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City adds a fourth taxicab company at Charlotte Douglas

Despite opposition from taxi companies who weren’t recommended for a contract, the Charlotte City Council voted Monday to allow only one additional cab company to pick up passengers at Charlotte Douglas International Airport, bringing the total number of city-approved companies to four.

Five years ago, council members voted to limit the number of taxis allowed to operate at Charlotte Douglas from 12 to three. The airport said it would improve customer service by having only the best companies at the airport.

But the decision sparked intense opposition from losing cab companies, which said being shut out of the airport would cripple their business. They also said that former Mayor Patrick Cannon influenced the selection process, and their criticisms gained a new audience when he was arrested on federal corruption charges in March 2014.

Cannon was not charged with anything related to taxicabs. But the complaints of cab companies prompted the city to create a new selection process for the airport.

In the end, very little changed.

Before the process was reopened, three cab companies were allowed to pick up at Charlotte Douglas: City Cab, Crown Cab and Yellow Cab. They had 157 licenses total.

Under the new system, City Cab, Crown Cab and Yellow Cab will remain. They will each have 47 permits. The fourth company is Green Cab, which will have 30 permits.

Twelve companies applied for service at the airport. The companies and drivers not selected were furious at being shut out of the airport, which they said is crucial to their business.

“Saying this process was fair is like saying Patrick Cannon didn’t take bribes,” said Obaid Khan of Diamond Cab, which wasn’t selected. “You might as well tell us to stop doing business.”

Interim Aviation Director Brent Cagle said the airport went to great lengths to ensure the process was fair. It hired an outside consultant to ensure the airport followed best practices. The selection committee included a Charlotte-Mecklenburg police representative; a member of airport staff; a representative from HMS Host, an airport vendor; and a representative from Atlanta’s airport.

“The last time there were all sorts of allegations,” Cagle said. “We asked, ‘How do we ensure integrity?’ ”

Cagle said the four companies were considered the best choices, by far.

The new agreement, like the previous deal, allows any cab company to drop someone off at the airport. But if a taxi driver doesn’t have an airport permit, they can’t pick someone up at Charlotte Douglas.

Some council members were concerned that the city would be picking winners and losers in awarding the taxi permits.

“We’re choking small companies out of their ability to make money,” said council member Al Austin. “I have concerns.”

One driver, Rudolph Kirkpatrick, asked that all companies be given 15 permits each.

“We could all work at the airport,” he said. “We are asking to let us eat, to let our people eat.”

The agreement gives the four taxi companies a three-year term at the airport. The city can then execute three one-year extensions if it chooses.

Even companies who were recommended for contracts were concerned.

Mayur Khandelwal of Crown Cab said he will keep access to the airport, but will lose 22 permits.

“I will have to go back and tell these drivers you can’t work at the airport,” he said. “One-third of my drivers will be kicked out of the airport.”

Council members discussed the issue for nearly two hours. They voted 8-3 in favor of awarding the four companies airport access.

Republican Kenny Smith voted no, saying “government shouldn’t be picking winners and losers.”

Democrat James Mitchell also voted no. He said he was uncomfortable that the airport was shutting out small businesses, and said the selection process wasn’t clear enough for him to make a decision.

Democrat LaWana Mayfield also voted no.

Steve Harrison: 704-358-5160, @Sharrison_Obs