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Published: Friday, 12/2/2005

Mayor likely to break tie with taxicab contract vote

BY TOM TROY
BLADE STAFF WRITER

Toledo Mayor Jack Ford probably will break a tied City Council vote and allow taxicabs to legally continue the work they've been doing illegally for decades.

A prepared statement from the mayor's staff yesterday said Mr. Ford "strongly leans in favor of a yes vote, unless some irrevocable harm to the citizens of Toledo that has not been demonstrated is brought to light."

At issue is an ordinance that would permit cab companies to enter into contracts with government agencies to transport clients, abolishing a restriction that has never been enforced.

The mayor did not respond to a request for an interview yesterday.

The news was greeted with relief by taxi owners, who said driving clients of county agencies to and from appointments is the bulk of their business.

"I'm really glad to hear that," said Kevin Keiser, president of the 15-car Checker Cab Co. and a full-time driver. "It was going to put me out of business."

The ordinance received a 6-6 vote when it was brought up at council's meeting Tuesday - after being buried in a committee since January. Mr. Ford must be present at council's next meeting, Dec. 13, to cast a tie-breaking vote.

The ordinance rewrites the city's taxicab ordinance to permit the work that cab owners say they have been doing for years, but did not know was in violation of the law.

Two years ago, the owner of a vehicle-for-hire company challenged taxi owners' right to contract for "point to point" transportation, and the city law department agreed that the contract work was not permitted under city law.

The ruling prompted cab companies to lobby for a change in the law.

Cabs increasingly have relied on contracts with agencies such as the Lucas County Job and Family Services, the Area Office on Aging of Northwestern Ohio, and the Toledo Metropolitan Area Council of Governments for their work.

Gus Shunnar, owner of Diversified Transportation, the vehicle-for-hire firm that challenged the cab companies, said the cabbies beat him at lobbying council.

He said several councilmen changed their votes Tuesday night, including Councilman Michael Ashford who voted "yes."

"He assured me many times he was going to vote no on this," Mr. Shunnar said.

Mr. Ashford said he never promised his vote to Mr. Shunnar. He said he decided to vote for the legislation after Lucas County Commissioner Peter Gerken told him that it would not cost anyone's job.

Mr. Ford said that the cabs "assist individuals needing a ride to doctors' appointments, physical therapy, jobs, or other necessary activities."

Mr. Shunnar said he's tried to have a meeting with Mr. Ford, but so far with no luck.

Mike Birmingham, owner of Birmingham Limousine, said he believes the cab companies want to move into the kinds of work he does, including airport transportation and wedding receptions.

Mr. Keiser said cabbies don't want to give up the traditional cab work, but need the contract work to stay alive.

"Nobody has time to stick their nose in other people's business. I not only am president of a cab company, but I drive a cab at night 12 hours," Mr. Keiser said.

Contact Tom Troy at:

tomtroy@theblade.com

or 419-724-6058.



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