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Port authority wants cabbies to clean up their act

Imagine getting in a cab to go to Ned Skeldon Stadium in Maumee and ending up 10 miles away in Oregon.

Or telling a cabbie you need to get to the Greyhound bus station in a hurry to connect with a bus and being taken to COSI Toledo several blocks away.

Those were some of the answers that Mark Fisher, chief of the Toledo-Lucas County Port Authority police, got when he asked cab drivers at Toledo Express Airport to take a short quiz this week to determine how well they know the Toledo area.

And poor senses of direction are not the only problems Chief Fisher and port authority officials say they have with some of the cabbies who jockey for fares each day at the airport and often provide Toledo visitors with a first impression of the city.

Drivers who are rude or unkempt, worn-out or dirty cars, and the absence of cabs at the airport at certain times are among the issues staff and port authority board members discussed during an airport committee meeting yesterday morning.

“These guys work at their own leisure - they come out whenever they want to,” airport director Paul Toth said. “Saturdays, you can never find a cab out here.”

Mr. Toth and Chief Fisher suggested that bidding out taxi service as a concession, rather than allowing anyone who buys a $400 medallion to serve the airport, may be the only way to establish and enforce service standards. With a quick endorsement from committee members, the two staff members agreed to bring back a formal proposal to the committee's next meeting June 22.

“It's going to be controversial,” Mr. Toth said. “The complaint will be that the standards will be set too high, except for one or two companies that will be able to meet them.”

“So what?” responded a chorus of committee members led by G. Opie Rollison, who said cab service from the airport to ProMedica facilities was so bad ProMedica had to start sending its own drivers to pick up out-of-town visitors. Mr. Rollison, now chairman of the health-care practice group of a local law firm, was ProMedica's general counsel from 1991 to 1998.

Outside the terminal, cab driver Mark Hammersmith of Champagne Transportation Service said he believes most drivers would welcome stiffer conduct and cleanliness standards. He blamed the airport's taxi problems on recent immigrants. He said the newcomers often overcharge and do not follow port authority guidelines for appearance.

“Some of the newer drivers out here are really unprepared for the business, and their vehicles are not up to standard,” agreed Mike Ignasiak, a driver for Diamond Transportation. He said his firm is researching whether the port authority legally could limit taxicab access at the airport to one or two winning bidders.

Mr. Toth said he checked with 12 similar airports in the region and found that eight of them do just that.

Mr. Hammersmith agreed with airport committee member James F. White, Jr.'s, assertion during the meeting: With 15 companies trying to serve the airport - many of them one-car, “vehicle for hire” operations - no one can make enough money to provide top-shelf service. “There are too many cars here,” Mr. Hammersmith said. “I can't justify spending the money to have nicer or better cars.”

Port authority regulations set maximum fares for a variety of destinations in the Toledo area. A maximum of two cabs may wait at the terminal curb front at a time; others must line up in a nearby holding zone. And except to use the restrooms, drivers are not to enter the terminal.

But Thomas Schlachter, an airport committee member, said he has been solicited for fares in the airport's baggage-claim area, which he finds “offensive.”

Mr. Toth said a recent Toledo Express traveler complained to him about having to take over driving a cab after a cabbie taking him to Fort Wayne, Ind., pulled over on the Indiana Toll Road near I-69. The cabbie told the traveler he was too tired to continue, and went to sleep in the back seat, he related.

In a March 13 letter to the port authority, Lucas County Common Pleas Court Judge Robert G. Christiansen complained about a situation he happened upon in which cabbies told a visitor holding an airline limousine voucher that they were unaware of any airport limousines. The cabbies told the visitor they could drive the visitor to Ann Arbor, Mich., in one of their cabs, the judge reported.

When the judge showed identification and escorted the visitor toward the limousine stand, the cabbies followed them and told him not to interfere. They later complained to a port authority police officer that Judge Christiansen had stolen their passenger.

“They came after me, then they started arguing with the policeman,” the judge said yesterday. “I was more offended than anything else.''

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