Taxi controversy: PUC denies 300 new cabs, but is there data to back up the move?

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Yesterday the Colorado Public Utilities Commission reversed PUC Judge Paul Gomez's March ruling to allow 300 more cabs in Denver streets. Gomez's ruling was divisive because he had earlier denied a politically fraught attempt by local drivers to start Mile High Cab, saying Denver didn't need more taxis -- and because 150 of the green-lit taxis were for Yellow Cab, which has long argued Denver doesn't need more taxis.

To some, the PUC's rejection of the 300 cabs makes sense. But can we know for sure if Denver has enough taxis?

Yesterday, PUC commissioners admitted they struggled with their decision, noting there is no impartial, conclusive evidence as to whether or not the city has too many taxis or not enough. While there have been a variety of attempts over the last few years to answer that question, they've all been plagued by contradictory evidence, insider politics or questionable objectives. For example, here's a sampling of the "research" that's been done on the matter:

  • In 2005, an Office of Economic Development study helmed by Cornelius Consulting found that "even though drivers may feel there are too many taxis licensed to operate in Denver, the City is not being over-served compared to cities of comparable size." The findings were apparently never released to a wide audience; many city officials and taxi managers never heard of it. Although Michael Hancock received a copy of it while he was City Council member, he says "I never saw its final analysis," and two years later, he asked for a new taxi study.
  • The 2007 taxi study requested by Hancock (whose political coffers have repeatedly received contributions from Metro Taxi) found that "the correct number of taxi permits in Denver is 942" -- the exact number of permits then allowed in Denver. But the study's author, taxi expert Ray Mundy, has been accused of siding with existing cab companies and arguing against taxi de-regulation. And who footed the $75,000 bill Mundy's study? Yellow Cab and Metro Taxi, the incumbent taxi companies that were opposing attempts to start new taxi operations, and which Mundy named in his study as the only commendable taxi companies in town.
  • In 2009, Denver Mayor John Hickenlooper wrote a letter to the PUC opposing Mile High Cab's attempt to start operating, quoting from a July 2009 letter he'd received from Colorado Hotel and Lodging Association president Christine O'Donnell that noted, among other complaints, that Union, a recently launched company that scored approval, did not have a central dispatch system, causing its drivers to wreak chaos on the city's already clogged streets. But Union actually had a two-way radio system in place the day it started, and O'Donnel now admits she was wrong, noting, "That information was given to me by one of the hotels, which said that one of its guests had left something in one of Union's cabs and it was near to impossible to track down that cab." Since writing that letter, she says, "I am not getting the same level of taxi concerns from my membership." Hickenlooper, however, stood by his objections to Mile High. He subsequently received $10,000 from Metro Taxi to help pay for his gubernatorial inauguration party.
  • When Westword first covered the taxi controversies last December, Ruth Otte, executive vice president of marketing and communications for Veolia Transportation, the giant multinational transportation firm that owns Yellow Cab, penned a three-page response to us detailing the company's concerns about too many taxis in Denver. As she noted, there is an "over-supply of taxis in the Denver Metro market resulting in a depressive effect on taxi operator earnings and a number of other unintended consequences." What Otte apparently didn't realize at the time was that Yellow had already applied to expand its own fleet by 150 cabs; when she was informed about this, she replied, "The fact is that we do not necessarily believe the market needs or can support more permits, particularly not in the near term. But at the same time, if permits are being given out, we felt that to be competitive, we needed to apply."
  • That would turn out to be a good move on Yellow Cab's part; Gomez would approve those 150 cabs in March, along with 150 for a new company to be called Liberty. In his decision, Gomez noted that in the application process, there was no expert testimony proving the new cabs would overcrowd Denver streets. It seems that he doesn't consider his own findings expert testimony; four months earlier, Gomez had rejected Mile High's application because he believed the Denver taxi market was at or near capacity.

So which is it? Is Denver over-saturated with taxis, or is it underserved? Folks can argue about it indefinitely, but until somebody takes a good, hard (and objective) look at the issue, it's just going to be like a taxicab spinning its wheels - but with nowhere to go.

More from our Follow That Story archive: "Michael Hancock donations from Metro Taxi payback for opposing Mile High Cab?" Follow Joel Warner on Twitter @joelmwarner.

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"like a taxicab spinning its wheels - but with nowhere to go"

You just described most of the days of a taxi driver!!  There is no "bells" on the computer and all the customers are taking town cars, gypsys, and pedi-cabs because the company has made my meter so expensive people walk right pass me and on to the cheaper taxi.

The only reason there is congestion at downtown hotels is the doormen give all the customers to town cars and limos. The door men warn customers against taking taxi's.

Dia shut the gates, and a lot of drivers have no idea how to pick up calls  outside of a line situation.

Since dia shut the gates how many times has a passenger had to wait 20 minutes plus for a cabbie, or been charged triple, double the fare?

oh, we're just going to keep pretending this doesnt happen, and continue letting the money hungry taxi company's keep it hush hush with airline tickets and cab vouchers?

How many people have been stranded outside of trax or cervantes on a fri/sat night for an hour? At times it can even be hard to get a taxi on 15th and market, and at other times i wait 20 minutes and all of the company's tell me to "flag down the first taxi i see" yet all the taxi's are full??

