Cleveland, taxi drivers don't compromise

Youngstown - At a court-ordered meeting here Tuesday, Cleveland officials and owners of four taxi companies failed to resolve their dispute over the city's controversial new cab service at Cleveland Hopkins International Airport.

That leaves U.S. District Judge Peter Economus to decide the fate of the plan, which the city unveiled last month with the aim of bringing new cabs and more professional drivers to the airport.

Lawyers for both sides met for about 30 minutes with Economus, who ruled last week that ABC Taxi, Airport Taxi, USA Taxi and United Cab would likely prevail in challenging a city contract that gives three competitors nearly exclusive rights to pick up airport passengers.

Economus had hoped the meeting would lead to a compromise.

But Cleveland Law Director Robert Triozzi said "nothing that was suggested came remotely close to assuring the city that its requirements for quality service would be met."

Said Gordon Friedman, an attorney for the cabbies: "The city didn't want to negotiate."

Airport chief Ricky Smith and Mayor Frank Jackson ordered the overhaul of taxi service. Their plan calls for new cabs that will be decorated with Hopkins logos, equipped with security cameras and steered by uniformed drivers. Higher fares are coming, too.

But the contract's minimum requirements excluded all but Ace, Americab and Yellow Cab from bidding. Drivers from the other four companies are limited to picking up pre-arranged fares at Hopkins or dropping off passengers.

Owners of the excluded companies have proposed buying a fair share of the required new cabs from Ace, Americab and Yellow Cab to ensure their competitors don't lose money on the deal. That offer was on the table Tuesday, but the city didn't bite.

Friedman and co-counsel Diane Citrino said their clients will not return to pick up outbound fares at the airport without a clear ruling from the judge. They estimate that could take another week.

Economus' staffers would say only that the judge has taken the case under advisement.

First, the cabbies' lawyers - and then Economus - must respond to the city's request to reconsider last week's ruling. Triozzi said Economus based his ruling that the cabbies likely would win their suit on inaccurate information. The law director said the city will appeal any decision that forces airport officials to bend on their minimum requirements for the taxi contract.

"The city deserves better," Triozzi said. "We're not going to compromise on that issue."

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