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Friday, June 20, 2008

Cab drivers rally to convince legislators they need help with costs, charges that eat away income

By Angela Carter
Register Staff
HARTFORD
— At the end of a 16-hour shift Wednesday, taxi driver Chaubhury Haidar had made $160.
But here’s the problem as he describes it:
It costs him $42.85 per day to lease the vehicle from the Every Cab company. Rising gas prices cause him to pay at least $70 a day to keep fuel in the cab’s tank. And because he faces surcharges for picking up fares at the airport and a 10 percent levy by the company on every credit card payment for rides, Haidar was left with $21 toward the support of his household.
"We have families. We have bills," he said on the steps of the State Capitol Thursday during a rally.
Struggles and all, it’s a job he likes. It’s a job he knows.
So, Haidar joined more than 80 drivers Thursday in a plea to legislators to make the industry more competitive. They carried hand-held American flags and homemade signs that read: "Time for change" and "Stop the monopoly in the taxi business."
Calls from an industry task force nearly two years ago for the General Assembly to review how taxicabs and livery services are regulated were echoed by drivers last fall.
The cabbies enlisted the help of Senate Majority Leader Martin M. Looney, D-New Haven, and the African American Affairs Commission in lobbying for an in-depth study of the industry.
That effort began Thursday in the Legislative Office Building, as the Legislative Program Review and Investigations Committee held a briefing and a public hearing following the rally.
Miriam P. Kluger, principal staff analyst, said during the briefing that there are 963 taxis in operation statewide and about two-thirds of the owners have one to three cars. Drivers are paying $250 to $800 a week in lease fees, depending on the company where they work.
Drivers are classified as independent contractors in Connecticut and therefore also bear other costs, such as acquiring health insurance.
Antoine Scott, president of a new drivers association called the Coalition of Independent Contractors, said some drivers had been threatened with acts of retribution such as firings for attending the rally and hearing. "If even one taxi driver gets terminated, there will be a statewide strike for taxis," he said.
The application for a certificate of "public convenience and necessity" to start or expand a cab company costs $88 and there is a public hearing process. The applicant also must prove financial suitability, competence to run the business and pass background checks to get the certificate at no cost.
Owners of the larger companies in the state such as William Scalzi, president of Metro Taxi of West Haven, and Marco Henry, president of Yellow Cab Co. in Hartford, have expanded their operations by buying the rights to certificates transferred from a prior holder.
Scalzi said certificates average $35,000 in the New Haven area, compared to a staggering $500,000 in New York City, but the certificate holder owns it as an asset there. Yellow Cab driver Jasper McBride said he and many other drivers could not come up with even Connecticut’s level of funding upfront.
Scalzi said that while small companies definitely have a role in transportation services, requests come in from all areas around the clock. It takes "a full-service taxi company with enough vehicles" and a sophisticated dispatch system to be able to respond within 10 minutes, he said.
Henry is pushing for industry regulation and oversight to be consolidated into one state agency with sufficient staff for enforcement.
Angela Carter can be reached at 789-5752 or acarter@nhregister.com.

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