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Faux taxis pose problem for Iowa City

BY CARTER CRANBERG | FEBRUARY 24, 2014 5:00 AM

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Iowa City residents might want to take a closer look next time they step into a cab.

According to Iowa City police and cab companies, there have been at least two unlicensed taxi drivers — who they label “hacks” — on the streets at night.

Adil Adams, the owner of American Taxi Cab, said there is potential danger in riding with such drivers.

“In our taxis, we have the name of the driver posted in the car, so if a rider has a problem, they can report him,” he said. “You can’t do this with unofficial drivers.”

In Adams’ opinion, the recent chain of sexual assaults having taken place in taxis with unidentified drivers may be a result of “hacks.”

“At night, people are drunk, cold, and jump inside an anonymous van that might not be a real taxi — bad things can happen,” he said.

Adams said creating a faux cab would be simple. Stencils from Wal-Mart can be applied to any car and create a taxi-like look.

The owner of a local taxi fleet who wished to remain anonymous said many unlicensed tend to fade out on their own.

“I’ve heard about people who buy a mini-van and hand out their number for picking people up,” he said. “I don’t think they hold out long though. People catch on and realize they don’t legally have to pay or that it’s not safe, so these pirate taxis don’t seem to last.”

Despite the tendency for such faux cabs to die out, the taxi-fleet owner was aware of a couple drivers who managed to stay afloat, even with pressure from the law.

Iowa City police Officer Derek Frank said loopholes in driving laws allows people to create illegitimate taxis.

“The problem is that with the way the ordinance is right now, there is nothing prohibiting people from giving rides,” he said. “They just can’t legally charge, so you see them asking for ‘donations’ or other tactics like that.”

Frank said these rides are cheaper than their legal counterparts, and as a result, people will often turn a blind eye to the issue.

While Frank believes the numbers of hacks might be low, Assistant City Attorney Eric Goers indicated due to a lack of licensing with these drivers, an accurate number could be hard to place.

“It’s hard to gauge if this occurs often or not,” he said. “We do have penalties in place for unlicensed drivers and do manage to catch them from time to time.”

Adams said there is an annual meeting in place for taxi companies to discuss problems with the city. He believes if these meeting were extended, the issue of unlicensed may be better addressed.

“Every year, the city clerk has a meeting with all taxi companies in front of City Council to discuss regulations, but it only lasts one hour, and this isn’t enough time to get anything done or fix problems,” he said. “We need a full-day meeting to look over and try to fix problems.”


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