By Megan Poinski
About 30 airport taxi drivers filled the seats at the Board of Public Works Wednesday to call attention to procurement problems at Baltimore-Washington Thurgood Marshall International Airport. The drivers inspired the board to unanimously cut the contract extension for the company they drive for, BWI Taxi Management Inc., from one year to 90 days.
The three-member board – Gov. Martin O’Malley, Comptroller Peter Franchot, and Treasurer Nancy Kopp – all said they were surprised to hear about the problems with the contract. The initial contract with BWI Taxi Management expired more than three years ago, and has been extended for a year by the Board of Public Works three times. Another one-year extension of the $2 million contract, which expires April 1, was on Wednesday’s Board of Public Works agenda.
BWI General Counsel Louisa Goldstein said that the airport has been working on getting the contract rebid for about two years, but it has been complicated. The airport’s federal funding require that the contract seek out disadvantaged business enterprises, and Goldstein said that BWI officials are taking the time to properly vet the bids.
Additionally, she said, whenever the taxi contract is awarded, it seems there are always legal challenges.
Goldstein said that the airport is close to selecting someone to get a new contract. She was asking for a year-long extension of the existing deal to ensure that there are still taxis serving the airport until all potential legal challenges are addressed. Under current law, only the taxi company that the state selects can pick up passengers up at the airport.
O’Malley said he saw no reason that the full procurement could not be finished in three months.
“People work against deadlines,” O’Malley said.
Kopp was surprised that it had taken so long to work on the procurement. Goldstein said she could not go into detail about the problems at the meeting, but reiterated the process is complicated. Franchot was taken aback by the situation.
“The agency you work for is usually very tight, and this is loose,” Franchot said.
The taxi drivers in the Governor’s Reception Room – all from the evening shift – were not directly there to protest the delays in awarding a contract.
Instead, they appeared with lawyer John Singleton to let the board know about what they felt was unfair treatment by BWI Taxi Management. They said the company treats individual drivers as independent contractors, not as employees. This means that they are paid poorly, sometimes working 80-hour weeks for less than $200 in take-home pay, said Samson Yemene, president of the Cab Operators Association of BWI Airport. Singleton argued that the contract would be fairer if it were bid differently, with drivers treated as employees.
“We are here to say we need support to do our job in a better way, the American way, not a no-man’s-land way,” Yemene said.
Members of the Cab Operators Association have bid for the contract, Yemene said, but their bid has been rejected. Singleton said that they will continue to fight to ensure they are adequately paid.
Board members were also surprised to hear the drivers’ concerns.
“It could be that we just have to reject it altogether,” O’Malley said. “There’s something about these inequities.”