And when theres a concert at (the old fiddlers)  i wait for an hour ... and when i go to the local bars like cb and potts i wait even longer for a cab to come my way unless i'm lucky and my show ends at 7 pm ... lol and the same thing happens in broomfield and at red rocks.

There is no winning. As a driver i wait countless hours for passengers who wont just pass me by for the cheapest car or the town car. And as a customer i fall asleep before i ever get a taxi.

I've had people cancle the taxi because it took so long for my company to send a driver, and they missed all the "fun" . The customers call all 4 companys because they know the odds of a driver leaving downtown for them are slim.  Making the odds of the driver getting the trip 1 in 4 ..

We can't afford to chase calls when we have only 2 taxi's infront of us and whats another 30 minutes waiting in line? I know when i get to the front door the customer will not be gone with another company. They walk from the business door to my car door, it's safer than wasting my gas and having the company fire me cause i can't pay my weekly lease.

The company does nothing for me when i get a no go, because they called all  company's  and when i complain about the lack of business the company tells me to work longer, work harder. As if living in my taxi isn't enough. I'm to have no life because the city can't open it's eyes to us, the puc looks the other way on the people in dtc, castlerock, lonetree, morison, aurora and other citys who wait a very very very long time for a taxi and never get one....

 They look the other way on north and south suburban taxi's who are always downtown and not where they say they'll be servicing. They look the other way when there is a million people on the streets waiting for a taxi and all the taxi's are full, or when the baseball game leaves passengers stuck in yellow's line for 45 minutes thats nothing like new york, how can we compare our city to such a fast paced city when we're slow at getting people around? Slow at catching up with other citys.

 We look the other way when our most prestigious hotels rather use a limo or gypsy service, and leave taxi cab lines around the block. We ignore our cab drivers who complain that the companys force them to work long hours, we ignore the drivers who tell you they pay too much and when the drivers  ask  "PUC- if you can regulate the leases why dont you?

the PUC ignores them too Just like they ignore REAL research REAL facts. They rather believe the fraudulent  over used expensively bought by cppany's report to make this dicision.

Screw the public, screw the cab drivers, screw the home of the free and screw the idea of entrupranuraship -

here in Denver thats the PUC motto!


Well, it happened again the puc commissioners rejected threemore applicants on June 28th’s hearing. This time it was the City ofDenver that has complained too many cabs around down town.  I do know for sure that Denver City didn’t addone Taxi stand to down town last 5 years to help the problem. These problemswere there before Union Taxi started their business. I was part of a group thatused to meet with the parking enforcement department and the city on thisissue. I just didn’t know that the two puc commissioners will be persuaded thateasy by Metro Taxi’s cleverness. I was not expecting that the commissionerswill say no to those new applicants and they did say “sorry, one down townDistrict of Denver County has Complained about new cab company businesses “.  What about the rest of Metro Denver, whatabout Arvada, Aurora, and high land ranch. Did they complain about newbusinesses or too many Cabs? Why make the public miss the point by confusingand hiding the anti-competition around the Denver city and the PUC. The issuehas nothing absolutely nothing to do with downtown problems and short fares.The point that Metro is trying to make here is very tricky. Metro presentedtheir game plan which is no competition in Denver Market. Metro Taxi hired theirown investigators to show and prove to the hearing day that drivers and thecity have problem with new cabs on the streets. I think what Metro Taxi wasplanning all this time was to do whatever it takes to stop the applicationsthat were pending and sitting in front of the PUC. Metro complained, that driverswill be refusing trips because of a new cab companies in the market. I alwayssaid it is wrong to refuse trips no matter where is the trip heading. There isa solution to those problems that we presented to the city and state leaders2005. We as Denver Taxi drivers created HB-07-1114. That bill did let the PUChave the power to see and control the lease fees that drivers pay to the cabcompanies. We had proved again and again, that refusal of short trips hassomething to do with the lease fees been too high. For example $800.00 per weeklease in Denver will have drivers work long hours (more than 14 hours per day)and it is wrong but will have drivers not smiling on short trips. The questionthat needs to be asking is why Denver Taxi drivers are paying more lease feesthen the drivers in Chicago and LosAngeles. Secondly, investigators should be from the puc not from Metro thatwants to stop competition in Denver. Ithink by allowing more Taxi Companies in Denver will make drivers lease go down.The short trips refusal will never be issue, because drivers will not be payinghigh lease fees per week.    

                  Did Denver City missed anopportunity to Make Money and create Jobs?

I know the big cabcompanies lobbied down town district for a long time now. City of Denver playedbig part about today’s decision that was made at the PUC to deny thoseapplicants. Did the Denver City council look into and asked these questions (Whatabout the 500 new jobs that will be coming in Denver? that would be bringingmoney to Denver.)  Let’s say the Citysupported those applicants. Each driver pays $75.00 to get license to drive aTaxi, Dia will be making money by charging $30.00 per driver to be around theairport and each quarter the City of Denver or the Denver city treasurer will beCharging taxes to cab drivers. I think I will let the officials worry wherethey can get the $1 million dollar that they are short now. Please, support competitionin Denver and Colorado. Please, let those who need no bail out create andinvent new businesses in Colorado. 

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