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TAXI DRIVERS WANT POLICE TO TARGET 'SCAB CABS'

Rising gas prices, high insurance costs and the fear of armed robberies aren't the only problems dogging local taxi drivers these days.

Some cabbies came to City Hall on Thursday to talk about a growing menace that possibly costs them thousands of dollars a week in fares.

So-called "scab cabs" -- passenger cars-turned-taxis -- are operated by people who don't have the proper license, vehicle plates or insurance.

At least 50 such vehicles are on Buffalo streets, according to some cab drivers. They also complain many supermarkets encourage such operations out of the belief that shoppers are better served with multiple transportation options.

Cabbies want police officers to target the illegal operators, and the Common Council member who is heading a rejuvenated committee on taxi issues supports a crackdown.

Improperly licensed transporters are "killing" some cab operators, said Greg Thomas of Cold Spring Taxi.

"And it's happening all over the city -- in South Buffalo, in North Buffalo, all over," he said. "There's a lot of business we lose that is going to people who are not operating within the system."

William G. Yuhnke of Liberty Cab said it creates an unlevel playing field for taxi drivers already reeling from economic pressures.

"They don't have the overhead we have," he said.

Customers who patronize the unlicensed cabs also could be at risk, officials warned. Without the proper liability insurance, patrons wouldn't be protected in the event of an accident.

The Council wants to review the issue, said North Council Member Joseph Golombek Jr., who is heading the study group on taxis. He will ask supermarket representatives to attend a meeting next month in hopes of finding out if some stores are encouraging -- even sanctioning unlicensed operators by accommodating them in their parking lots.

Deputy City Clerk Patrick Sole Jr. warned that supermarkets that do so might face liability issues in case of accidents.

Golombek wants beefed up enforcement of taxi laws.

"Buffalo police need to be a little more aggressive with the (illegal cabs)," he said.

The Council's reactivated study group will review several issues, including:

A push by some taxi operators to increase rates to $3 per mile from the current $2.10. A number of cabbies favor a smaller increase.

Establishing additional taxi stand locations downtown. City officials have pledged to work with operators to set up several new stands this fall.

Examining long-term prospects of a more regionalized approach to licensing taxis so operators don't have to apply in multiple municipalities.

e-mail: bmeyer@buffnews.com

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