EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

May 18, 2013

Crackdown on out-of-town cabbies heats up

By Keith Eddings
keddings@eagletribune.com

---- — LAWRENCE — Three drivers for an Andover cab company were given $500 citations yesterday for allegedly picking up passengers in the city and two others were cited for other infractions as police bore down on the out-of-town hacks.

The five citations — including one for an infraction that allegedly occurred three days earlier — were written a day after the owner of the Andover company sought a court order blocking Lawrence from enforcing a month-old law banning the drivers for out-of-town cab companies from picking up fares in the city.

Ramon Tapia, owner of Andover Central Transportation Corp., alleged the five tickets his drivers received in Lawrence yesterday are retaliation for his lawsuit and for a story about it published in The Eagle-Tribune.

“This is personal,” Tapia said as the citations piled up yesterday, noting that the three citations for picking up fares in Lawrence his drivers had received by 3:30 p.m., was one more than they received in all of last week. “They’re trying to show they’re in power, like they’re in control.”

“That’s ridiculous,” responded Lawrence police Capt. Roy Vasque, who runs the unit that oversees the cab industry in Lawrence. “If someone thinks they’re being targeted, if that’s the word they’re using, they should file a complaint with the Police Department and have an investigation. No one is being cited for anything more than failure to comply with city ordinances or motor vehicle violations.”

Among the drivers ticketed yesterday was Luis Urena, who was stopped as he pulled from the driveway at his Water Street home and cited by Police Officer Jose Flores for allegedly picking up a fare on Park Street three days earlier.

Vasque said Flores wasn’t able to catch up with the driver after the pickup on Tuesday and “didn’t want to start a pursuit over a cab fare.”

“He had the cab number,” Vasque said. “When he saw him today, he issued the citation.”

Andover cab driver Leandro Gonzalez, a Lawrence resident, was using a break to take his daughter to the South Lawrence East school yesterday when he was stopped by Officer William Green, who said he believed Gonzalez was carrying a passenger, Tapia said.

“Leandro said, ‘I’m taking my daughter to school,’ ‘‘ Tapia said. “(The officer said), ‘No. You’re working.’”

Gonzalez was given a $35 ticket for making an illegal U-turn.

Gonzalez’s path crossed with police a second time yesterday after he picked up Elisa Rosario on Atkinson Street and dropped her off on Jamaica Street. Both addresses are in Lawrence.

Ten minutes after the drop off, a cop was knocking on Rosario’s door. As he questioned her, Rosario called Tapia at the Andover cab company.

“He was asking her all kinds of questions — ‘Where did he pick you up?’” Tapia said. “She called me here. She said, ‘He’s asking me questions. I don’t know what to do.’ She was nervous. I said, ‘Can you put him on the phone?’ When she was passing the phone to him, he hung up.”

Vasque said Gonzalez has not yet been cited for picking up Rosario in Lawrence, but will be.

Of all the Andover drivers cited yesterday, Santos Alvarez may be hurting the most. His vehicle was towed after Officer Gary Yancy allegedly observed him picking up a fare on Essex Street, which will add a $145 fee to the $500 fine if he is convicted.

Tapia said the citations issued to his drivers yesterday brought the total number to about two dozen, at $500 each. Vasque said the number is about half that.

In his lawsuit challenging the city law banning out-of-town cabbies from picking up in Lawrence, Tapia likens it to a “barbed wire surrounding the city” and alleges it is intended only to protect “the three large taxi cartels” that hold 90 percent of Lawrence’s hack licenses.

Lawrence city councilors have said the law is intended to protect local cab companies from unfair competition by outside cab companies who are not so heavily regulated and so can charge less. The councilors also note that it costs more to insure cabs in Lawrence, because of the city’s historically high levels of car thefts, which adds to their costs and the fares they charge.

On Tuesday, a state Superior Court judge is scheduled to consider Tapia’s request for an injunction blocking Lawrence from enforcing the ban on out-of-town cabbies until it can hear his claim that it violates the state and federal constitutions.

Until then, Lawrence Police Chief John Romero said his officers will continue to chase down the cabbies picking up in the city.

“If there’s going to be a lawsuit, so be it,” Romero said yesterday. “At this point, we’re just following the ordinance. In these cases, the individuals were picking up passengers (in Lawrence) and that’s a violation of the ordinance. There’s no targeting this company or any other company.”