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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 30, 2014 17:28 GMT

ECONOMY-GDP

WASHINGTON (AP) -- The U.S. economy grew at a solid annual rate of 3.5 percent in the July-September quarter, propelled by solid gains in business investment, export sales and the biggest jump in military spending in five years.

The Commerce Department says that the third quarter result followed a 4.6 percent rebound in the second quarter. The economy shrank at a 2.1 percent rate in the first three months of the year due to a harsh winter.

The report was the first of three estimates of the gross domestic product, the economy's total output of goods and services. Economists believe the economy is maintaining momentum in the current quarter with consumer spending expected to be helped by a big fall in gas prices.

UNEMPLOYMENT BENEFITS

WASHINGTON (AP) -- The number of people seeking unemployment benefits rose slightly last week, but remained at historically low levels that signal a strengthening job market.

The Labor Department says weekly applications increased 3,000 to a seasonally adjusted 287,000. The four-week average, a less volatile measure, declined 250 to 281,000, the lowest level in more than 14 years.

Applications are a proxy for layoffs and have fallen 20 percent in the past year. The steady decline suggests that businesses are sufficiently confident in the economy to hold onto their staffs. That same confidence could lead them to step up hiring.

The economy expanded at a solid annual rate of 3.5 percent in the July-September quarter, according to a separate government report. That's healthy enough to encourage more hiring.

MORTGAGE RATES

WASHINGTON (AP) -- Average U.S. long-term mortgage rates arrested their five-week decline this week but the benchmark 30-year loan remained below 4 percent.

Mortgage company Freddie Mac says the nationwide average for a 30-year mortgage rose to 3.98 percent from 3.92 percent last week. It remained at its lowest level since June 2013. The rate stood at 4.53 percent back in January.

The average for a 15-year mortgage, a popular choice for people who are refinancing, increased to 3.13 percent from 3.08 percent.

The sustained decline in long-term rates sparked a boomlet of homeowners looking to refinance mortgages. Homeowners eager for a bargain rate fired off inquiries to lenders. Applications for "re-fi's" reached their highest level since November 2013 in the week ended Oct. 17, according to the Mortgage Bankers Association.

BABY FORMULA

WASHINGTON (AP) -- Federal regulators are suing baby food-maker Gerber for claiming that its Good Start Gentle formula can prevent or reduce allergies in children.

The Federal Trade Commission says that claim is bogus and that the New Jersey-based company misled consumers by suggesting the formula was the first to meet government approval for reducing the risk of allergies.

The FTC says it wants Gerber to remove that claim from formula labels and advertisements. The agency also wants Gerber to reimburse consumers who have bought the formula since 2011, when the claim began.

Gerber Products Co., also known as NestlT Infant Nutrition, says in a statement that it believes it has met all legal requirements about product claims.

WAL-MART-PRICE MATCH

NEW YORK (AP) -- Wal-Mart Stores Inc. is considering matching online prices from competitors like Amazon.com, raising the stakes for the holiday shopping season.

The world's largest retailer, based in Bentonville, Arkansas, has matched prices of local store competitors but hadn't followed moves by other retailers like Best Buy or Target to match prices of online rivals. It said it has been testing the strategy in certain markets and is trying to figure out whether to go ahead.

The strategy comes as Wal-Mart is trying to rev up sluggish sales in the U.S. but it could also erode profits.

A Wal-Mart spokeswoman says many store managers have matched online prices for customers on a case-by-case basis.

The move was first reported by The Wall Street Journal on Thursday.

MICROSOFT-FITNESS DATA

UNDATED (AP) -- Microsoft is looking to challenge Apple and Google with its own system for consolidating health and fitness data from various fitness gadgets and mobile apps. Microsoft is also releasing a $199 fitness band to work with this system.

As more athletes and recreationalists track their fitness, a chief frustration has been the inability to bring data from one gadget into an app made by a rival. As a result, nutrition information might reside in one place, while data on calories burned might be in another. Consolidating data gives users and health professionals a bigger picture on health.

Microsoft Health follows the launch of Apple's HealthKit in September and Google Fit earlier this week. Unlike rival systems, Microsoft Health will work with competing phones, not just those running Windows.

SPAIN-GOOGLE

MADRID (AP) -- Spain's parliament has approved new intellectual property laws that allow news publishers to charge aggregators each time they display news content in search results.

The law goes into effect Jan. 1 but does not specify how much aggregators like Google News could be charged. Spain's AEDE group of news publishers had lobbied for what is known as the "Google Tax" but has not provided specifics.

Google Inc.'s Spanish division said Thursday it was disappointed with the outcome and will work with Spanish news publishers to help them increase income.

Google last year agreed to help French news organizations increase online advertising revenue and fund digital publishing innovations to settle a dispute there over whether it should pay for news content in its search results.

CHINA-LENOVO-MOTOROLA

BEIJING (AP) -- Chinese computer maker Lenovo Group has completed its acquisition of Motorola Mobility from Google Inc. in a move aimed at becoming a global smartphone brand.

Lenovo said it completed the $2.9 billion purchase on Thursday, adding to a flurry of acquisitions and initiatives aimed at transforming the world's biggest maker of personal computers into a major player in wireless computing.

Google bought Motorola Mobility in 2012 for $12.4 billion but appeared to decide quickly the purchase was a mistake. It sold its set-top operations to Arris Group Inc. for $2.35 billion and its smartphone assets, along with some 2,000 patents, to Lenovo.

Lenovo chairman Yang Yuanqing said when the purchase was announced in January that it would help transform Lenovo into a global competitor in smartphones.

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