City officials on Tuesday put the brakes on seven cab companies, and more could be shut down as Mayor Greg Ballard's administration continues to review taxi licensing.
The city's Department of Code Enforcement denied the license applications for the companies after an investigation that began in June with surprise sweeps that found major violations.
Cabs were ordered off the streets -- putting about 160 drivers out of work -- until the companies show they have complied with the city's taxi code.
While the violations differed with each company, they all shared an underlying theme: not having a dispatch facility or failure to staff a dispatch facility.
The city's taxi code requires companies to have a central dispatch facility that is open 24 hours a day, seven days a week . . .
The seven companies denied licenses included A-Z Airport; Broad Ripple Village Taxi; Capitol Taxi; Freedom Cab; Metro Taxi; Midwest Taxi; and Nationwide Taxi.
Ballard set out to rein in the taxi industry this winter -- creating the Department of Code Enforcement as the vehicle -- after hotel managers complained that driver miscues could threaten the convention and visitor industry that draws 2.9 million visitors to Indianapolis each year.
"We commend the city and code enforcement for cracking down on the taxi industry and ensuring each and every one of our visitors and local residents has a first class experience when using a taxi service," said Chris Gahl, spokesman for the Indianapolis Convention and Visitors Association . . .
That revocation is part of bigger problems that came to light after the June sweep, when officials surprised taxi drivers at five Downtown hotels and the Indianapolis International Airport.
"What we started to realize as we contacted cab companies and tried to get information, there was really a lack of understanding at the highest level of what the obligations were for taxi drivers and willingness to comply," Collins said.
"No longer are we going to stand by and allow (them) not to comply," he added. "If you're willfully noncompliant, we're not going to allow you to be licensed."
Tuesday's license denial came as a surprise to Ibrahima Diallo, owner of Broad Ripple Village Taxi. He says it's unfair to expect smaller cab companies to man a dispatch center 24 hours a day, especially when some get only five calls in one day, which is what happened to Diallo's company on Sunday.
"We want to have a clean driver who speaks English and knows where he's going," said Diallo, adding that he will appeal the decision. "You don't need to know if we have an office or not."
Diallo also sympathized with the 160 drivers who will be out of work until the companies comply. They include Adan Ibrahim, who has been driving for Freedom Taxi for about eight months.
"This is not good for me," said Ibrahim, who says he helps support his mother and father. "My mom and dad need help. If I don't work, how can I help them?"
"As we prepare for the 2012 Super Bowl and hosting other major conventions and events," he added, "ensuring that we have a safe, affordable and clean taxi service is an integral component to visitors' experience" . . . .
Collins said the situation is "unfortunate," but public safety is the department's top priority.During the sweep of taxi cab operators in early June, news reports indicated drivers were cited for such things as wearing sandals, having stains in their cars and failing to properly display their cab fares. After the sweeps, the City required taxi cabs to post a Bill of Rights in their cabs that gave information to patrons on who to contact with the City if they were concerned their cab driver wasn't abiding by the rules. The City also said it was considering requiring all taxi cab drivers to pass an English proficiency exam as part of their licensing requirements.
"Those 160 cab drivers don't have the right to put 160 times "X" people at risk per day," he said.
"There is no real quality control with these individual companies," he added. "We're not going to license you until we feel your business shows some responsibility toward the passengers it serves."
This latest action by the Ballard administration is in sharp contrast with the special accommodations the City afforded Muslim taxi cab drivers when it agreed to install foot baths at the new Indianapolis International Airport terminal in early 2007. The foot baths installed at two different bathrooms at the airport allowed the more than 100 taxi cab drivers to wash their feet three times a day as part of their daily religious ritual. That move sparked protests from many Christians, who felt it was wrong for a publicly-owned facility to make such an accommodation when Christians prayers, symbols and rituals have been banned from so much of the public sector. It will be interesting to see if U.S. Rep. Andre Carson, one of only two Muslims elected to Congress, will weigh in on a crackdown on taxi cab operators that largely impacts the Muslims community only.