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I-Team Special Report: Fare Warning

Updated: Tuesday, February 25, 2014 |
I-Team Special Report: Fare Warning story image
KALAMAZOO, Mich. (NEWSCHANNEL 3) - When you get into a taxi cab, do you know who is behind the wheel and if that person could be a criminal.

After a Newschannel 3 exclusive story where we showed you a Kalamazoo taxi cab driver arrested for raping a woman in his taxi, the I-Team went to work, investigating who these drivers are that we trust to take us around town.

What we found is a shockingly unregulated industry with no accountability or oversight.

The investigation into Kalamazoo taxi cabs turned up issues with safety and oversight, along with questions about the cost for a ride, which seems to change based on which taxi or driver picks you up.

They cruise around Kalamazoo day and night: zebra stripped pink limousines, minivans, and a few of the traditional variety.

And the colorful and assorted looks on the outside give some clue into what's going on inside the taxi business in Kalamazoo.

"The city of Kalamazoo has no regulations," said Scott Smith, of Elite Transportation.

Smith started Elite Transportation two years ago in Kalmazoo, and says he couldn't believe what taxi companies get away with.

He runs background checks on all his drivers, although no one requires he do it.

That became clear last month, when Godspeed Transportation driver Robert Prescott was arrested for raping a woman in his taxi.

He has a long criminal past, including a felony assault of a police officer. The alleged victim in the case told us she blamed the taxi company.

"If they would have done their due diligence on checking into him, this would have never happened to me," she told Newschannel 3. "I haven't slept a full night since it happened. This is something that I have to deal with everyday."

The owner of Godspeed told us he didn't think a background check was important.

Now, the I-Team found one Timothy Scott Merill on the Michigan sex offender registry for criminal sexual conduct with someone under 13. And he's a taxi driver for Bigg Baby taxi service.

The owner of Bigg Baby admitted to us he knows all about Merill's past, but says "it was a mistake 20 years ago. There's no reason not to give him a chance."

The I-Team wanted to check drivers to see if there are other sex offenders, but we found there is no state or local agency that keeps a list of drivers. So, we went to several taxi companies to ask for driver names; but no one would give us those.

We found Kalamazoo does have regulations on the books for taxi drivers which include background checks, but a company can avoid those regulations by simply claiming they are a limousine service.

Then they fall under the less stringent state guidelines for limos.

"I've taken cabs to the airport, sometimes it cost me ten dollars, sometimes it cost me 25 dollars," said Kalamazoo City Commissioner Don Cooney. "I go the same distance, I say to the guy, he's says this is a limousine; I said I just called a cab."

Along with the safety issues, Cooney says he questions the lack of any fixed prices and wants to see changes in the taxi rules.

But city leaders tell us right now the state law is keeping them from getting involved to change a system that even some of the taxi companies say is all over the road.

"It would benefit everybody, we would get rid of the fly by night taxis that i think has to be done in this town," Smith said.

Even though there are more strict taxi regulations in Grand Rapids and Battle Creek, the problem of companies skirting regulation as limos is happening statewide.

The I-Team took the issue to state leaders and is already getting action.
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Business News

Last Update on October 01, 2014 07:31 GMT

EBOLA TREATMENTS-MOVER

NEW YORK (AP) -- Shares of companies that are studying potential vaccines for Ebola have been climbing in aftermarket trading after federal officials announced that the first case of the disease has been diagnosed in the U.S.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says a patient being treated at a hospital in Dallas tested positive for the disease.

Ebola is believed to have sickened more than 6,500 people in West Africa, and more than 3,000 people have died. Symptoms can start as much as 21 days after exposure, and the disease isn't contagious until symptoms begin. It takes close contact with bodily fluids to spread the disease.

The World Health Organization has worked to speed up the use of some experimental vaccines and companies are ramping up testing.

OBAMA-ECONOMY

WASHINGTON (AP) -- President Barack Obama will deliver an economic address this week seeking to promote the recovery as the campaign season heads into its final weeks before midterm congressional elections.

Obama plans to deliver a speech tomorrow at Northwestern University's Kellogg School of Management in Evanston, Illinois, drawing attention to economic advances since he took office. The White House says he will also press for additional steps that the government can undertake to create jobs and improve wages.

The speech comes amid polls that still show the economy is the top issue with voters and that a majority of voters disapprove of Obama's handling of the economy. The speech marks a shift from Obama's recent attention to international crises, particularly the start of a new bombing campaign against Islamic extremists.

