Calhoun: Wake-Up Call

Hailing a cab can be tough in Denver -- but it used to be illegal

As anyone traveler to Denver stuck downtown at midnight knows, it's almost impossible to hail a cab. But not so long ago, it as actually illegal! The transportation scene has changed so much -- with new ride options like Uber and Lyft joining an increasing number of cab companies, and those companies adding their own on-demand apps, as Joel Warner relates in his recent "Street Fight" cover story -- it's almost impossible to remember what the streets were like a decade ago, when three cab companies had the market to themselves, and there were no pink moustaches on the road.

Leaving LoDo at night, you'd call for a cab, and cross your fingers. Or you'd hope you could find a driver who was ignoring the city's ban on hailing, which was considered a safety issue. "When I was a night bar-scene driver, I made about 50 percent of my gross totals on hails," says one driver. "Enforcement was never there. "

Why did Denver change its rules? The Democratic National Convention was coming to town, and a world-class city needs to have cabs available. So Denver City Council amended the city ordinances to allow hailing (cabs had to install flashing orange lights to indicate they were stopping in traffic to pick up a ride) and then-Mayor John Hickenlooper signed it into law in the summer of 2007 -- a year before the Democrats descended.

If the Republicans wind up bringing their convention here in 2016, they'll have plenty of ride options -- who knows how many more programs like Uber and Lyft will pop up in the next few years? But thanks to the Democrats, they'll also be able to hail a cab.

More from the Calhoun: Wake-Up Call archive: "A century and a half later, the wounds of Sand Creek are still fresh."

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Patricia Calhoun co-founded Westword in 1977; she’s been the editor ever since. She’s a regular on the weekly CPT12 roundtable Colorado Inside Out, played a real journalist in John Sayles’s Silver City, once interviewed President Bill Clinton while wearing flip-flops, and has been honored with numerous national awards for her columns and feature-writing.
Contact: Patricia Calhoun