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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 December 22, 2014 08:26 GMT

ECONOMY-THE WEEK AHEAD

WASHINGTON (AP) -- This is a shortened trading week with the stock and bond markets closed on Christmas Day.

However, there are some interesting government economic reports being released ahead of the holiday.

Today, the National Association of Realtors will report on how many existing homes were sold in November.

On Tuesday, the government will report on last month's new home sales, as well as November's durable goods numbers and personal income and spending for November. It will also report the third-quarter gross domestic product

This week, the government will be releasing last week's jobless claims number a day early, on Christmas Eve. Also on Wednesday, Freddie Mac will report this week's mortgage rates.

SKOREA-ECONOMY

SEOUL, South Korea (AP) -- South Korea has lowered its growth forecast for next weak citing the persistently weak sentiment among consumers and businesses.

The finance ministry said Monday that Asia's fourth-largest economy will expand 3.8 percent in 2015. Six months ago, it forecast 4.0 percent growth.

The downward revision, representing some improvement from 3.4 percent growth this year, shows the government's challenge in encouraging consumers to spend more and businesses to boost investment despite its expansionary policies and the central bank's two rate cuts this year.

Director-General Lee Chanwoo said the recovery in consumer spending and capital expenditure remains weaker than expected in the last two months.

Lee said consumers and businesses still have great uncertainties about next year and the last quarter's improvement in the economy stemmed mostly from the government policies.

SAFEWAY SALE-HAGGEN

BELLINGHAM, Wash. (AP) -- The Washington state-based grocery chain Haggen Inc. plans to buy 146 Albertsons and Safeway stores in Washington, Oregon, California, Nevada and Arizona.

The Bellingham Herald reports the sales are required under the federal review of Safeway's sale to an investment group that owns Albertsons.

If Haggen's plans announced Friday get Federal Trade Commission approval, the Bellingham-based company would expand from 18 stores and 16 pharmacies in the Northwest to 164 stores and 106 pharmacies in the five states.

Details of the deal haven't been released.

This is the largest of several sales related to the $7.6 billion sale of Safeway to investors led by Cerberus Capital Management. Associated Food Stores is buying eight stores in Montana and Wyoming, Associated Wholesale Grocers is purchasing 12 stores in Texas, and Supervalu is buying two Albertsons stores in Everett and Woodinville, Washington.

GAS PRICES

CAMARILLO, Calif. (AP) -- The average price of regular gasoline nationwide has dropped another 25 cents a gallon in the past two weeks, to $2.47.

Industry analyst Trilby Lundberg said Sunday that prices will likely keep falling.

Lundberg says the average price of regular gasoline is the lowest it's been in more than five years.

She says lower crude oil prices are driving prices down, along with an abundant oil supply and the rising value of the U.S. dollar.

The highest-priced gas in the Lower 48 states was found in Long Island, New York, at $2.82 a gallon. The lowest was in Tulsa, Oklahoma, at $2.06 a gallon.

California's lowest average was in Sacramento, at $2.58 a gallon.

The average price for midgrade gas in the U.S. is $2.71. For premium it's $2.87.

MINE EXPLOSION-INSPECTIONS

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) -- Deaths and injuries at the nation's coal mines have been declining since a West Virginia underground mining disaster killed 29 workers less than five years ago.

Coal mines are on pace this year to set a new low mark in mining deaths. So far in 2014 there have been 15 coal mine-related deaths, and with less than a month left in the year, the number could stay below the record 18 set in 2009.

Federal mine safety officials say increased enforcement efforts since the Upper Big Branch mine explosion in 2010 have improved the safety at all the nation's mines. Assistant Labor Secretary Joe Main says officials focused on making coal mines safer after the West Virginia tragedy.

MIDEAST OIL

ABU DHABI, United Arab Emirates (AP) -- Saudi Arabia's oil chief is dismissing allegations that his kingdom conspired to bring down oil prices in order to harm other countries and told a summit of Arab energy leaders that he was confident the market would stabilize.

The kingdom, which is dependent on oil revenues, is able to weather lower oil prices due to large reserves built up over the years. Non-OPEC member Russia and other nations like Iraq, Iran and Venezuela need prices substantially above present levels to meet budget goals and want to drive prices up.

Saudi Arabia maintains it is opposed to cutting production because of fears its market share could erode.

The price of U.S. crude has dipped below $60 a barrel, its lowest in five years. Naimi said he was certain that the oil market would recover with the improvement of the global economy.

An OPEC meeting last month failed to agree on production cuts, mainly because of Saudi opposition to curb its own exports. OPEC controls about 40 percent of the world oil market and Saudi Arabia is the cartel's largest producer.

DISH NETWORK-FOX BLACKOUT

NEW YORK (AP) -- Dish Network subscribers were unable to watch Fox News Channel and the Fox Business Network on Sunday when the channels were taken down as part of contract negotiations.

The Fox blackout is just the latest skirmish as cable and satellite TV providers fight with networks over subscription fees. Dish Network just settled disputes that led to the temporary blackout of some local CBS stations and a separate blackout related to Turner Broadcasting channels -- including Cartoon Network, CNN, Boomerang and Turner Classic Movies.

Dish has more than 14 million satellite TV customers.

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