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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Airport taxi strike continues

By Loren Moreno
Advertiser Staff Writer

THE ISSUES

Airport-based taxi drivers have accused Ampco Parking Systems, the company hired by state officials as the airport taxi dispatcher, of:

  • Selling loads, or illegally summoning taxis for airport customers. The cabs are supposed to be called in order as they wait in line, said the drivers. But they said dispatchers will "sell loads" to certain drivers if the passengers need to travel far and pay hefty fares. Dispatchers are accused of getting financial kickbacks.

  • Using "strong-arm" tactics to search their cabs. Drivers said they were intimidated and harassed by Ampco employees who searched their vehicles. Cabbies say they do not object to safety inspections of their taxis, but do object to the manner in which Ampco conducts the searches.

  • Airport-based drivers also accused dispatchers of allowing outside cabbies from other companies to pick up fares without paying a $4-per-fare fee to Ampco. Airport cabbies are not Ampco employees but pay a fee to Ampco to use its dispatch service.

    Ampco said the company will continue to address the concerns of its registered taxi drivers.

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    Cathy Maples and her husband didn't expect to be told there were no taxis available at Ho-nolulu International Airport yesterday after stepping off a long flight from Huntsville, Ala.

    The Maples, like thousands of visitors arriving at the airport, were forced to wait longer for alternate transportation because of a work stoppage by some airport-based taxi drivers that stretched into its second day.

    "You expect to walk out and get a cab," said Cathy Maples as her husband used a cell phone to call for a private taxi. "This is a great inconvenience to everyone," said Maples, who was headed for a Waikiki hotel.

    Airport-based taxi drivers began their work stoppage Sunday to protest what they called unfair practices by Ampco System Parking, which holds the state contract as the airport taxi dispatcher.

    About 300 drivers did not show up for work yesterday, according to Abraham Martin, a taxi driver who organized the work stoppage. State Department of Transportation officials said they could not confirm that number.

    And Martin said the stoppage isn't over yet.

    "We will go as long as we have to," he said yesterday. The cabbies had not received an official response to their grievances from Ampco as of yesterday evening, Martin said.

    In a written statement last night, Steve Choo, regional manager of Ampco, said "rules and regulations have been put in place to ensure equality to all registered taxi(s) wishing to operate at the Honolulu International Airport."

    Choo said the company will address the drivers' issues once it is formally made aware of them, and "regrets any inconvenience caused (to) the traveling public."

    An estimated 1,100 taxi drivers are registered with Ampco to pick up passengers at the airport, Martin said. Only about 300 are considered regular drivers, he said. The rest are considered casual drivers.

    Airport cab drivers are not Ampco employees but pay Ampco a fee per fare to be part of the airport taxi service. The drivers are not unionized.

    While the airport-based taxi drivers were not at work, cabs from other private companies were circulating through the airport to pick up fares.

    Taxi dispatchers at the airport were informing customers that no airport-based cabs were available. Visitors had to hail their own taxis from the few making their way through the airport or arrange for rides in shuttle vehicles.

    Those deciding to hold out for a taxi had to wait 20 to 25 minutes, said Scott Ishikawa, DOT spokesman. Visitors normally wait five to 10 minutes for a cab, he said.

    Ishikawa said Sunday that state officials had received the complaints filed by the cabbies and that department officials would look into them.

    If the work stoppage continues, some think it may affect tourism.

    Pearl Imada Iboshi, state chief economist, said yesterday that the work stoppage does "impact the quality of the visitor experience." According to state Department of Business, Economic Development and Tourism statistics, 25 percent of visitors from the U.S. Mainland use taxis when on O'ahu. About 46 percent of visitors from Japan use taxis.

    Dale Evans, president of Charley's Taxi, said cabbies from her company were circulating through the airport to help pick up the extra fares. Drivers were rerouted from other areas to help handle the extra load, she said.

    "I think this is unfair to the rest of the taxi industry," said Evans. "It gives us a black eye."

    Evans said the striking cabbies "were not thinking of the consumer" and were being irresponsible in the way they are handling their grievances.

    At an Ampco holding lot for airport cabbies, Martin had stationed himself outside to help encourage other drivers to refuse to pick up fares. The work stoppage will continue as long as Ampco does not address the cabbies' grievances, he said.

    "We can go work in Waikiki," said Martin, adding that drivers would likely continue to work elsewhere but just not at the airport until the dispute is resolved.

    Reach Loren Moreno at lmoreno@honoluluadvertiser.com.