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One Weak Bribe

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I’ve written before about House Bill 1114, which would ease regulations on taxi cab companies and open up the marketplace to more competition and, hopefully, create a few more competent taxi cab companies.

How incompetent are the current taxi cab companies? Well, let us count the ways. Earlier this month the Rocky Mountain News showed us how difficult it can be to actually find a taxi cab in Denver:

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Metro Taxi did not respond to repeated requests for comment about the incident involving Psalm Shaw, 34, a student at Metropolitan State College of Denver who uses a wheelchair and crutches. Shaw said she’s had to wait nearly three hours for cabs, adding that cabbies sometimes never show up because her short trips pay little…

…The story about Shaw’s ordeal Tuesday sparked dozens of calls and e-mails to the newspaper, and other readers registered their comments on the RockyTalk Live online forum.

A 77-year-old woman said she has been left stranded by cabbies, and on one occasion, her oxygen tank ran out while she waited three hours for a ride.

That story appeared in early March, and now take a look at this story today from the News:

An independent Yellow Cab driver says a supervisor offered him and other cabbies up to $110 if they’d call state lawmakers and urge them to kill a taxi deregulation bill up for a hearing today.

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In a sworn statement, Yellow Cab driver Mengisteab Desta said a supervisor offered to knock off two days of lease fees for drivers who called lawmakers.

A company executive Wednesday denied cabbies were offered payment. The allegation hits as the House Transportation and Energy Committee votes on House Bill 1114 this morning…

…Denver Yellow Cab President Brad Whittle said the firm’s independent contractor drivers were encouraged to call key committee members. But he rejected claims that drivers were given discounts on leases they pay to drive under the Yellow Cab name or to rent vehicles.

“It sounds pretty outlandish,” Whittle said. “I don’t think we’d be in business very long if we offered free weeks or free days to our drivers to make phone calls.”

Sponsored by Rep. Jerry Frangas, D-Denver, HB 1114 would require the state Public Utilities Commission to issue unlimited operating certificates to taxi firms as long as they meet certain standards. Companies would also be required to charge reasonable fares and offer accessible cabs for the disabled.

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Desta, who supports the bill, said his supervisor showed him a one-page “Driver Script for Calling Representatives” and offered to reduce his lease fees if he agreed to call lawmakers.

Desta said he refused, but said he saw about five drivers making the phone calls at the firm’s Denver headquarters.

Whittle acknowledged his drivers use a written lobbying script, but added that so do independent drivers who belong to Pro Taxi, an alliance of 400 cabbies pushing for industry deregulation.

The taxi cab companies, of which there are only three in Denver, don’t want industry deregulation because they have a monopoly on the taxi business…even though, as we’ve seen, they aren’t very good at getting taxis to customers. So in order to fight HB-1114, one company allegedly offered bribes to drivers “of up to $110.”

Are you kidding me?

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Obviously it’s wrong to offer bribes for this sort of thing, but if you’re going to do it, maybe you should offer something of value. If the industry is deregulated, taxi drivers will benefit because they will have more employment options and fewer financial restrictions. Do the taxi companies really think that a driver would be willing to give that up for $110? Really?

It’s quite clear that the taxi companies have no idea what they are doing, either in the way they operate their business or in the way they try to fight legislation at the state capitol. The case for deregulation has been made…by them.

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