Taxis at Denver International Airport: How a cab shortage nearly stranded my family all night

Thumbnail image for mean streets westword taxi cover.jpg
It was 11:30 p.m. on Saturday night as my family lugged our suitcases to Denver International Airport's taxi stand for a ride home after a week-long trip. While we'd always parked at DIA in the past, we'd decided to skip the hassle and take local cabs, the topic of my Westword feature "Mean Streets." But just as we got to the stand, the porter helped a woman into a taxi and then turned to us with a sad look. "I'm sorry, that was the last cab," he said. For the night.

While taxi service at the airport didn't officially end until after 1 a.m., the porter explained that all available cab drivers were downtown, angling for the Saturday-night business. He could call a taxi for us, but it could take half an hour or more for one to show up -- if it showed up at all. This happened nearly every weekend, he explained with a shake of his head.

"So what do people do?" I asked in bewilderment. The porter said he tries to find people a shuttle service or encourages them to rent a car. Some folks, however, end up spending the night sleeping in the concourse and getting a cab at 7 a.m. the next morning.

Before it came to such a choice for us, the porter tried one last option: He called the taxi stand on the other side of the concourse, to see if there happened to be any taxis over there. As it turned out, the real last cab of the night was idling there. It was great luck for us, although not so much for the passengers on the other two planes the porter said were still due in to DIA that night. If any of them expected (understandably) to be able to take a cab home, they'd be in for a very rude awakening.

What could be done about the situation? Before we left, I asked the porter if he thought it would make sense for DIA to increase the number of cabs allowed at DIA at one time, a restriction put in place a few years ago. "It would help," he said.

But our cab driver during our drive to Denver didn't think so. Even if the airport increased the maximum number of taxis allowed, he thought the drivers would still end up downtown on weekend nights, since that was where all the action was.

It made me think about the arguments used time and again to ensure that only a handful of new taxi companies have been allowed to open up shop in Denver in more than sixty years. The city just doesn't need any more cabs, insist both the existing cab companies and city politicians (many of whom, it turned out, have received political donations from the existing cab companies). Those arguments have long stymied the launch of Mile High Cab, a taxi collective envisioned by local taxi drivers who say they are sick of exorbitant lease rates and abusive treatment at the existing cab operations. After a two-year application process, Pubic Utilities Commission Judge Paul Gomez ruled allowing Mile High to operate would make the city dangerously overcrowded with cabs -- an argument he seemed to forget a little while later when he gave the green light to 300 other new cabs, including 150 for Yellow Cab, a large and powerful local company that has long argued Denver doesn't need any more taxis.

Whether those 300 controversial cabs will actually hit the streets is still under consideration, and Denver Mayor Bill Vidal, for one, is arguing that they shouldn't be allowed to do so. Like many other Denver officials, he believes additional cabs could be "divisive and explosive."

But here's a big question: If there aren't enough cabs to go around between downtown and DIA on any given weekend night, can it really be that Denver doesn't need any more taxis? For a city that prides itself on its glitzy airport, having visitors getting stranded at the concourse at 11:30 p.m. because they're just plum out of cabs is anything but world class.

As the taxi porter put it to me, "Makes you remember we still really are a cow town."

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


Sponsor Content

My Voice Nation Help
20 comments
Seattle Airport Transportation
Seattle Airport Transportation

Individuals go where the need is.  No car owner is going to sit at a place where there is no cash to be created.

denverprotaxi
denverprotaxi

You all can say what you like here. Let me tell you as a Taxi driver what is the problem.1- Dia allows only 200 cabs per day. The 200 cabs are divided to all four cab companies in Denver.not all taxi drivers in Denver can work at the DIA. you have 1600 cab drivers in Denver and only 200 are assigned to DIA per day.No matter what if it is a holiday or if the biggest convention is coming to Denver you only have two hundred cabs there. secondly, drivers are not allowed to work more than 10 consecutive hours per day according to state rule if they do they must come back to work after 8 hours of rest,. when drivers that were part of the 200 cabs, start their shift let us say 5:00 am they will go home by 3:00pm.you have less cabs available at DIA late at night  for that reason.drivers don't like to brake the rules by staying too long hours.to say that those 200 cabs are going to down town is not true we have 1400 more cabs at down town every dayt.

