By Megan Poinski
Citing serious problems, the Board of Public Works took the advice of hundreds of protesting taxi drivers and rejected a controversial five-year $7.2 million contract for a Virginia company to operate the taxi franchise at Baltimore-Washington Thurgood Marshall International Airport.
The board voted to extend the current contract with BWI Taxi Management, Inc. for another year, giving the Department of Transportation and Maryland Aviation Administration 12 months to restart the procurement process.
While Dulles Airport Taxi, the bidder selected for the contract, had done nothing wrong, Comptroller Peter Franchot said that the scores of angry taxi drivers, the complaints filed against the company owner in the past, the qualified contractors whose bids were disqualified, and the fact that the chosen bidder was not a Maryland company made up his mind. The contract and the issues it involves are complicated, he said.
“It would be best if we could take another look,” Franchot said. “We want to make sure that the state’s revenues are maximized and the drivers are protected appropriately.”
The other board members – Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown, sitting in for Gov. Martin O’Malley who was at a Democratic Governors’ Association event, and Treasurer Nancy Kopp – agreed with Franchot. No vote was cast on the new contract, and they unanimously voted to extend the current one.
The airport taxi driver franchise, set to expire July 1, had been a source of controversy since it first came to the Board of Public Works in March, when transportation officials realized it was taking longer than expected to select a new contractor. They asked the board to extend the current contract for a year to allow enough time to finish the process. Several taxi drivers protested their current management, and convinced the board to cut down the extension to three months.
Two weeks ago, the Maryland Aviation Administration had finished the procurement process and brought the contract to the Board of Public Works. About 50 taxi drivers, attorneys and passed over contractors objected vehemently. Board members decided to defer action for two weeks in order to consider all of the circumstances.
After Wednesday’s meeting, Transportation Secretary Beverley Swaim-Staley said that the department will take stock of all the issues that came up during the discussions – including job security for drivers, treatment of drivers, and which state companies are located in – as well as all of the state and federal regulations to rebid the contract.
“We will make every effort to get it done in a year,” she said. It took two and a half years to get to the contract that the board did not approve.
Taxi drivers have been a fixture throughout the debate, and they again filled the governor’s conference room for Wednesday’s meeting. They said they were glad that Dulles Taxi was not awarded the contract, but what they really want is to work for themselves – without an outside manager.
“We are the business,” said Tamrat Zeneke, a board member of the BWI Taxi Association. “We own the vehicles. We are working. We can pay the fees.”
The drivers incorporated and bid for the contract last year, but were disqualified. Association Vice President Homayoun Borchalooee said that they have learned from their past mistakes, and will submit a bid again this time around. They have learned more about what they need to do to meet federal regulations, and will be hiring professionals to draft their bids and oversee the process.
“I believe that we will be seen as a serious and qualified bidder,” Borchalooee said.