Judgment day looms for rogue cab driver
ASPEN Sometimes the wheels of justice turn slowly, which may explain why the wheels continue to turn on the cab of one Aspen driver who’s become the chagrin of his competitors. Maverick cab driver Phil Sullivan was scheduled to appear before an administrative-law judge Thursday in Denver to face charges from the Colorado Public Utilities Commission, which claims he is operating his taxi service without proper insurance.Instead Sullivan, 71, blew off the date, electing to drive his red Kia that has the words “Free Rides” and “Free Taxi” illuminated on the minivan’s roof.
Sullivan said last week that he was a no-show because he doesn’t think Denver is the proper jurisdiction for a case in which the allegations are rooted in Aspen.”I think it’s a kangaroo court,” Sullivan said. “And if I had gone there, it would have added credibility to [the PUC’s] case.”Although Sullivan didn’t appear, the hearing was held and Bill Fritzel, the administrative law judge presiding over the case, has until Sept. 30 to issue a ruling, said Deborah Collette, spokeswoman for the PUC, the state agency that regulates ground transportation services. If the judge rules in the PUC’s favor and determines that Sullivan has operated a transportation carrier without proper motor-vehicle liability insurance and operated a transportation carrier without a permit, Sullivan faces fines of more than $10,000. He also could be ordered not to offer his free rides any longer. In any case, Sullivan has continued to operate his cab since Dec. 8, 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. Gardner did not return a telephone message seeking comment for this story.One local transportation driver, however, said the fact that Sullivan has managed to ferry passengers around town – some nine months after the PUC busted him – has irked other drivers.
“We’re all playing by the same rules, so why shouldn’t Phil?” the driver said.Sullivan, in the meantime, insists that his business is legitimate and he has the proper insurance in place.Still, he said he’s not confident the ruling will favor him.”If they go by the evidence,” he said, “they won’t do a thing. But if they go by what the PUC is saying, I’ll have to pay a fine and everything else. That’s what I expect them to do.”