ASPEN - Rogue Aspen taxi driver Phil Sullivan is scheduled to be released from the Pitkin County Jail at 8 a.m. Wednesday, following nine days behind bars for ignoring a court order.
On March 1, Pitkin County District Judge Gail Nichols sentenced the Woody Creek resident to 15 days in jail for blowing off an injunction that prohibited him from collecting tips from passengers. But because Sullivan has behaved well behind bars, he will be given credit for six days of time served.
The injunction was issued last July after the Colorado Public Utilities Commission (PUC) contended Sullivan did not have the proper license to ferry passengers around town. The PUC made its case by having undercover officers collect tips from Sullivan, most recently in late August, more than a month after the injunction was issued.
Sullivan also admitted to accepting gratuities, contending that he lived and drove by his rules - not the PUC's. He did not, however, charge a fare to his riders and his cab didn't have a meter.
Sullivan, who co-founded the now-defunct Mellow Yellow cab company in the mid-1970s, has been defiant ever since the PUC put him on its radar nearly six years ago, and yesterday he said it will be business as usual after he's released from jail.
On Tuesday, the eve of his exit, The Aspen Times sat down with Sullivan, 75, to discuss his time in jail and what led to his stint there. The following excepts are from that interview.
Aspen Times: Tonight will be your last night here and you get let out for good behavior with six days credit. Has your time here been worth it or not?
Phil Sullivan: I am pleasantly surprised by what was here. I have not spent a lot of time incarcerated in my life and this has almost been a pleasant experience - almost been a pleasant experience. There have been no unpleasant surprises. The guards are fantastic, although I haven't really mingled with them but they treat us very well and the inmates have been super, too. Some of them I've known.
AT: Has the time behind bars here caused you to reconsider your actions that led to this?
PS: I've thought about it quite a bit. I am really happy with what I've done and I intend to continue on in some form or another.
AT: Does that mean you'll start your taxi service up again?
PS: It's not a taxi service, but I intend to do what I've been doing. There are a multitude of motives but the best motive I can think of is the fact that I do it because I can, and when I say I can I mean I should be able to and I'm going to continue on doing it because I should be able to.
AT: It could put you back in jail, though.
PS: It could.
AT: And you're willing to take that risk?
PS: Yes, but I don't want to come back to jail.
AT: In the past the reason you got in trouble was because the PUC enlisted undercover officers to hitch rides with you. Are you going to be more observant or selective about who you take from A to Z, or are you still going to employ a good-faith agreement with your riders?
PS: I'm going to be more selective when I can. I know they're out there, I know what they're trying to do and what they've ultimately done on a couple of occasions. But what happens is that I drop my guard. I get too happy with what's going on and forget that I should be cautious. There is absolutely nothing that I can think of that's wrong with what I do. I drive a car, I've got a license, I'm insured. There's nothing wrong with that. I pick up people. I've been picking them up for years and years, strangers and friends, not only in Aspen but in the streets of Chicago and the streets of Stockton, Ill., etc., and I take them where I want to go and I've had nice times talking to them and I take them to their destination. I generally help them into their house if they need to be there. There's absolutely nothing wrong with what I do. I don't ask them for money before I start and I don't demand any when it's over. When it comes to appreciation, appreciation is usually shown for good deeds - I don't want to classify mine as good deeds - but there's certainly nothing wrong with what I do.
AT: The registered drivers in town might disagree. They might say, whether they're with High Mountain Taxi or a limo carrier, that "Phil Sullivan is taking money out of our pockets. We're registered with the PUC. He isn't." What do you tell them?
PS: I don't tell them anything. It's out there - I can do it, you can do it, and rather than sit in their car and complain they ought to consider doing it. Before I did this, I drove a taxi for High Mountain. I was ashamed of the service at that time. I think it's gotten better. It was a black mark against my conscience for ever working for them. And I talked to a number of cab drivers and said, "Get out there and do your own thing instead of sitting here and bitch about it." The drivers I knew, I encouraged them to initiate something they would like and enjoy and help the community.
AT: You never got a lawyer during all of this? Why?
PS: I never got a lawyer - ever. And the reason why is I didn't want to dignify this case with a lawyer. This is all about civil liberties as far as I'm concerned.
AT: You didn't want to go to jail, did you?
PS: I did not want to go to jail, but I thought that was the culmination of step one, at least. I didn't know what to expect once I got here. This is a strange area for me. I wasn't afraid of jail, but I thought the sentence would be shorter than it was. But I don't want to spend a lot of time here.
AT: Is the jail food as good as they say it is?
PS: Yes, it's better. But I've tried not to eat a lot because it's so tempting. I'm a dessert man but I try not to gorge myself. I'm rather inactive. The desserts have been great. ... The food is fantastic and they're proud of the fact that it is.
AT: Have you had many visitors here?
PS: I've had an number of visitors. One or two a night, generally. My wife was here last night with my little granddaughter and that was a real pleasure. ... I knew the path I was on and I knew I was probably not going to stop my activities. The only way to stop me, I thought, was jail. That's where I wound up.
AT: How is your family handling this?
PS: They've been fine. I guess with special permission you can hug them when nobody's around, but I've always visited them through the window.
AT: What does your grandchild (age 4) think of this?
PS: She was in last night and I mean her smile is just amazing. She wanted to know where I went to the toilet. She thought she was coming to a bat cave with bars on it and it was dark (laughs).
AT: How has your experience been with the inmates?
PS: I've been visiting with a few of the inmates. We have a little pod there. I know the inmates and I've enjoyed them.
AT: How have the newspapers' letters of support made you feel?
PS: Very good. I enjoy the support I was getting and I want to thank the people that wrote in and thank the people that are behind me and are backing me.