Will wheels come off Aspen’s free taxi?
ASPEN – A cease-and-desist order hasn’t stopped Phil Sullivan from ferrying passengers around Aspen, so the Colorado Public Utilities Commission hopes a judge will.
The PUC has filed a complaint asking a Pitkin County judge to order an injunction that would put the brakes on Sullivan’s late-night, “free taxi” operation.
The complaint is the latest effort by the PUC to pull Sullivan, who drives a KIA mini-van with a lighted sign on the roof billing free taxi rides, off the roads.
The complaint also comes after the PUC originally cited Sullivan in December 2006 for operating as a transportation carrier without proper liability insurance, and operating without the proper certificate issued by the PUC. Since then, the PUC has tried to stop Sullivan from driving, its latest effort a cease-and-desist order issued in July.
All along, Sullivan, 74, of Woody Creek has insisted he doesn’t charge people for rides and doesn’t run a taxi business. Instead, Sullivan claims, he simply provides a complimentary shuttle service.
The PUC, however, claims that as far back as 2006, when it launched its first undercover investigation into Sullivan, he was accepting tips instead of fares, which makes his operation a taxi business.
The PUC’s most recent complaint states that Sullivan runs a “carrier service for compensation” in violation of state law, and his failure to acknowledge the cease-and-desist order “severely compromise the safety of his passengers and the public at large, which is the very reason the [PUC] deems it necessary to obtain a permanent injunction.”
Sullivan, contacted Monday, said he’ll keep hauling passengers because he is not breaking the law.
“I will still drive on the roads,” he said. “That’s what I do. I pick up my friends, I pick up my relatives. That’s what I do.”
Sullivan said he has not been served with the complaint, but is aware of the cease-and-desist order, which he chooses to blow off.
“They’re going to have to stop me,” Sullivan said.
Sullivan said he never asks for money from his passengers, and “I sometimes refuse compensation.”
Meanwhile, the PUC claims that Sullivan has “willfully and persistently” ignored its cease-and-desist order, and the agency has had “ongoing difficulties” in having Sullivan play by the rules. Sullivan also hasn’t made good on the $12,000 in fines an administrative law judge ordered him to pay the PUC in 2008 for violating PUC regulations.
And in January, a PUC investigator “witnessed [Sullivan] operating as a motor carrier for compensation,” says the complaint for injunctive relief, which was filed Wednesday in Pitkin County District Court.
That same day, Sullivan was in Aspen Municipal Court to contest a ticket given to him for parking illegally in front of Bentley’s. Sullivan lost the case and was ordered to pay a $50 fine.
During the hearing, the citing officer, David Thompson of the Aspen Police Department, testified that Sullivan recently kicked out a passenger because she tried to pay him with a credit card. Sullivan did not address that claim.
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