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Charlotte Taxis Under Scrutiny

Diamond Cab Driver Abdi Mohamud (center) and other cab drivers protest.

Taxi drivers rallied outside city hall last night as the Charlotte City Council debated plans to restrict cab access at the airport. Charlotte airport director Jerry Orr wants only three cab companies to have their drivers lined up at the baggage claim curb. Right now there are 12 companies and 144 drivers. In exchange for exclusive airport access, the three permitted cab companies must promise to operate newer vehicles, accept credit cards and install fancy GPS screens for passengers. City leaders hope the changes will give visitors a better impression of Charlotte. Orr told the city council last night he also thinks the changes will be good for cab drivers, because they'll have less competition. "We believe the drivers working will make more fares in less time," says Orr. "Intuitively, we know that a happier worker makes a happier customer, and that will lead to a better image for the airport." A few dozen cab drivers held signs outside the council meeting protesting Orr's decision. "I've been driving for Charlotte-Douglas airport for 14 years and today my job is not secure," said Abdi Mohamud, who drives for Diamond Cab, which was not chosen to get an airport contract. He'll still be able to take people to the airport and pick up travelers who call his company directly. But Mohamud won't get any of the coveted walk-up business he's come to rely on. Eighty percent of his income comes from the airport, Mohamud says. Orr estimates about 60 cab drivers like Mohamud will lose their airport permits because they don't work for the three companies chosen to serve the airport: Crown Cab, Yellow Cab and King/Royal. That last one is owned by two brothers who've done time in a federal prison for conspiring to buy fake driver's licenses. Mayor Anthony Foxx promised to veto King/Royal Cab's airport contract, so the vote was delayed indefinitely. Instead, council members spent nearly an hour discussing airport taxi proposal. Earlier in the day, Councilmember Andy Dulin had taken undercover cab rides and offered a lively critique at the meeting. The first taxi he summoned was King/Royal. It showed up 15 minutes late. "I get in, it's a nice car," recounted Dulin. "But the first sign that things weren't the greatest though, was he had his rate card with his permit number on there and it looked like it had been copied millions of times. It was dog-eared and literally thumb-tacked to the dashboard. Not a professional image." And the driver took him the long-way to the airport. When he got there, Dulin called Crown Cab and Yellow Cab to compare prices and was given different estimates for the same ride. For his trip back to Uptown, Dulin turned to a taxi attendant at the airport curb and was gruffly instructed to take the next cab in line. It was a Nation's Cab minivan. The driver got lost. Overall, Dulin concluded Charlotte's taxi industry could use some improvement. Others on the council appeared to agree, but none of them asked Airport Director Jerry Orr to explain why he was recommending that a company run by convicted felons be awarded one of the taxi contracts. After the meeting, several councilmembers insisted they weren't dancing around the issue, but rather saving it for a much longer future conversation. Their immediate goal, they say, was to stop the contract from being approved, and they did.