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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Monday, February 13, 2006

Airport cab drivers refuse fares for a day

By Loren Moreno
Advertiser Staff Writer

Lisa Croft, right, was told by an Ampco employee that the airport-based taxis were not working and that she would have to call a cab company.

ANDREW SHIMABUKU | The Honolulu Advertiser

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Travelers arriving at Honolulu International Airport yesterday had to wait longer for a taxi or use other transportation because of a work stoppage by airport-based cabbies.

The drivers, said to number about 200, did not report to work to protest what they claim are unfair practices by Ampco System Parking, which holds the state contract as the airport taxi dispatcher.

Taxi drivers interviewed by The Advertiser said they planned to return to work today. But the organizer of the work stoppage, Abraham Martin, later said he was asking drivers to not work today.

Several drivers yesterday accused Ampco of favoritism when summoning taxis for airport customers. The cabs are supposed to be called in order as they wait in line, the drivers said. But they said dispatchers illegally "sell loads" to certain drivers if the passengers need to travel far and pay a hefty cab fare.

Drivers also accused Ampco of using strong-arm tactics when searching their cabs.

Ampco officials could not be reached for comment yesterday.

Because no airport-based taxi drivers were working yesterday, air travelers who wanted a cab ride had to telephone one of the city's taxi companies and wait for a taxi to arrive.

Lisa Croft, a visitor from Illinois, arrived at Honolulu airport yesterday about 3:30 p.m., hoping to find a taxi as soon as she stepped out of baggage claim.

But like other visitors yesterday, Croft was told by Ampco employees that she would have to call for her own taxi. An Ampco employee told her the company had "trouble" getting its taxi drivers to work and that none had shown up.

"I thought there would be a line of cabs waiting. It is frustrating," said Croft, who ended up taking a shuttle van into Honolulu.

Airport cab drivers are not Ampco employees, but pay Ampco $4 per fare to be part of the airport taxi service. Ampco dispatchers at baggage claim radio for the next car, which queue up in a parking lot near the airport. The drivers are not in a union.

Taxi driver Shewit Gebresiabhev, a 35-year-old Waikiki resident, spent his day watching visitors scramble for a ride. He accused Ampco employees of "playing favorites" and unfairly dispatching taxis.

Gebresiabhev claimed Ampco employees would use cell phones to call individual taxi drivers to pick up "favored" customers going on long trips rather than dispatching taxi drivers waiting in the holding lot.

"Say (a visitor) is going Turtle Bay or something like that. (Ampco employees) call their friend instead of first-come, first-served," he said. "This is very unfair."

Cuong Nguyen, a 46-year-old taxi driver from Pearl City, echoed Gebresiabhev sentiments. He also claimed Ampco management uses "strong-armed tactics" to conduct what he claims are illegal searches of taxi cars.

"They humiliate us and abuse us," Nguyen said.

Scott Ishikawa, spokesman for the state Department of Transportation, said yesterday that a complaint from the drivers had been received and that the department would look into the matter.

Ishikawa said Ampco is legally allowed to conduct safety searches of the taxi cabs.

Bob Blokker, a 49-year-old visitor from Canada, was among the many arriving visitors who were told they would have to call for their own transportation since airport-based taxi drivers had refused to show up for work.

"When you travel, you expect to encounter something," Blokker said.

After about 25 minutes, he decided to catch an airport shuttle to Ala Moana.

Nate Madhsoudi, who operates the Airport Connection shuttles, said he had more business than usual yesterday.

"It affects everyone," Madhsoudi said of the taxi work stoppage. "You have to help these poor people," he said, indicating the many passengers waiting for a ride at the airport.

Martin said he has asked other taxi companies to join the airport drivers in refusing to pick up passengers at the airport. However, cabs from other companies were picking up fares at the airport yesterday.

Reach Loren Moreno at lmoreno@honoluluadvertiser.com.