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Park suggests that a better strategy for the drivers would be to stop waiting for fares at the airport.
"There's nothing that prevents them from working the downtown," Park says. "There's nothing that prevents them from working the casinos. There's nothing that prevents them from working on the sports venues in town or the Westport or the Plaza or whatever. It takes a little more effort to hustle around and understand the way the community works to get in a spot ... to get the consumer. But that's a choice that they make."
Drivers say they have little choice but to wait for airport fares. Kansas City's largest cab company, Yellow Cab, run by Kansas City Transportation Group CEO Bill George, has exclusivity contracts with six of Kansas City's most lucrative spots: Crown Center's Westin and Sheraton hotels, downtown's Crowne Plaza and the Hilton President, Riverside's Argosy Casino, and the Plaza's InterContinental.
"That's the problem," Mixicha says. "He controls the whole city."
Although the drivers' lawsuit doesn't seek immediate changes to the dispatch system at KCI, airport officials are committed to keeping cabs out of sight. In the mid-1980s through the 1990s, cabs could wait in designated zones of KCI. But airport spokesman Joe McBride says it led to an ugly competition for fares, with cabbies waiting at the most lucrative terminals or sneaking into the baggage areas to solicit fares, essentially cutting in line, irritating both travelers and the drivers who played by the rules.
"It was just not a good situation for our visitors," McBride says.
KCI's narrow design also puts idling vehicles in close proximity to terminals and airplanes. This makes parked vehicles a security threat. McBride says drivers shouldn't expect change.
"I would think that we're not going to be supportive of going back to the way it was," he says.
Mention the lawsuit to Bill George, and the CEO of the Kansas City Transportation Group answers with a nightmarish vision.
The smooth-talking transit mogul, whose company holds 300 taxi permits — more than half of what the city licenses — suggests a dystopia where cabbies engage in Thunderdome-style combat for airport fares.
He says that's how it used to be. He recalls a similar lawsuit in the mid-1980s, which he says led to the city deregulating the taxi industry, allowing drivers to obtain their own permits and wait at terminals. Passengers never knew how much they would be charged, and drivers were so desperate for fares that they would fight in front of travelers.
"We scared the hell out of the passengers," George says. "We pretty much sent a message: Don't take a cab from the airport because it's ungodly expensive, and they'll fight, and the cabs were terrible."
Drivers and taxicab companies had no incentive to improve customer service, because permits were so easy to get.
"Because there was no profit motive in the business," George says, "there was a glut of cabs. Nobody reinvested in their cars, so the cars got older. Nobody upgraded their dispatch systems. Nobody did any marketing. Nobody did anything. And the cab business became horrible."
When the city instituted the current regulations, it set the fares and required cab companies to own 10 permits. George explains the 2000 change: "Originally we wanted [the requirement to be] 25 cabs, and the reason for that is simple: You're supposed to provide citywide service."
George knows that lone drivers can't compete with the Kansas City Transportation Group's Lydia Avenue complex of garages, offices and car wash. But his infrastructure benefits drivers and customers, George says.