Several taxi companies have banded together to oppose an effort to overhaul cab service at Kansas City International Airport.
One group, the Quality and Fairness Taxicab Committee, describes as "extreme" the Kansas City Aviation Department's proposal to allow a private business to oversee ground transportation service at KCI.
A separate group made up of seven minority-owned taxi companies says the proposal is an attempt to award exclusive rights at KCI to one or two cab companies.
Both groups have written letters to the Kansas City Council's Aviation Committee about their concerns.
Aviation Director Mark VanLoh, who has read the letters, said Tuesday that he respected the taxi companies' views and planned to meet with their representatives.
"When (the Aviation Department) proposed this, everybody at City Hall told me to be prepared for an onslaught, and I welcome it," VanLoh said. "That is the only way we will reach a solution that is fair."
The Quality and Fairness Taxicab Committee represents the City, Checker and Atlas taxi companies, said Craig Bates, a spokesman for the group.
In its letter, the group criticizes VanLoh for presenting the proposal to the Aviation Committee before seeking comments from the cab companies.
The letter states that taxi drivers have worked hard at improving service and that no one in the Aviation Department has informed them about any problems.
"Unfortunately, during the holiday season, several hundred families (of cabdrivers) must deal with the uncertainty surrounding this situation," the letter said.
More than 400 taxis serve the airport, and drivers can receive lucrative fares because of the airport's distance from the core metropolitan area.
The Aviation Department wants to issue a request for proposals to companies interested in overseeing the airport ground transportation operation.
A company could be selected in January or February and, if approved by the City Council, be operating by March, VanLoh said.
Once a company was hired, the city would set standards that the private operator would enforce.
The standards could include a driver dress code, driver training and additional regulations governing the age and condition of vehicles.
Chuck Chionuma, an attorney for the minority-owned taxi companies, said the city's desire to regulate drivers and their appearance was understandable.
But that effort, he said, should not be accomplished by giving control of the airport taxi service to one or two companies.
"The real issue, though, is not simply control over cabdrivers, but, most importantly, fundamental fairness to current cab company owners, many of whom are minorities," Chionuma wrote in a letter to the Aviation Committee and several other city officials.
VanLoh said his presentation to the Aviation Committee last week was his way of informing all cab companies about the proposal.
VanLoh said that any private company, including those that oppose the idea, could bid for the contract and that no taxi services would be put out of work.
"We will get everyone educated on this plan," VanLoh said. "I wish I could tell them to stop jumping to conclusions. They are all assuming the worst."
VanLoh said City Council members had received complaints from visitors to Kansas City about shoddy taxi service.
High-quality cab service at the airport, he said, is important because it is often a visitor's first impression of the city.
Councilman Bill Skaggs, chairman of the Aviation Committee, said he would not approve any plan that would allow a private company to monopolize the airport taxi operation.
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