Christine Stuart photo

Cab drivers from all over the state rallied at the Capitol Thursday to urge a committee of lawmakers to make it easier for drivers to obtain a license and start their own taxi company.

Robert McNamara, an attorney with the Institute of Justice, said these cab drivers pay the taxi companies exorbitant leasing fees. He said some drivers pay their companies up to $900 a week, in addition to maintenance costs and the ever-rising price of gas.

Antoine Scott, a former Metro Taxi driver who has organized the Coalition of Independent Contractors, said some drivers bring home $50 a day after working 16 hours. He said all the cabbies want is an opportunity to achieve the American dream.

Christine Stuart photo

Sen. Majority Leader Martin Looney, D-New Haven, said Thursday that there clearly are operational, administrative, and governance issues regarding the industry. The lease fee charged in some areas of the state is higher than it is in other parts of the state where some companies have a “virtual monopoly,” he said.

Metro Taxi has 161 cabs in the New Haven area, while the next largest company owns five.

Looney asked the General Assembly’s Program Review and Investigations Committee Thursday afternoon to look at whether the Department of Transportation should deregulate the industry to make it easy for drivers to obtain a license on their own.

McNamara said it’s difficult for a small cab company to obtain a new license because the larger companies are allowed to intervene and challenge the necessity of the new license. He said the large companies have more resources and often end up besting the smaller company. “This makes no more sense than allowing Burger King to have a say in whether a town needs a new McDonald’s,” he said.

McNamara and the Institute of Justice have helped open up the transportation markets for cabbies in Minneapolis, Denver, Las Vegas, and New York. Now they’re working with drivers here in Connecticut.

A handful of the nearly 50 cabbies that rallied on the steps of the Capitol earlier Thursday afternoon held signs that read, “Stop the monopoly in the taxi business.”

The long-simmering tensions between the cab drivers and the taxi companies came to a head last October when cabbies attempted to organize a union in New Haven. Their attempts were squashed after the companies began terminating driver’s licenses. The cabbies have since shifted their efforts to the legislature and the state’s government regulation of the industry.

The Program Review and Investigations Committee took public testimony Thursday afternoon as it opened its study of the industry. The study may lead to legislation next year.

Click here for more background from the New Haven Independent.