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Smaller taxi companies remain opposed to Iowa City City Council ordinance

BY NICK HASSETT | DECEMBER 13, 2012 6:30 AM

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Dennis Woods Doderer considers himself an independent taxicab owner-operator, despite driving for Red Line Cab. He has “Cab Dennis” printed on his hat and calls the cab he drives “the No. 2 party cab in the U.S.” He puts customer’s  names and phone numbers in his cell phone and says he makes the taxi experience personal for all of his clientele.

“I want everyone to know who I am,” he said. “In pure market terms, I want to differentiate my product and differentiate myself from other cabs out there.”

But Woods Doderer believes his livelihood is in danger.

Woods Doderer and several other cab drivers and companies in the area think an ordinance that is now up for the approval of the Iowa City City Council could run smaller cab companies and independent owner-operators out of business.

The ordinance, which has already passed two readings by City Councilors, would require a distinctive color scheme for all vehicles driven by a company and would require the location of a dispatch office to be within the Iowa City or Coralville city limits, among other provisions.

The ordinance was developed after a meeting among several taxicab companies and city staff on Oct. 31.

The council passed the previous two considerations, 7-0 and 6-1, with Councilor Jim Throgmorton voting against the ordinance at its most recent reading. An ordinance requires three readings to pass, and the third reading will occur at the City Council meeting on Dec. 18.

“I believe the people who would be affected by this should have a voice in its design,” Throgmorton said. “The biggest concern for independent owner-operators is the same color-scheme requirement.”

The distinctive color-scheme requirement has drawn ire from smaller taxi companies and independent owner-operators, several of which believe the requirement is unnecessary and makes it easier for larger taxi companies to succeed than smaller companies.

“I have a hard time connecting safety with particular colors for cars,” said Roger Larson, the owner of A OK Partners Taxi and Limo. “It looks like it favors larger companies at the expense of smaller ones.”

These companies argue that requiring a uniform paint scheme would raise costs in a tough economy, especially for smaller companies that may not have the resources available to easily paint all of their cars.

“Nobody is in my cab because of the way it looks,” Woods Doderer said. “They’re in there because of me.”

Proponents of the measure — including city staff, several city councilors, and Yellow Cab of Iowa City — say the requirement is about professionalism, safety, and consistency among cabs.

Yellow Cab and Marco’s Taxi did not respond to requests for comment.

“I think of a taxicab in a similar fashion to a police officer,” City Councilor Rick Dobyns said. “Police officers have to be dressed uniformly; they can’t just have their badge and dress any way they want. The same is true for taxis; the car needs to be standard and visible.”

Other measures in the ordinance have also faced opposition, including the requirement to have a dispatching office located within city limits.

Several companies, including Big Ten — Aardvark and Number One Cab, see the new requirement as a way for the city to enforce the 24/7 dispatch requirement, which mandates cab companies have a dispatcher available at all times of the day, every day of the year.

Rasat Alawneh, the owner of Number One Cab, said the requirement is unreasonable for smaller companies.

“Iowa City is not very busy 24/7,” he said. “On a football weekend? Sure, but during the week [this requirement] is killing us.”

However, Dobyns said, the requirement was to promote fairness among cab companies.

“The concern is that some cab drivers will only offer services during times of increased demand and shut down for slower demand,” he said. “They’re skimming off the top.”

Dobyns said he had a meeting with two independent cab drivers later this week, and several plan to speak at the next City Council meeting.

Woods Doderer thinks the process has been rushed by such companies as Yellow Cab and Marco’s Taxi, without giving smaller companies a chance.

“The council spent more time talking about chickens than peoples’ livelihoods,” he said. “I’m the future in this business, and they’re trying to impose a model that is the past. We haven’t been a part of this process.”


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