By Keith Eddings
---- — LAWRENCE — Miguel Camacho yesterday lost his cab and his passenger — and may also lose $500 — when he became the first cabbie charged with violating a week-old law banning out-of-town taxis from picking up fares in Lawrence.
Police Officer Jose Flores stopped Camacho, a driver for Andover Central Transportation, just after Camacho was dispatched to pick up a fare at 155 West St. for a $10 ride to Home Depot in Salem, N.H.
Flores put Camacho’s passenger out of the cab, ordered the vehicle towed and handed Camacho, a cabbie for just seven months, a $500 ticket.
“They took the car away — incredible,” said Ramon Tapia, owner of the Andover taxi company, who drove to Lawrence to pick up Camacho after his cab was towed. “Those companies in Lawrence, they go over to Andover and they do the same thing and they don’t get in trouble.”
Tapia said he did not believe his dispatcher violated Lawrence’s new law when it sent Camacho into the city to make the pick because he said the passenger called for the ride and did not flag down the cab on the street.
The new law prohibits drivers from picking up passengers in Lawrence if they or their companies aren’t licensed by the city. The law does not distinguish between passengers who call for a ride or flag down a cab.
The law, approved by the City Council in a unanimous vote on Tuesday, is intended to protect Lawrence’s 10 taxi and livery companies and their 400 drivers from competing with companies and drivers from neighboring municipalities where regulations are less rigorous.
“The cabs in Lawrence are held to a second state inspection, which other communities in our area do not require,” Councilor Eileen Bernal said. “The cabs we have are going through these extra hurdles, so I think the law gives them the benefit of not having to compete with people who don’t have to go through those hurdles.”
Beyond towing the out-of-town cabs and writing $500 tickets, the new law allows the city to seize the meters from the cabs and sell them if a court allows.
“The irony is that all of the drivers are Lawrence residents,” said Peter Caruso, an Andover lawyer who represents Andover Central Transportation. “And they’re all Latino. Ninety percent of the fares in Lawrence are Spanish-speaking.”
Caruso, who also represents The Eagle-Tribune, said he will appeal the fine in Lawrence District Court. He said he will argue that the fine is excessive.