Wednesday, June 19, 2013
PORTLAND -- The director of the Portland International Jetport proposed a lottery system Wednesday to reduce the number of taxi drivers who can wait curbside for passengers at the airport.
Walter Davenport of Elite Taxi makes a point as about a dozen drivers meet Wednesday with Portland Jetport director Paul Bradbury to discuss his permit lottery plan. Cab drivers who don't already have jetport permits backed the plan.
Shawn Patrick Ouellette / Staff Photographer
But an attorney representing the 49 drivers who have exclusive rights to wait for airport passengers said they would oppose any changes that require them to surrender their permits.
Currently, any cab driver can drop off passengers at the airport and pick up passengers who call for their service. But only the 49 drivers with permits can wait at the curb for fares.
In recent years, the City Council capped the number of permits because too many drivers were jockeying for passengers and the situation often led to confrontations.
In 2010, the council capped the number of permits at 40, but exempted the 51 existing permit holders with the expectation that the number would drop through attrition. But the number has dropped by only two.
City officials believe the permits are being transferred through power of attorney -- possibly at a fee -- to other drivers.
"When the city controls (the permit transfers), it can control it in a fair and equitable manner," airport Director Paul Bradbury said Wednesday at a meeting with about a dozen cab drivers.
Sigmund Schutz, the attorney who represents the cabbies, said he doesn't believe that transferring permits through power of attorney is a problem. The city requires drivers to renew their permits in person, and sometimes the drivers, all of whom are immigrants, are out of town attending to family matters.
The city tried last year to prohibit renewals through power of attorney, but relented after Schutz sued on behalf of the drivers.
Bradbury can change the airport taxi permitting process without the City Council's approval, but he plans to present his proposal to the council's Transportation, Sustainability and Energy Committee on Oct. 17.
Under the plan, cab companies would enter the lottery. Each company could make one entry for each licensed cab it owns, rather than each licensed driver.
As of Wednesday, Bradbury said, there were 188 licensed cabs and 334 licensed cab drivers in the city.
Bradbury wants to hold the first lottery around March 29 and issue 40 permits, effectively eliminating nine cabs from the airport.
The city would award 10 one-year permits, 10 two-year permits, 10 three-year permits and 10 four-year permits. After that, 10 permits would be issued annually and last four years.
"I am committed to the lottery," Bradbury said. "It's the fairest way to allocate a scarce resource."
Wednesday's meeting at the airport drew about a dozen cab drivers, about half of whom were permit holders. Attendance probably was low because Bradbury held a separate meeting last week with permit holders.
Schutz said the drivers unanimously oppose a lottery or any other system that would force cabbies to give up airport permits.
He said the drivers are working on an alternative to submit to the city -- one that would likely ask the city to form a commission of cab drivers and city councilors to study the issue.
Bradbury said 40 was chosen as the cap for permits because that number is sustainable in terms of the airport's facilities and the roughly 42,000 fares annually. But Schutz argues that number is arbitrary.
Ilyas Sharif, who holds a permit, said the proposed lottery would not be fair to current permit holders.
Sharif said other cab drivers gave up on the airport as rules were tightened over the years, leaving only the immigrants to provide cab service. He, like other permit holders, continued paying the $800 permit fee and waited for business during the slow winter months, he said.
Now that the airport's $75 million terminal expansion promises to add passengers in the coming years, those drivers are getting pushed out, he said.
"I'm here for seven years," Sharif said after the meeting. "I was here when nobody was interested. I paid the fee. I sit for six, seven hours in long winters. ... When you think about now having more business, why (are) you kicking me out?"
Cab drivers without permits supported the plan, even though they said it ignores the larger issue of too many taxis in the city.
Abraham Lembarra, who owns M.A. Taxi, said all cabbies should have a chance at the airport business, especially since airport cab drivers often flock to the Old Port during the weekend, or when a cruise ship comes to town.
"We just want a fair shot," Lembarra said.
Staff Writer Randy Billings can be contacted at 791-6346 or at: