Aspen looks to block ‘bandit taxi’
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO Colorado
ASPEN ” City officials plan to put the brakes on an alleged rogue taxi driver in Aspen who is under scrutiny by the Public Utilities Commission, which regulates ground transportation throughout the state.
City Attorney John Worcester said Tuesday he will draft a letter to the PUC, urging it to make a ruling on the case that has been swirling around Phil Sullivan since December 2006.
“I’m surprised they haven’t ruled yet,” City Attorney John Worcester told the council Tuesday after elected leaders asked what could be done to stop the “bandit taxi.”
Sullivan, whose Kia minivan has an illuminated sign on the roof, continues to haul passengers around Aspen. The PUC claims he takes under-the-table tips instead of charging a fare.
But Sullivan maintains he doesn’t receive tips, and the PUC has no jurisdiction over him because all he is doing is driving people around.
“I take friends where they want to go and sometimes tourists who are looking for a ride,” Sullivan said Tuesday. “If somebody leaves money in my car or gives me money, I generally take it but I don’t ask for it.”
Sullivan in 2007 was ordered to pay nearly $12,000 in fines to the PUC for not having the proper insurance to operate a taxi service. An administrative law judge has ruled on the case and assessed the penalties, but the PUC has yet to make a final ruling.
Sullivan has maintained that he has the proper insurance and is operating legally. He has refused to pay the fines levied by the administrative law judge.
City officials have been awaiting the final ruling by the PUC that would determine whether Sullivan can offer his free rides any longer.
High Mountain Taxi driver Tom Coggins complained to the City Council on Monday night that Sullivan is competing against him unlawfully and asked the city to enforce its laws that regulate the taxi service.
City officials said they most likely could nab Sullivan for operating without a business license, but that might prove difficult because they need a passenger to testify a monetary transaction had occurred while riding in the vehicle.
“It puts us in a somewhat difficult position to prosecute him,” said Assistant City Attorney Jim True.
Worcester said the city ultimately could stop Sullivan from ferrying people around without a business license, but he needs proof that it’s occurring.
“Nobody has come forward who is willing to testify that he has done this in this way,” Worcester said. “We could probably get him on the business license, but not until we get a good citizen to come forward and explain what their experience was.”
Sullivan said he spoke with city officials nearly a year ago about obtaining a business license but after reading the paperwork, he decided it didn’t apply to him.
“I don’t do business, and I don’t have a business,” he said. “I’m unemployed.”
In any case, Sullivan has continued to operate his cab since Dec. 8, 2006, when an undercover officer with the PUC hitched a ride with him. Sullivan didn’t charge the “passenger,” who instead offered Sullivan a tip, which he accepted, and then a PUC ticket.
The covert sting came after High Mountain Taxi owner Todd Gardner filed a complaint with the PUC. Gardner has claimed that Sullivan is putting passengers at risk because he doesn’t have the proper insurance coverage. By taking under-the-table tips, Gardner has contended, Sullivan has essentially operated as a transportation carrier, but has not played by the same rules that other carriers must obey.
The Aspen City Council directed staff to move forward with the Burlingame early childhood education center, but decided it needs more information on the affordable housing units that are part of the schematic design at a work session Monday.