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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 September 22, 2014 07:26 GMT

ECONOMY-THE DAY AHEAD

WASHINGTON (AP) -- Investors will gain some insight into the housing market during the first half of the week.

Today, the National Association of Realtors will release existing home sales for August.

On Wednesday, the Commerce Department will report on new home sales for August.

SIEMENS-DRESSER-RAND

HOUSTON (AP) -- German engineering company Siemens AG has reached a deal to acquire oilfield equipment maker Dresser-Rand for $7.6 billion.

Under the deal announced early Monday in Germany, Siemens will pay $83 per common share of Dresser-Rand Group Inc., $3.09 more than the company's closing share price Friday. The deal includes assumption of debt.

Dresser-Rand's board of directors unanimously recommended the offer to shareholders, and Siemens expects to close the deal by summer, according to a statement from the company.

Dresser-Rand, based in Houston and Paris, has annual revenue of around $3 billion. It said in a statement Siemens will operate the company as its oil and gas business under the Dresser-Rand brand and retain its executive team. It said the oil and gas business will be based in Houston.

GAS PRICES

CAMARILLO, Calif. (AP) -- A national survey says the average price of a gallon of regular gasoline has dropped another 9 cents over the last two weeks, to $3.37, bringing the decline to 34 cents over the last 13 weeks.

Industry analyst Trilby Lundberg said Sunday that falling crude oil prices drove the declines, but the drop was also heavily impacted by a crash in prices of ethanol and the fact that winter-grade gasoline costs less to produce. If crude prices don't rise, the average prices at the pump may drop a few more cents.

Jackson, Mississippi, had the lowest price among cities surveyed in the Lower 48 states, with $3.03 a gallon. San Francisco had the highest at $3.79 a gallon.

The average price for a gallon in California is $3.67, down 8 cents from two weeks ago, with Fresno the low average in the state at $3.56.

The average price for a gallon of midgrade gasoline was $3.59 a gallon, and premium was $3.74.

GENERAL MOTORS-RECALL

DETROIT (AP) -- General Motors is recalling 221,558 Cadillac XTS and Chevrolet Impala sedans because the brake pads can stay partially engaged even when they're not needed, increasing the risk of a fire.

The recall involves Cadillacs from the 2013-2015 model years and Impalas from the 2014 and 2015 model years. There are 205,309 vehicles affected in the U.S.; the rest of the vehicles are in Canada and elsewhere.

GM says the electronic parking brake arm that applies pressure to the back of the brake pads may not fully retract after use. If the brake pads stay partially engaged with the rotor, excessive brake heat may result in a fire.

GM says it knows of no accidents or injuries related to the defect.

GM will notify owners and repair the vehicles for free.

CHRYSLER RECALL

DETROIT (AP) -- Chrysler is recalling nearly 189,000 Jeep Grand Cherokees and Dodge Durangos in the U.S. to fix a fuel pump problem that can cause the SUVs to stall.

The recall covers some 2011 models with 3.6-liter V6 or 5.7-liter V8 engines. Chrysler says a relay can fail, increasing the risk of a crash.

Chrysler traced the problem to a spring that can deform because of heat.

The vehicles also might not start, and the fuel pump could keep working even when the engine is shut off. The company says that as of Aug. 25 it's not aware of any crashes or injuries from the problem.

Dealers will replace the fuel pump relay for free starting Oct. 24.

CHINA-SUSPECT MEAT

BEIJING (AP) -- A U.S. meat supplier is laying off most of the workforce of a Chinese subsidiary accused of selling expired meat to KFC, McDonald's and other customers.

OSI Group said Monday it will lay off 340 employees of Shanghai Husi Food Co., which has been under investigation since a Shanghai TV station reported in July it supplied expired meat.

Six employees were arrested in August on suspicion of producing substandard products.

OSI Group said a small number of employees would be kept on in Shanghai while the investigation is underway. It said production was unlikely to resume in the near future. It said the company suffered "significant financial and customer losses."

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WASHINGTON (AP) -- Scientists estimate that the world spewed far more carbon pollution into the air last year than ever before.

That was mostly because of increases from the three biggest polluters -- China, the United States and India.

The reports released Sunday come as world leaders gather at the United Nations to talk about how to reduce heat-trapping gases.

According to the calculations, the world pumped more than 39 billion tons of carbon dioxide into the air last year by burning coal, oil and gas. That was 2.3 percent more than the previous year.

The International Global Carbon Project team published their reports in the scientific journals Nature Geoscience and Nature Climate Change.

CLEAN AIR VEHICLES LAWS

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) -- California Gov. Jerry Brown has signed into law several bills designed to boost use of clean-air vehicles in his state.

One bill signed Sunday allows 15,000 additional electric and partial zero-emissions vehicles, or 70,000 total vehicles, to get green stickers that allow driving in carpool lanes even when solo.

Another requires freeway high-occupancy toll lane operators to allow clean air vehicles to drive for free or reduced rates. Such roads exist in Orange and Riverside counties, and the San Francisco area.

Another bill requires a property owner, rather than the person leasing it, to install an electric vehicle charging station and its infrastructure in most cases.

California makes up 40 percent of the nation's electric vehicle sales and the governor's press office says it surpassed more than 100,000 sold earlier this month.

G20-FINANCE MINISTERS

SYDNEY (AP) -- Finance chiefs from the 20 largest economies say they are close to reaching their goal of boosting world GDP by more than $2 trillion over the next five years.

Australian Treasurer Joe Hockey is the host of the Group of 20 meeting in the northern Australian city of Cairns. He said on Sunday that the G-20 finance ministers and central bankers had agreed to more than 900 policy initiatives to meet the goal they set earlier this year.

The G-20 said an analysis of those initiatives show they should boost the combined gross domestic product of member countries by 1.8 percent above levels expected for the next five years. That's just short of the group's target of 2 percent.

LEAR PLANT-STRIKE

HAMMOND, Ind. (AP) -- Workers at a Lear Corp. plant in northwestern Indiana that makes automotive seats have approved an agreement that will end a two-tiered pay system.

The United Auto Workers said Sunday evening that members of Local 2335 had "overwhelmingly" approved the four-year contract. It did not give a specific vote count.

Workers at the Hammond plant make seats for the Explorer and Taurus models produced at Ford's Chicago Assembly Plant. The workers went on strike Sept. 13, but returned to work the next day after the tentative deal was reached.

The contract will end a system that locked newer workers into lower wages, and raise the top wage to $21.58 an hour.

Local 2335 President Jaime Luna says the deal could help thousands of autoworkers across the country.

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