judge ruled. “The proposed process is not just, is not reasonable, and is not in the public interest because it may hide from the Commission and Staff the very information the quarterly reports are designed to reveal.”
Russell said Denver’s biggest companies, Yellow and Metro, charge such high weekly lease rates that their drivers must drive long hours just to meet the charges, let alone make a living wage. Drivers are contractors under the system, so they don’t get paid overtime for working 12 to 15 hours a day. And because of the pressure to bring in the weekly fee, drivers jockey for lucrative airport runs at the expense of service in area neighborhoods and suburbs, Russell said.
“The fact is, Denver as a market is underserved. Is it too easy to get a cab in Denver? Is it too cheap? No. It’s a market that would benefit from more cabs and from a company that rewarded its drivers with fair treatment and didn’t demand these unsafe working conditions,” Russell said. “Metro says there are enough cabs on the road. Well, apparently they feel that way because their drivers are on the road way too much to be operating safely. Is it going to take a driver falling asleep at the wheel and hurting someone to finally prove that?”
Mile High Cab is continuing its quest to put more cabs on the road and offer consumers lower fairs. The owner-operators have asked for a hearing before the full PUC board.