Rival cab companies vie for RR depot space
Commuters at the Fairfield Railroad Station already have the option of using Red Dot Taxi or Yellow Cab Co., but the taxi company that will be awarded the lease for the station's dispatch center remains undecided.
Lawyers for both cab companies made presentations to the town's Parking Authority Thursday night, hoping to secure a lease for the space in the New Haven-bound terminal, which also serves as a waiting area for commuters. The authority, however, made no decision after meeting behind closed doors for about 45 minutes.
Cynthia Placko, director of the Parking Authority, said after the meeting that the authority is leasing four parking spaces at the train station to Red Dot and six spaces to Yellow Cab -- which recently took over the assets of troubled Fairfield Cab -- so taxi drivers have a place to park while they wait for fares. Those leases are for the month of March, Placko said.
Town Planning Director Joseph Devonshuk Jr. said each cab company has the right to pick up fares at the downtown train station and that the Parking Authority likely would continue leasing parking spaces to both cab companies, regardless of which wins the dispatch center lease. That arrangement will allow taxi drivers to park without blocking traffic on Carter Henry Drive while waiting for fares.
"Right now, it's a total zoo in there in the afternoon and it can't continue," said Mary Kay Frost, the Parking Authority's chairwoman. "Rules will require that taxi cabs are parked in spaces."
Richard Zeisler, Red Dot's lawyer, and Kevin Gumpper, Yellow Cab's lawyer, both said their clients would keep the dispatch center open 24 hours a day, seven days a week and wouldn't perform maintenance on cabs at the Fairfield Railroad Station. They, or their clients, also said their taxi drivers undergo background checks and drug screenings.
Zeisler, who made the first presentation, said Red Dot, based on Commerce Drive in Fairfield, has been in business for 26 years and moved its headquarters from Bridgeport to Fairfield several weeks ago because Jeff Serlin, Red Dot's owner, "felt there was a need based on the prior operator to put in a quality, well-run, high-end operator." Zeisler was referring to Fairfield Cab Co., which faced being shut down by the state Department of Transportation last month after its cabs failed numerous safety inspections and two of its drivers were arrested and pled guilty to crimes on the job -- one for sexual assault in a cab, the other for buying beer for minors. It subsequently was acquired by Yellow Cab.
Zeisler said Red Dot was licensed to have four cabs in Fairfield and already was providing a shuttle service between the downtown train station and a satellite parking lot on Mill Plain Road. He said Red Dot's application for another 10 cabs is still pending at the DOT because of litigation that Metro Taxi filed against the DOT over the agency's denial of its application for more permits. "Until that's done, the DOT indicated a problem with approving more cabs for Fairfield and other areas," he said.
Zeisler said Red Dot's drivers would wear uniforms and that the company uses Lincoln Town Cars as its cabs. "In many cases, you'll see taxis that look like they've been through a war. It's not what we propose for Fairfield," he said. He said Red Dot's taxis would go to its Commerce Drive headquarters twice a day for cleaning and fuel, and the cab company would assist with security at the train station.
Red Dot wouldn't need to do extensive renovations to the dispatch center, according to Serlin. He said his taxi company would just need a computer linked to its computer system on Commerce Drive and a phone that could handle multiple lines.
Gumpper said Yellow Cab, which acquired all assets of Fairfield Cab as the DOT was poised to shut it down, has six cabs in Fairfield as well as an application pending at the DOT for another five. He said Ray Longo, owner of Yellow Cab, has been in business for 40 years and Yellow Cab drivers "have a great deal of experience in providing taxi service throughout Bridgeport and the Bridgeport train station."
"I would think, looking at a cab service, the thing you would be looking at most is experience," Gumpper told Parking Authority members. Longo said Yellow Cab uses Chevy Impalas for its cabs.
Gumpper suggested the authority should put out a "request for proposals" to lease the dispatch center because the old lease with Fairfield Cab didn't mention anything about keeping the waiting area open or the number of parking spaces Fairfield Cab was assigned.
"We'd like to know what we're getting for the rent and what you're expecting in addition to the rent," Gumpper said. "I thought you might want to have a request for proposal, something we could respond to in considerable depth."
Devonshuk said parking spaces weren't included in Fairfield Cab's lease, and Frost said the Parking Authority leased those spaces separately at the same rate a train commuter paid ($340 a year for each space).
Only one member of the public spoke. Gerald Kuroghlian, a lifelong resident of Fairfield, said his wife had bad experiences with Fairfield Cab and was disappointed to discover Yellow Cab had hired some of its drivers. "Two of the people we had the most complaints about were driving Yellow Cab," Kuroghlian said. "To come home after a long trip and see the same problematic people ... is what prompted me to come tonight."
Kuroghlian said Red Dot "has provided the kind of service appropriate to a community like this."
Frost replied that a cab driver, in many instances, was "the first representative of the town of Fairfield, and it's very important they represent Fairfield well."
"It's part of our concern as well," she said.
Longo said Yellow Cab hired two former Fairfield Cab drivers. "I didn't get any complaints in my office about them. I interviewed them, they filled out the necessary paperwork. I've had no complaints on them," he said, adding that it was "pretty common" for a driver with one taxi company to later work for another cab company.
Serlin, asked by a Parking Authority member if he also had hired former Fairfield Cab drivers, said, "I don't recall exactly who came from where, but, since last week, we hired one who was their top morning driver."
The Parking Authority then went into a closed-door meeting, which Eileen Kennelly, an assistant town attorney, said was warranted because the authority was going to discuss getting an appraisal done on the eastbound terminal building.
The authority, after reopening the meeting to the public, voted to adjourn.
Devonshuk said the Parking Authority may put out a request for proposals for leasing the dispatch area as Gumpper had suggested.
Andrew Brophy is a freelance writer.