By Peter Marcus, DENVER DAILY NEWS
Union Taxi and Freedom Cab drivers are objecting to a proposal that would require the two companies to “pay to play” if they want to use Cherry Creek Shopping Center’s cab stand.
Drivers first fought an exclusive agreement between the mall’s owner, Taubman Co., and Metro Taxi and Yellow Cab companies that would have exclusively allowed Metro and Yellow to use the mall’s taxi stand. But since the Denver Daily News reported the story on Nov. 13 — before the issue received widespread attention — Cherry Creek has agreed to include Union and Freedom at their stand.
The two companies, however, would need to “pay to play.”
Mall managers say it is completely fair to request “rent” from cab companies because the mall is on private property. The original exclusive agreement with Yellow and Metro had called for rent. The Denver Business Journal reported that the two companies had agreed to pay $12,500 a year for exclusive access to the mall’s taxi stand. It would have been the first such exclusive agreement between the mall and the cab companies.
But Union Taxi driver Abdi Buni says the drivers are serving the general public by shuttling consumers to and from the mall. He says because the public is being served, the cab companies should not have to pay to use the cab stand.
“Why would anybody have to pay money when we’re serving the public?” he asked.
Union Taxi was only established in Denver earlier this year after a long battle to do so. Drivers themselves started the co-op after complaining about low wages and long hours at other companies.
Buni points out that while Metro and Yellow may have the money to pay to play because they’ve been around longer, Union doesn’t enjoy that same advantage.
But mall General Manager Nick LeMasters looks at the issue from a different perspective. He points out that Cherry Creek Shopping Center is not only one of Denver’s premier shopping locations, but also one of the area’s biggest tourist attractions.
He says if cab drivers are able to profit from using the mall’s taxi stand, then the mall should be able to charge them rent.
“The cab companies and their drivers profit from the ability to be able to be at Cherry Creek and pick up our customers, and anybody who profits from their presence at our shopping center pays for that privilege, whether it’s a store or a specialty retail unit, it doesn’t matter who it is — if you profit from the shopping center, there’s a fee that goes with that,” said LeMasters.
The issue gained momentum last month when community leaders stepped into the equation, calling for a boycott of the mall if the exclusive agreement was honored.
Union and Freedom filed complaints with the Colorado Public Utilities Commission arguing that the agreement was anti-competitive.
Buni, a Denver cab driver for the past 10 years working for both Union and Yellow, said Union and Freedom cab meter rates are generally lower than Metro’s and Yellow’s rates — anywhere from 45 cents to 85 cents cheaper. The public agreed and let out a cry that Cherry Creek Shopping Center managers heard.
“We’ve heard feedback from the community about the perceived unfairness of our decision and we listened to that feedback, we took it to heart and we’ve decided that it was in the best interest of both the cab companies, their drivers and the shopping center to revisit that decision,” said LeMasters.
He would not release the details of the contract being proposed to the cab companies, but said it would include limiting the number of cabs allowed to line up at the mall’s taxi stand to nine, as well as include “rent.”
But Union cab drivers say they will continue their fight until no rent is required.
“The question is why do we have to pay?” asked Buni. “There is no where else (in Denver) where the mall gets paid for taxi drivers to pickup customers.”
Distributed by Colorado Capitol Reporters