November's "Mean Streets
" detailed how politicians with ties to existing taxi companies -- Mayor John Hickenlooper among them -- stymied attempts to start new operations such as Mile High Cab.
Now, Metro Taxi, which opposed Mile High Cab, has donated $10,000 to Hickenlooper's inauguration.
Along with breaking the news about a recent federal lawsuit that claimed supervisors at Yellow Cab, Denver's oldest cab company, had repeatedly subjected many of their East African drivers to discrimination, abuse and assault, "Mean Streets" also detailed the state's unusual taxicab laws. The system awards the handful of existing metro-area taxicab companies exceptional power and leeway and makes it nearly impossible for unhappy taxi drivers to start alternatives. It doesn't help that many of the city's top officials have come out against new competition -- and that included the mayor.
In August 2009, following drivers' attempts to start a new operation called Mile High Cab, Hickenlooper wrote a letter to state taxi regulators expressing concerns about allowing additional cabs into the metro area. He quoted from a July 2009 memo he'd received from Colorado Hotel and Lodging Association president Christine O'Donnell noting that Union Taxi, a recently launched taxi company that was the first to be green-lit in the city for more than a decade, did not have a central dispatch system, which meant its drivers were already clogging downtown streets, scouring for fares. Regulators would eventually deny Mile High's application.
But as it turned out, Union actually had a two-way radio system in place the day it started, as required by PUC regulations. That system has since been upgraded to an $800,000 computer dispatch system.
"Well, then, I am wrong," said O'Donnell when approached by Westword. "That information was given to me by one of the hotels, which said that one of its guests had left something in one of Union's cabs and it was near to impossible to track down that cab." Since writing that letter last year, she adds, "I am not getting the same level of taxi concerns from my membership."
But Hickenlooper stood by his objections to Mile High. "We have not received updates on the specifics mentioned in the letter -- such as if Union Taxi has a dispatch company -- but the general observations and concerns raised in the letter remain pertinent," said Hickenlooper spokeswoman Kathy Maloney in November. The month before that, Hickenlooper's gubernatorial campaign had received $500 from Brad Whittle, president of the company that operates Yellow Cab.
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A $500 donation is, in the scheme of things, fairly insignificant. After all, Denver City Councilman (and now mayoral candidate) Michael Hancock received $3,250 in donations from people associated with Metro Taxi in his 2007 council campaign, a fact that surfaced when Hancock came out in 2009 against allowing Mile High Cab to enter the market.
Now, however, the amount of money Hickenlooper has received from existing cab companies has grown considerably. As the Denver Post reported on Saturday (see screen grab, right), Metro Taxi was among eighteen firms and individuals that donated $10,000 or more apiece to the new governor's big inauguration party starting today -- donations that have triggered grumbles among political-reform activists.
When the lavish shindig winds down tonight, anyone want to guess which company's cabs will be waiting to escort VIPS back to their beds?
More from our Follow That Story archive: "Denver taxicab controversy: Read Yellow Cab lawsuit alleging discrimination and abuse." Follow Joel Warner on Twitter @joelmwarner