Cab owner asks Charlotte to revisit airport taxi deal

sharrison@charlotteobserver.com elyportillo@charlotteobserver.comApril 28, 2014 

Dan Clodfelter

MLEWIS

After a taxi company owner pleaded with the Charlotte City Council to allow more companies access to Charlotte Douglas Airport, Charlotte Mayor Dan Clodfelter said Monday he has asked City Manager Ron Carlee for an update on the city’s controversial 2011 decision to restrict them.

Three years ago, the City Council voted to reduce the number of taxi companies that could serve the airport from 12 to 3.

Cab companies that weren’t recommended for the contract complained at the time that the selection process was unduly influenced by former council member Patrick Cannon and the Hospitality and Tourism Alliance. HTA President Mohammad Jenatian has denied those allegations.

Cannon was arrested on federal corruption charges March 26. Since his arrest, some taxi cab companies have repeated their charges that there was a “pay-to-play” scheme at the airport.

“We are on the verge of shutting down,” Obaid Khan, an owner of Diamond Cab, told council members Monday night. “We need changes soon.”

Diamond Cab didn’t receive an airport contract. Three companies – Yellow Cab, City Cab and Crown Cab – won the coveted contract.

The airport taxi contract was approved in 2011 with four one-year extension options.

A city of Charlotte spokesman told the Observer that the latest extension had been approved earlier this year. Carlee said Monday night that wasn’t the case and the contract hadn’t been renewed in 2014.

Khan said taxi cab companies that were excluded need another opportunity to gain access to the airport.

Clodfelter said he hopes Carlee can explain the city’s position on cabs. But he said the city “has to be mindful of conducting that inquiry in a way that doesn't interfere with the federal investigation.”

Yellow Cab’s out-of-state owners – Neal Nichols, William Bodenhamer, Jr., and Mitchell Rouse – were among Cannon’s largest campaign donors during his run for mayor, each donating the $8,000 legal maximum. Alice Rouse – who co-owns Yellow Cab property in Charlotte with Mitchell Rouse and Bodenhamer – also wrote Cannon a $4,000 check.

Overall, their $28,000 made up 10 percent of Cannon’s total fundraising for his mayoral campaign.

After Cannon’s arrest, two cab owners told the Observer that they had been approached by a man who said he was an associate of Cannon in the wake of the vote. They said Zack Kacho had come to them and sought $10,000, in exchange for being allowed back at the airport. The money, they were told, would go to Cannon or other City Council members. Kacho is awaiting sentencing on unrelated federal charges, and has not responded to requests for comment.

Myahmed Alaoui, co-owner of Charlotte Taxi Cab, sued earlier this month over what he said were unfair business practices by the city and undue influence by Yellow Cab. Alaoui, who opened the company in March 2013, named Cannon, Yellow Cab and city employees responsible for overseeing cabs as defendants.

In his lawsuit, Alaoui said Charlotte Taxi was pressured by the city’s passenger vehicle-for-hire office to change his cab’s color scheme from yellow – the same color as Yellow Cab. Alaoui said he was told he needed to change the paint because, “The big dog is not happy.” The big dog, he said, was Yellow Cab.

Alaoui’s company had its license revoked in October. The city said he didn’t have the minimum 30 cabs required of a cab company under Charlotte’s ordinance.

Alaoui is seeking $20 million in damages, according to his lawsuit. Yellow Cab didn’t return a message seeking comment. Charlotte City Attorney Bob Hagemann said the city hasn’t responded to the lawsuit yet, and has until next week to do so.

Portillo: 704-358-5041; Twitter: @ESPortillo

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