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August 30th, 2006 Ian Demsky | News Stories
 

Taxi No Evil

How ignoring past orders to shape up after a fatal crash earned Green Cab the largest taxi fine in Portland history.

     
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DEATH ON THE HIGHWAY: This fatal 2001 crash started Green Cab's problems.


IMAGE: KATU

Angela Nikodinov withdrew from the U.S. Figure Skating Championships at Portland's Rose Garden last year after her mother died in a taxi crash on I-205 the night before the competition.

Investigators later found that a Green Cab driver had been driving for more than 18 straight hours, a violation of city regulations, when he picked up Nikodinov, her parents and her coach at the airport at 9 am on Jan. 12, 2005, to take them to their hotel.

After the fatal crash, Portland taxi regulators found Green Cab's other drivers weren't tracking their hours or trips as required by city code. The city didn't fine the company, but demanded that it start monitoring drivers' hours—even helping create trip sheets for drivers to fill out.

Things quieted down for Green until last month, when regulators got tipped to alleged serious violations and began investigating, says Mary Volm, a city spokeswoman. The ensuing investigation revealed that the company didn't fix problems after the fatal crash, and led to a $62,860 fine for a dozen rules violations, by far the largest ever issued to a Portland cab company.

The case—and the city's failure to follow up on Green's problems for more than a year—spotlight not only Green's problems, but what city regulators are doing to make sure Portlanders are safe while riding in the city's nearly 400 cabs.

Portland's cab industry is fiercely competitive, involving six companies that range in size from Broadway Cab and Radio Cab—both with fleets of 136 taxis—to tiny Sassy's Cab with just 17 cars. Green Cab ranks as a middleweight in the field, with 48 cabs shared by 80 drivers. The recent city investigation showed that those 80 drivers were involved in 32 crashes this year which Green didn't report to city officials as required. (Green also failed to track driver hours and trips.)

We'd like to be able to tell you how many injuries those crashes caused, in how many Green Cab was at fault, or how its records compare with those of Portland's other five cab companies. But we can't, since the city says it doesn't generally track those figures.

But following Nikodinov's death, the city did compile numbers for 2002-2004—and Green appeared to have the worst crash record of the six companies. Over that period, Green averaged more than one wreck per cab a year. The next-most-accident-prone company, Radio, suffered wrecks at half that rate, reporting an average of one crash for every two cabs a year. (Green did report, however, an "at fault" rate lower than some of its competitors.)

No one from the City of Portland, which pays its one full-time taxi investigator $65,800 a year, checked back in on Green during the year between Delores Nikodinov's death and the latest string of violations—which include failing to have enough wheelchair-accessible vans and focusing too much on customers at the airport and downtown hotels rather than serving the entire city.

Green Cab also appears to have completely thumbed its nose at the last city mandate to shape up following the Nikodinov's death. In a spot check this month, investigators found only 15 out of 40 drivers' files even had trip and shift records dating from 2006—and those were spotty.

Green Cab attorney Edward Trompke says his client plans to appeal some of the fines and has told the city that Green has implemented a new process to monitor driver hours and taken other corrective measures.

Because Green Cab "worked diligently to correct these violations," the hefty fine was assessed but the company's license was not suspended, Portland Taxi Supervisor John Hamilton ruled Aug. 16.

Due to the seriousness of Green's violations, Volm says the city plans to ramp up contacts with all of Portland's cab companies to ensure they and their drivers fully understand city taxi regulations.

"We're going to be out there a little more," she says.

 
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