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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 August 22, 2014 07:30 GMT

AMERICAN AIRLINES-MINORS

FORT WORTH, Texas (AP) -- American Airlines says it will extend its fee for unaccompanied minors to charge $150 extra each way for children between 5 and 14.

The change starts Sept. 3. Currently, American charges a fee on top of the regular fare for unaccompanied minors between 5 and 11.

The airline announced the change Thursday in an employee publication.

American says extending the fee to more youths will ensure the safest possible travel for them and match the policy at US Airways. The two merged in December to form American Airlines Group Inc.

United Airlines charges $150 each way for minors 5 to 11; Delta charges $100 each way for those 5 to 14; at Southwest it's $50 each way for kids 5 to 11.

WEALTH INEQUALITY-CENSUS

NEW YORK (AP) -- A report from the Census Bureau is the latest evidence that the rich are getting richer while the poor get poorer.

The study released Thursday divided the U.S. into five groups, from wealthiest to poorest. The median net worth of the richest households rose 11 percent between 2000 and 2011, to $630,754. The next-wealthiest group's net worth also rose.

But because wealth dropped for the majority of Americans, the median household net worth for the country overall declined about 7 percent to $68,828.

The report was compiled using surveys done by the Census. It includes stocks, money in the bank, home values, retirement accounts and other assets in its measurement of net worth.

AIRLINES-LABOR DAY TRAVEL

Airline group forecasts uptick in Labor Day travel

A trade group for the nation's big airlines predicts that air travel over the Labor Day weekend will rise 2 percent from the same holiday last year.

If correct, the forecast would be more good news for the airlines. Nine big U.S. carriers earned $3.8 billion in the first half of this year, allowing them to pay down debt, reward shareholders and order new planes.

Airlines for America predicted Thursday that 14 million people would fly within the U.S. in the seven days ending Sept. 2, the day after Labor Day.

Separately, the auto club AAA forecasts that 34.7 million Americans will travel at least 50 miles from home by car or plane over a 5-day period ending on Labor Day. That would be a 1.3 percent increase over 2013.

HOME DEPOT-CEO

NEW YORK (AP) -- Home Depot says Craig Menear, the president of its U.S. retail operations, will become president and CEO of the company Nov. 1.

Frank Blake has been Home Depot's chairman and CEO since 2007, and he will remain chairman of the company.

Menear became president of the company's U.S. retail unit in February. He has worked for Home Depot since 1997.

Home Depot Inc. is based in Atlanta and is the largest U.S. home improvement retailer. On Tuesday, the company reported strong second-quarter results and raised its forecast for the full year. It said purchases of major items like appliances and water heaters improved compared to last year, and its results have been helped by the improving U.S. housing market.

FORD RECALLS

DETROIT (AP) -- Ford is recalling more than 160,000 vehicles in North America for two safety issues.

The largest recall involves 159,395 Focus ST and Escape vehicles from the 2013 and 2014 model years. Ford says their engines could hesitate or stall because of a wiring problem.

Ford also is recalling 616 Focus and C-Max cars made earlier this month because their steering gears don't have the proper number of ball bearings. That can potentially degrade the remaining ball bearings and lead to a loss of steering control.

Ford says there have been no accidents or injuries related to either recall. The 616 cars are still at dealerships and haven't been sold.

Ford Motor Co. will notify customers and repair the vehicles for free.

ARGENTINA-DEFAULT

NEW YORK (AP) -- A U.S. judge says Argentina's announced plans to evade his orders by failing to make required payments to U.S. bondholders is illegal and cannot be carried out.

Judge Thomas Griesa called the republic's actions toward U.S. bondholders "lawless" at a court hearing in New York City on Thursday.

But he stopped short of finding Argentina in contempt.

Argentine officials have called the U.S. hedge funds that refused to swap their bonds for lesser valued ones "vultures."

The funds are owed about $1.5 billion. Argentina says paying it would force it to owe other bondholders over $20 billion.

A lawyer for Argentina urged the judge to reject as premature a request by U.S. bondholders that Argentina be found in contempt.

MEXICO-DIALING DEPORTEES

TIJUANA, Mexico (AP) -- Thousands of Mexican citizens deported by U.S. authorities are finding refuge at call centers in Tijuana and other border cities.

In perfect English -- some hardly speak Spanish -- they converse with American consumers who buy gadgets, have questions about warrantees or complain about overdue deliveries.

Many of the workers spent nearly all their lives in the U.S., which is a major selling point for Mexico over English-language industry leaders like India and the Philippines. They can chat comfortably about the U.S. housing market and Super Bowl contenders. They know slang.

One consulting firm estimates that by end of the year, Mexico's outsourced call centers will have more than 85,000 workstations -- which may be staffed two or three shifts a day. It expects Mexico to hit 110,000 in 2020.

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