Police Chief in Iowa City Wants Tighter Cab Rules to Promote Safety

By Dave Franzman, KCRG-TV9

IOWA CITY, Iowa- City-issued I.D.’s, 24-hour dispatching centers and distinctive colors for all the different cab companies. That’s just some of the potential changes to taxicab rules that city council members in Iowa City will discuss next week.

Sam Hargadine, Iowa City Police Chief, drafted the proposals to increase taxi safety following a sexual assault complaint involving a driver last winter. The chief said investigators spent 200 man hours tracking drivers from different companies because the victim couldn’t identify the driver or company and taxi company owners couldn’t tell police who was on the road and where at the time.

Some cab company owners in Iowa City don’t object to a few of the ideas. But there is one that is all but certain to provoke a fight. One of the chief’s proposals is to require taxi companies to hire drivers as employees. Most drivers now are independent contractors who split income and expenses with the company and pay a fee to use the company name.

Roger Bradley, manager of Yellow Cab of Iowa City, said his company probably has the most drivers on call in the area. The number is about 65. But while Yellow Cab owns all vehicles, all the drivers work for themselves in the independent contractor arrangement.

Rafat Alawneh, owner of Number One Cab in Iowa City, said he specifically objects to the city upsetting the business model in a way that could cost him a lot of money.

“To interfere in our business and the way we run it, I think that is kind of difficult,” Alawneh said.

Doug Hart, an Iowa City Police Department Captain, said police don’t want to dictate business practices for cab owners. The thought is cab companies having drivers as actual employees would simply make it easier to keep track of who is driving and when.

“We don’t represent ourselves to be taxi cab operators,” Hart said adding “that’s why we’re looking for their (owners) input. I’m sure the council will be looking for input on Tuesday.

That’s when the council will discuss the proposed changes in a work session on August 19th beginning at 5 p.m. in the Iowa City Council chambers. And cab owners are willing to share their thoughts.

Yellow Cab manager Bradley said most probably wouldn’t object to a call for distinctive colors and markings for each cab company. Police say crimes victims often can’t remember a cabdriver or company but they usually remember the type of vehicle and the color.

Larger cab companies like Yellow Cab already have dispatching centers that have operators on duty 24 hours a day. And Yellow Cab also has GPS trackers in each vehicle so telling police who is driving and where they’re at is not a problem.

Bradley said cab companies, though, are likely to resist changes that add expense without promising any additional safety benefits.

“I think there would be some push back. Yes, we’re taking a wait-and-see approach and we’re not even sure if all the ideas would make it into the city code,” Bradley said.

Another idea from the chief is to require city-issued identification for cabdrivers. That’s actually not a new requirement. It was part of the city code for years but was removed when the council made some changes in past years.

The chief said the purpose of his taxi cab ordinance changes is to make the traveling public safer, not create undue hardship for business owners.

l Comments: (319) 368-8611; dave.franzman@kcrg.com

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