Swtelston
Swtelston

It's part of the master plan to fill the rooms of the new hotel they're building! the light rail will surely help too, have they said if it will run 24 hours?

houseofrussell
houseofrussell

The question is not whether there are enough cabs but whether there are enough cab companies.  That's what the PUC and the politicians have failed to understand.  If more companies enter the market, then, most importantly, the lease rates that the drivers pay will be forced down.  That will allow the drivers & companies to provide the service that customers need.  Note, too, that by creating an artificial shortage at the airport, the airport thereby generates business for the shuttle companies, at least one of which is rumored to be owned by a family member of a DIA administrator.  

Ray Denonville
Ray Denonville

 If the Cab Starter will not send you a Taxi, just call 303-777-7777 for a Yellow Cab, they will dispatch you a Taxi, anywhere even the airport where they have hundreds of Taxis nearby because the City of Denver will not allow them too close to the terminal unless needed.

@joey (chba)
@joey (chba)

I do not think the point is for  drivers sit at dia all night and never go home to sleep or play catch with their kids, the point is the cab companies have a responsibility to the public to serve the public with the transportation needs and the current companies are not doing that, sense their not doin it and doin it and doin it well... why are new companies denied? The public suffers, all over not only at dia! yet,  the cab company s still .. make it rain. The companies FORCE cab drivers to not see their family s work long hours and be where the muthaf......n people are.. douche

Cheeba
Cheeba

Alright lets Talk taxi! The drivers can not afford to sit at dia just in case there is a late flight, the dia leases for both metro and yellow are hundreds of dollars more expensive then the normal taxi lease per week. Who do you know can afford 700 to 900$ payments a week? Your cabbie does it.

PLUS cabbies have to have a air port badge the company cant just send a driver to dia, ............ even if he does have a badge! The companies yellow and metro fax a list daily to GT @ dia with 50 cabs #'s only these 50 cab drivers can load at dia for the specified day.

Yellows driver relations creates their list so if there is only 20 yellows scheduled for dia on a saturday only 20 cabbies had the money to tip/bribe/buy  for it!!!!! ha!

While you where waiting at dia people where stuck in littleton, englewood, morrison, et cetera for hours waiting for a cab to get their way. NO cab driver can afford to be any where besides downton at 1 am, how could they make their weekly lease for their POS car if they're waiting to get lucky anywhere besides where people are in need of a cab every other minute.

Denver needs more taxi companys for the fact the big companies make it so hard for a taxi driver to service Colorado. More companies would force the lease to be lower allowing for the drivers to care more about public transporation and less about their lease rates, maybe cabbies would start opening doors again and waiting longer than 20 seconds for customers to exit their apartment/bar. Maybe they would be on call in less saturated with drunks  areas more often thn they are now? Just a thought.

The dia list needs to be eliminated. Dia can keep their max taxi's allowable per company but for the company to be able to pick the cabbies is not working. It should be first come first serve first 50 metros to arrive at the gate ok go, 51 has to wait for a metro to load and leave before he can go to the lot?  same for all companies and if..... in my wettest dreams....it seems... Denver ever gets the much needed new companies  DIA lower the max able per company ... but do not let them dictate who can pick up. It's just another way of allowing these companies to take advantage of hard working, earnest, humble cab drivers ....

 If a cabbie was allowed to just go, i'm sure there was one at the hotels near dia waiting for a trip to town, the cabbies stalk hotels or have you not noticed the extra yellow cockroaches sitting at every hotel from cherry creek to gateway?

I feel for the people who paid dishonest cab drivers extra money to get to town because they where the last cab .....

Denverhottie284
Denverhottie284

Drivers go where the demand is.  No driver is going to sit at a location where there is no money to be made.  It does not matter if there is one cab company or 20 companies or if you're in Denver, LA, or NYC.  You will run into the same issue no matter where you are at or how many companies there are.  If you want a vehicle to be on site and waiting at the airport upon arrival, call a town car company.  If you want a taxi or shuttle or town car at the last minute, be prepared to wait.  It's common sense. 