TRUMP ENTERTAINMENT-BANKRUPTCY

WILMINGTON, Del. (AP) -- A Delaware bankruptcy judge will hold a hearing tomorrow on a request by Trump Entertainment Resorts to be relieved of its pension obligations under a collective bargaining agreement with workers at the Taj Mahal casino.

The judge had previously scheduled a mid-October hearing on Trump's request for permission to terminate the labor agreement as part of an effort to reorganize and avoid closing the casino in Atlantic City, New Jersey.

But company attorneys have been unable to persuade the union to agree to replace the pension plan with a 401(k) plan. They said yesterday that they need a quick decision on the pension liability because it could torpedo efforts to reorganize.

Union attorneys argue that the pension question can't be separated from the larger issue of the collective bargaining agreement.

PLASTIC BAG BAN-THINGS TO KNOW

SACRAMENTO (AP) -- The American Progressive Bag Alliance, a coalition of plastic bag manufacturers, says it will seek a voter referendum to overturn California's law banning single-use shopping bags, signaling the fight between environmentalists and manufacturers is not over. California Gov. Jerry Brown signed the nation's first statewide ban on the bags yesterday, following the lead of more than 100 California cities and counties.

The group has three months to gather more than 500,000 valid signatures, the number needed to place a referendum on the November 2016 ballot. The group says it will push to make sure the law does not take effect until voters have a say.

LEGALIZING POT-COLORADO COMPETITION

DENVER (AP) -- Colorado's new marijuana industry is in for a brand new element today -- competition.

The state gave medical marijuana dispensaries and growers a nine-month exclusive on the new recreational pot business, fearing an unmanageable explosion of new businesses.

The grandfathering period expires today, meaning pot shops and growers who weren't in business before voters approved recreational pot in 2012 are just now able to enter the market.

"There's going to a price war coming. It's inevitable," predicted Toni Fox, a marijuana grower and owner of a Denver pot shop. Fox has received a license for a second shop opening today in Salida (suh-LY'-duh).

Colorado is issuing licenses for 46 more pot shops, in addition to about 200 already in place. Colorado is also licensing 37 more growing facilities and 13 new product manufacturers who make marijuana-infused products.

The expansion means pot prices for consumers could soon drop. Recreational marijuana in Colorado currently wholesales for about $1,800 to $2,500 a pound, depending on quality. The addition of new growers starting today could push the price below $1,000 a pound once those plants mature.

FILM-NETFLIX'S GAMBIT

NEW YORK (AP) -- Hollywood's carefully controlled system of movie rollouts is officially under siege.

Windowing -- the practice of opening a movie first in theaters and then in other stages of home video, streaming and television release -- has been under increasing pressure as smaller screens fight against the prominence of the theatrical big screen. Now, Netflix has fired the most notable missive across the bow of windowing, announcing plans to release a sequel to "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon" on the day it hits Imax theaters next August.

The film, produced by the Weinstein Co., isn't a studio production, so it's in many ways only marginally more significant than the plethora of independent films regularly released on video-on-demand. But the announcement constitutes the biggest move yet by a major digital outlet to blow up Hollywood's traditional release pattern.

"This is a very unique opportunity for somebody from the outside coming in to shake up what appears to be an increasingly antiquated release strategy," says Rich Greenfield, a media analyst for BTIG Research. "They had to get into the movie business to reduce windowing, and I think this is an important Step 1 for Netflix."

Exhibitors, in tandem with the major studios, have long sought to guard the theatrical window. Yesterday two of the country's largest theater chains, Regal Cinemas and Cinemark, which both have some Imax theaters, promptly refused to carry the film.

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WASHINGTON (AP) -- The head of the Federal Communications Commission says the agency will consider a petition to ban the Washington Redskins nickname from the public airwaves.

FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler said yesterday that the commission "will be dealing with that issue on the merits, and we'll be responding accordingly."

A law professor has challenged the use of the name on broadcast television, saying it violates FCC rules against indecent content. Native American and other groups have demanded the name be changed, calling it a racial slur.

Wheeler did not offer a timetable for a ruling on the matter. He has previously said he finds the name "offensive and derogatory," but that he hoped Redskins owner Dan Snyder would change it without any formal action.

Snyder has vowed never to change the name.

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