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Sedan service bucks state law

December 08, 2000

Sedan service bucks state law



By ANDREW SCHOTZ / Staff Writer


The owner of a Hagerstown passenger transportation company said a state anti-discrimination law will not stop him from rejecting fares in drug-infested areas.

George Turner, owner of Turner Transportation, converted his 31-year-old family business from taxi service to sedan service on Dec. 1. He said illegal drugs are endangering his company's drivers and passengers.

Under Maryland's Public Utility Companies Law, taxi drivers can pick up fares who hail them on the street, but sedan drivers can't. Turner said he will use this distinction to help keep his vans from shuttling drug dealers to and from their transactions.

The assistant director of safety at the Maryland Public Service Commission said it is illegal for taxi, sedan and limousine companies to turn away customers without a good reason.

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"It's not allowable," said Clifford Watts, who manages the transportation inspection program for the Maryland Public Service Commission. "Just because the person may be in a bad area, it doesn't mean they are a bad person."

A section in the Public Utility Companies Law states that taxi drivers must transport "any orderly person."

The code does not say the same for sedan or limousine drivers. But Watts said the intent for them is identical and will be clarified in writing early next year.

If, however, a driver detects danger while picking up or dropping off a passenger, the driver can abort the ride, he said.

Turner vowed to carry on his business as he planned.

"I will not transport people to get drugs," Turner said Thursday afternoon. "I will not transport drug dealers knowingly. I will not transport people out of certain areas (where) drugs are sold."

Turner's drivers won't avoid entire neighborhoods, just the worst blocks and corners, he said, and he thinks the law supports his decision.

As an example, Turner said, if a call came from someone at Jonathan Street and North Avenue in Hagerstown, a dispatcher will say that a van will only go to a specific address.

"I know of no rules against this," he said. If the PSC files charges against his company, Turner said, "I'll shut down the business first, but I will not do that without a fight."

Doug Shumaker of Antietam Cab Co., a taxi service, declined to comment on how his company handles fares in possible drug areas.

Watts said that any customer who is turned down for a ride over the phone can file a "refusal of service" complaint with the Public Service Commission.

The commission will send a copy of the complaint, without the name and address, to the company, which can respond. If the response doesn't satisfy the complainant, he or she can request a hearing.

A hearing officer could reprimand a guilty company or suspend its license.

Watts said the commission rarely gets complaints about rejections over the phone.

Many complaints are about taxi drivers who won't pick up a fare at a taxi stand because the trip is local and inexpensive.

"That happens all the time," Watts said.

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