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Is it too easy to hail a taxi in Colorado? Do you pay too little? Should the government stifle competition and protect big business? We don't think so either. Email us at MileHighCab@gmail.com

Monday, August 30, 2010

The Secret Is Out

News of taxi companies overworking drivers, in the news ...

It's no secret to drivers for the Big Taxi Companies that they are forced to work scores of extra hours each week just to make ends meet. But to consumers outside the industry, that's not well known. Thanks to some big stories recently, that secret is out. While on one hand a judge at the Colorado Public Utilities Commission says there are enough cabs in Denver already, another hand of the PUC is fining Yellow and Metro cab for having drivers on the roads way more hours than they should ....

This story, orginally from the Denver Business Journal is now running in sister papers as far away as Seattle:

PUC charges cab companies with overworking drivers

Denver Business Journal - by Cathy Proctor

The Colorado Public Utilities Commission (PUC) thinks some taxi drivers are spending too many hours behind the wheel.

PUC administrative law judges have rejected all or part of plea deals between state regulators and two of Denver’s taxi companies over allegations that cab drivers worked too many hours.

The cases stem from a February 2009 state audit of between 45 and 60 cab drivers waiting for passengers at Denver International Airport. It found some drivers for all three of Denver’s cab companies at the time — Denver Yellow Cab, Metro Taxi and Freedom Cabs Inc. — had violated the state’s rule that drivers limit their work hours to 80 hours in eight consecutive days.

At the time, the PUC permitted the three cab companies to operate a total of 942 cabs in Denver.

“This is a consumer-protection issue,” said Terry Bote, PUC spokesman. “We have no evidence, no data, that drivers are out there involved in accidents because they’re fatigued. But we’d like to make sure that doesn’t happen, and we want to make sure the companies and drivers are following the hours-of-service rules.”

Freedom, which was cited in November 2009 for 29 violations of the maximum-hours rule, based on the audit, faced a fine of $79,500. It paid $39,875, a 50 percent reduction allowable if paid within 10 days of the citation, and the case was closed in December 2009.

“We educated our drivers,” said Max Sarr, Freedom’s operations manager. “Instead of making them pay for the fine, we educated them and told them that if it happened again, they would have to pay the fine. I’m not worrying about my drivers working over hours.”

Metro Taxi and Yellow Cab chose to negotiate plea deals with state regulators involving thousands of dollars in fines, grace periods and periodic reviews of drivers’ hours.

But on Aug. 20, Administrative Law Judge Mana Jennings-Fader rejected Metro Taxi’s entire plea deal. Metro Taxi can appeal that decision to the full commission, pay 50 percent of its original $148,500 fine within 10 days, or try to hammer out a new deal in a Sept. 30 hearing before Jennings-Fader.

Kyle Brown, Metro Taxi’s general manager, declined to comment about the decision, citing pending litigation, but insisted the company’s cabs were safe. “We are safe, we’ve been safe for the last 25 years and nothing bad has happened due to an hours-of-service-related incident.”

Metro Taxi was charged with having between 10 and 20 drivers violate the maximum-hours rule 54 times, according to the Aug. 20 decision.

The plea deal called for Metro Taxi to pay a $40,000 fine, with the remaining $108,500 fine suspended as long as the cab company agreed to prevent drivers from working too long and to submit quarterly reports of driver hours.

In return, the PUC staff offered to give the company a grace period of 18 months after the commission approved the deal. During the first six months, the state wouldn’t issue citations against Metro Taxi, if its drivers were found to be working too long. During the remaining year, state regulators might issue citations, depending on how hard regulators believed Metro Taxi was working to comply with the plea deal, according to the decision.

Jennings-Fader wrote that the plea deal “is not just, is not reasonable and is not in the public interest.” The judge also noted Metro Taxi had 16 violations of the rule in 2004 and paid a $2,200 fine.

Another administrative law judge, Harris Adams, ruled Aug. 17 on the plea deal between state regulators and Yellow Cab.

Adams allowed a $50,000 fine against Yellow Cab to stand, with an additional $115,000 suspended, if Yellow Cab files quarterly reports with the PUC about drivers’ hours for 18 months. But he rejected an 18-month grace period from future fines that the cab company and PUC staff had negotiated.

Yellow Cab had been charged with 60 violations of the rule by three drivers audited at DIA in February 2009, according to the decision.

“Denver Yellow Cab has accepted the settlement agreement as modified by ALJ Harris Adams and will abide by its terms,” said Richard Fanyo, the attorney with Dufford & Brown PC who represented Yellow Cab before the PUC.

Fanyo said Yellow Cab now has better information on drivers’ hours than it did in February 2009, and has a system to check its drivers’ log sheets. Drivers who may be violating the maximum-hours rule are called in for a talk, and could be subject to firing or fines, Fanyo said.

Fanyo said Yellow Cab’s taxis were safe, due to the new monitoring system and the driver training programs.

Tom Russell, an attorney for Mile High Cab, which is fighting for state approval to become a new Denver-area cab company, said having drivers log too many hours on the road contributes to the belief that Denver has too many cabs. Fanyo rejected that assertion.

“These are events that occurred a year and a half ago, all based on DIA,” Fanyo said. “That’s old news. It’s just coming out now because the administrative process takes a while.”

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