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Taxis Ready For Fares

May 30, 2005
By STEPHANIE REITZ, Courant Staff Writer

To Dennis Randolph, a convention guest with an expense account would be an ideal taxi passenger.

Randolph, a Yellow Cab driver, is among many area taxi operators who hope that Thursday's opening of the new Connecticut Convention Center in downtown Hartford will translate into more business.

Several state and local officials said last week that they believe area taxi companies are ready to serve the influx of convention guests, whose perception of Hartford will be shaped by the availability - or lack of - amenities such as prompt, reliable cab service.

State regulators and local tourism officials say it is a matter of simple economics: If potential passengers with money will be at the convention center, the taxi drivers will gravitate there.

"There'll definitely be cabs around the center," said Michael Olschafskie, president of Ace Taxi Service. "I'm upbeat about it. Anything that'll help the Hartford area is good."

Olschafskie said company dispatchers will tell drivers who aren't already busy to head to the center when there is a convention in town. There, the drivers can do their mandatory daily paperwork in the cab while waiting for potential passengers, as they currently do at Bradley International Airport and downtown Hartford's Union Station.

The convention center, which opens Thursday with the Connecticut Business Xpo, can host meetings ranging from a dozen people to at least 17,000. The first large convention is a joint gathering of the Islamic Circle of North America and Muslim American Society from July 1 to 3.

Hartford might not seem to be a taxi-rich area compared with larger Northeast cities where cabs often circle the streets in search of passengers. However, state officials say, there are more cabs available around the capital city than people realize.

The state Department of Transportation regulates Connecticut's 90 taxi companies, and has assigned 11 of those companies to Greater Hartford as their primary territory.

Those 11 companies have 114 total registered cabs, said Dennis J. King, manager of the regulatory and compliance unit of the DOT's bureau of public transportation, which regulates taxis.

"The Hartford market is probably one of the very few markets in Connecticut where we don't have concerns about the need for additional taxi services," King said. "It would have to be an extremely busy night for all of the vehicles to be taken."

Randolph, the Yellow Cab driver, hopes to be among the taxi operators who find new passengers at the convention center.

"I'd like it. It'll probably mean a lot more rides to and from the airport, so that'll be good," said Randolph, who was among about eight taxi drivers lined up at Hartford's Union Station on a recent weekday morning.

Rather than circling city streets in hopes of being flagged down, the cabs usually line up at the station or airport, or wait elsewhere to be dispatched to pick up passengers who call for rides. However, they are allowed to pick up passengers anywhere they are flagged down, or at venues where taxi starter lines form after busy events.

A few years ago, the state DOT received a rash of complaints from people after taxi drivers in downtown Hartford refused to take them on short rides, hoping instead to land a longer fare with someone else. That practice violates state regulations; taxi operators must take passengers on a first-come, first-served basis.

King, the state DOT regulatory official, said the complaints have trickled to a minimum over the past few years as companies have been disciplined and DOT employees have posed as short-ride customers to check compliance.

"We've come down on the industry in that regard," said King, adding that drivers can receive citations with fines up to $250, and that companies can be placed on probation for repeat offenses.

Many Hartford hotels have shuttle buses for guests, and some convention planners - including those organizing the Islamic Circle and Muslim American Society convention - book their own shuttle buses to transport attendees to events rather than relying on taxis.

David Lill, general manager of Valley Cab and Tunxis Cab, said he thinks the center's opening will be good for downtown Hartford and local cab companies, and that the taxis will go wherever passengers need them.

Valley Cab and Tunxis Cab both are based primarily in the Farmington Valley, but could benefit from convention guests going to and from the shopping, historical sites and businesses in those suburbs, Lill said.

"We go in and out of Hartford all the time, so I think this will generate more activity," Lill said of the center's opening.

H. Scott Phelps, president of the Greater Hartford Convention and Visitors Bureau, said that officials from those cab companies recently attended workshops given by the bureau and the Hartford Hospitality Task Force, which offered advice on how to enhance convention guests' visits.



Phelps said he thinks the availability of taxi cabs will be driven by dollars: More passengers equals more fares and, hopefully, good tips.

"My understanding is that they'll gear up as the need is there," he said. "Taxi cabs tend to go where they're going to make some money."


Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant. To view other stories on this topic, search the Hartford Courant Archives at http://www.courant.com/archives.
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