The taxi dispatch center at the eastbound terminal of the Fairfield Railroad Station may be gone for good.
Cindy Placko, director of the Fairfield Parking Authority, said last week that neither Red Dot Taxi nor Yellow Cab Co. -- the two cab companies with authorized parking spots at the downtown depot -- seem interested in using the dispatch space in the eastbound terminal's waiting room. It had been staffed by Fairfield Cab Co. until the firm was sold to Yellow Cab in February.
Plans call for the space to be used as a waiting room for train commuters and for expansion of Nauti Dolphin, a pizzeria next door.
"It didn't look like either of them had that interest because they already have existing dispatch centers," Placko said. Instead, each cab company would have two "pedestal phones" outside the terminal that commuters could use to directly contact the cab dispatch centers. Red Dot's dispatch center is on Commerce Drive in Fairfield, and Yellow Cab's dispatch center is in Bridgeport.
Meanwhile, Placko said the state Department of Transportation is still reviewing a lease between the Parking Authority and Nauti Dolphin for the pizzeria's proposed expansion, although she added the DOT seems supportive of the idea. The Parking Authority leases the train terminal from the DOT, and the DOT has to approve subleases between the authority and any tenants.
Scott Hartley, an owner of the Nauti Dolphin, said last Friday that details of the lease are being hashed out. "Everybody's behind us, which is great," he said. "We're just waiting for them to finish up on the lease." He said the pizzeria would expand by about 500 square feet.
The Parking Authority had been interested in having the eastbound terminal's dispatch center staffed 24/7 by a taxi company for security reasons. But the terminal will be locked once Nauti Dolphin closes, Placko said. "Checking up and down the line, there are not that many train stations open 24/7," she said.
Jeff Serlin, owner of Red Dot Taxi, which had been selected by the Parking Authority earlier in the year to use the dispatch center, said last Friday that negotiations to occupy the terminal "were never resolved" and he's "still not sure where things are.
"We haven't been able to iron out a fair scenario with the Parking Authority," he said.
Serlin declined to identify sticking points in the negotiations, but said rent isn't the issue. "We don't mind paying what they're asking for ... The money is not a problem, not at all," he said. "It's a myriad of things that were never really ironed out."
Serlin said Red Dot, as part of the negotiations, did not want to staff the dispatch center in the terminal when trains were no longer arriving from New York, but said that also wasn't a deal breaker for his company. He said negotiations were last active about a month ago.
Meanwhile, Serlin said his request for an additional 10 cabs at the Fairfield station is still pending before the DOT, which it has been since August 2011. He said the DOT's hands are tied due to litigation from other cab companies.
The parent companies of Metro Taxi in West Haven and Yellow Cab Co. in Bloomfield sued the DOT last December after the state agency denied a total of 140 new permits for the companies, which wanted to expand their service and licensed territory and provide handicapped-accessible cabs. The lawsuits were a stumbling block for Serlin, or any other cab company seeking additional permits, because if the DOT approved new permits and lost the lawsuits, there would be too many issued permits.
"Unfortunately, I got caught right in the middle of that," Serlin said of the legal dispute. The litigation between the DOT and cab companies was active as recently as November, according to the state Judicial Branch's website.
Serlin said he has four cabs assigned to the Fairfield station, and is losing potential customers due to an insufficient number of taxis. "Because we've not been able to expand, it's really hurting the business," he said. "When you build momentum (after moving into Fairfield) and you only have four cars, you've got to tell people you can't make it there for 25 minutes, and 25 minutes is no good when you need a cab right away."
Serlin said Red Dot is leasing four spaces outside the eastbound terminal downtown and that he wants to lease more spaces if Red Dot opens a dispatch center in the space.