Joey
Joey

In the mean streets article by Joel he stated that drivers are not able to spend enough time with their families and now he is stating that cab drivers should sit at DIA at all hours of the night just in case someone on one of 3 flights MIGHT need a cab. How can you write an article stating that drivers should be able to spend more time at home and then write a second peice that states drivers should be sitting at the airport at all hours of the night when there is little demand? How can you sit there and state that drivers should be at the airport sitting around waiting for possible customers but yet claim it is difficult to find a cab in Denver during peak times? Quit contradicting your points!!!

Tommy
Tommy

Why would a driver sit at DIA at 11:30 on a Saturday night when you have nothing but drunks downtown? I cannot imagine there is much demand for their services in the middle of the night at DIA. It's smart that the cab companies send their resources to downtown in order to keep the drunks off the streets. All the DIA restaurants shut down at 10 pm when the number of incoming and outgoing flights drops so why should taxis be any different?

Casey
Casey

And just like the receipt machines that still aren't in the hacks...I will not hold my breath for any of what you just wrote...but I agree with you.

Of course I'm not downtown on a Saturday night...I work the 'burbs then, because its like shootin' ducks in a gallery for the amount of calls we get.   Downtown is insane, but the 'burbs suffer just as badly as DIA does and the fares are longer as everything is farther apart.

I'll never work DIA.  Did the math, and the extra costs just don't justify it...plus its a total crap shoot as to whether you are loading...or loafing out there...and loafing don't pay the damn lease... and in a Prius, its a couple hundred higher than the Vics.

Now TAKING people TO DIA?  oh hell-b-yeah.  Those are money shot bells as the rides are 60-90 bucks a pop and all we do is drop and go....plus no stupid stickers/transponders/fees/taxes/etc.,etc.

raid
raid

Not at 1 am, they're all asleep at yellow cab, or on facebook!

dont call 777 ....call 444 or 2222!!!!

Casey
Casey

Smells like b.s. to me.  Hundreds available? uh..yeah...sure.  Knowing how many medallions yellow has in total, and a quick count of the cabs downtown and in boulder, tells me you are schilling, or work for yellow and not in the front seat of a hack.  Of course by the amount of complaining MY customers have regarding how "timely" yellow is, perhaps you DO have hundreds available.  lol.

Rmk52
Rmk52

You have no idea how a cab company works so before you start callin names, get an education. Since you do not know that drivers are contracted, you now do.  A driver as a contractor has the option of working anywhere he wants to within the city and the cab companies cannot legally tell him where he can and cannot go.  You seriously think that by adding more cab companies, you will remove that option that the drivers have?  It don't matter if you have one company or 30 companies, the driver is going to go where the money is on a Saturday night in Denver. 

abdi
abdi

Cab companies don't send their drivers anywhere because they are independent contractors. here is the question you missed. how about if you have 10,000 visitors that are showing up early. what about delays due to the weather outside of Colorado. 

cheeba
cheeba

IF the driver didnt have such a large lease when he got a trip to .. Littleton he would pick up in littleton instead of dead heading back into downtown denver, The cabbies can not AFFORD to be anywhere else, even when they know people in the burbs tip better than the local dt to highlanders ... your special. Adding more companies creates equal opportunity for the cab drivers, right now its not equal it's slavery.

Cheeba
Cheeba

RMK52 check it for your self, denver driver cant go to boulder to pick up  boulder cant pick up in denver, dia drivers have certain days they can be at dia for at least 3 of the companies, and the drivers have to pay extra to be told what days .. its called a dia lease <3    i have no clue what union does .. yet. Call ground transportation check your facts before you call a sista uneducated if anything i have better understanding of the situation than you since you think independent contractor means .. go where you wish and load .. lol it means slave to the company they tell you where, who and how.. ask some cabbies how many days the company LETS them be at dia, ask them how many days they'd like to be there  <^> >.< <^> OR ask how many have tried for a DIA lease and been denied ...

Michael Roberts
Michael Roberts

Interesting point of view, cheeba. Thanks for posting.

Now Trending

Denver Concert Tickets

From the Vault

 

Loading...