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Jessica Corry

Jessica Corry

Posted: October 6, 2010 01:07 PM

Catching a Cab in the Mile High City

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While I was born on the East Coast and spent my early adult years there, I spent most of my childhood in the West, returning to Colorado in my mid-twenties to start a family. Life was good.

That is until I attempted to hail a cab in Denver. At which point I discovered they are few and far between. Or at minimum, too tough to find when you need one. Like in LoDo after a Tuesday night at 9 p.m. after a dinner out with girlfriends. Or far too expensive when you find yourself delirious after a late night flight home, needing to catch a ride from the city's airport (which we all know is in Kansas, technically speaking).

Forgive the rant, but what gives? Especially in these tough economic times. If one Denver cab company's struggle to provide a much needed service at a competitive price is any example, we're far more doomed as a city than any Cadillac Escalade's resale value should gas hit $4 a gallon again.

I want to be able to find a nice clean cab at a decent price when I need it. And while more than 150 hardworking cab drivers are chomping at the bit to give me a ride, the government now stands in their way.

It has been two long years since a group of innovative Denver taxi drivers first came together to create a company they named Mile High Cab. Unfortunately, they were up against a machine that didn't want to listen.

In Colorado, taxicab companies don't operate under a free market. Instead, they are regulated by the state's Public Utilities Commission, the same government panel that oversees the state's water, electricity, telephone and natural gas providers. When it comes to these services that most of us need in our day lives, the PUC is supposed to protect us as consumers against the dark side of monopoly control.

But then there are taxis. The PUC chooses not to encourage a level of competition in the industry that might benefit consumers, but instead blocks it, as evidenced through the PUC's decision to deny Mile High Cab's right to operate.

Mile High's drivers new they were in for a challenge Under the PUC's archaic rules, they would need to beg to compete against four existing (and favored companies). Still, they believed that given a fair chance they could succeed by offering lower fares, better service to suburbs, and the elimination of annoying and unfair surcharges for baggage or additional passengers.

Excuse me, but if I put my luggage in the trunk myself, you shouldn't be able to charge me a few extra bucks as a "handling" fee. Don't agree? Then don't pick me up. I'd call Mile High, that is, if only the state would let me.

The city's biggest taxi market players, Metro and Yellow, greeted Mile High's proposal with lawyers and lobbyists. This atrocity simply could not be left to stand. And they didn't go low end. They enlisted the support of Mayor John Hickenlooper, the same guy now running to be our state's governor and whom proclaims his commitment to eliminating bureaucratic red tape wherever possible.

While Hickenlooper has inevitably done a lot of good for Denver, as well as the entire state (and I'd vote for him any day over current GOP contender Dan Maes, if that were my only choice), his decision to write to the PUC opposing Mile High makes one wonder.

The city needs more cabs. The city needs more jobs. Grab a cab from one of the existing companies and you'll hear the same message again and again. Drivers are tired of being forced to pay hundreds or thousands of dollars each month to lease cabs or operate under a cartel system that give them little freedom or opportunity to grow.

While Yellow Cab charges drivers up to $940 a week to lease a cab, and Metro up to $800, Mile High's drivers would charge each other just $250/week. At that rate, drivers could make just enough to pay Yellow's lease and be living a middle class life at nearly $36,000 a year. Put differently, switching from Yellow to Mile High Cab would be an instant pay raise of more than $30,000 a year.

Under the current system, drivers compete for lucrative airport fares from the airport to downtown. There are cabs at the big hotels downtown, but it's difficult to get a local ride. And in the suburbs, those without access to autos find it difficult to get to shopping, church and doctor appointments. Mile High's drivers live in the suburbs and would provide that neighborhood service that is lacking.

We are in the worst recession since the Great Depression. And yet, Hickenlooper was opposed. The pressure paid off. A PUC judge ruled that lower fares and additional cabs might harm the powerful oligopoly. Competition, he found, would be bad for consumers. Government knows best.

As an infatuated urban city dweller who loves the occasional sound of a city siren or the roar of cheers from Coors Field, I realize my experience is not that shared by most Coloradans. This being said, you should care.

Mile High wants to bring 150 jobs to state. Its drivers, who haven't yet give up their fight, want to provide an honest service at an honest price. So why is it our government won't listen?