Chattanooga tries to shut down taxi company

Chattanooga tries to shut down taxi company

January 31st, 2013 by Lindsay Burkholder in Local Regional News

Manuel "Manny" Rico

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A Chattanooga cab company whose license was revoked a week ago continues to operate, a police department inspector said.

Chattanooga Police Department Inspector Charles Topping said he cited All-American Taxi Co. owner Randy Van Hooser for violating a Jan. 24 order to stop operating. Van Hooser faces a $50 fine plus court costs.

The Chattanooga Transportation Board voted last week to revoke Van Hooser's certificate to operate after considering evidence that he had improperly increased taxi rates and had allowed unauthorized drivers to drive his taxis.

Van Hooser, who has appealed the board's decision, said taxi rides his company provided since last Thursday were free. But Topping disagreed. He said he told someone to ask All-American Taxi about a ride.

"The driver told this person how much it would be," he said.

The transportation board sets the taxi fares. Taxi companies must have their meters calibrated and locked by an authorized agency to prevent tampering with the rates, according to Manny Rico, board member and City Councilman.

Tim Duckett, owner of Millenium Taxi Cab and an adviser to the board, believes Van Hooser bought his own meters and changed the rates.

"He went to all of his cabs and changed all of the meters to overcharge you for just getting in the cab and then overcharged 50 cents per mile," Duckett said.

"To me, it was fraud," said Rico, "but he tried to say it was an honest mistake."

Van Hooser says it wasn't about the money.

"I didn't benefit a penny," he said. "I did it for the drivers."

A typical taxi fare within Chattanooga for a 10-mile ride would be $23.00. Van Hooser was charging $28.75.

Over the course of a year, that would amount to $70,000 per taxi, and Van Hooser has 35 taxis. Topping believes Van Hooser has been charging this higher rate since June 2011.

For Rico, it doesn't matter where the money went.

"You are charging the people who can least afford it," Rico said.

Once a decision is made about Van Hooser's appeal, Topping said he will consult with the Hamilton County District Attorney's Office about whether further action is needed.

"Everybody's scratching their heads because we've never had anything like this before," Topping said.