Posted: April 29, 2015 at 11:45 pm
By: Madalyn LaMastro, Ryan Petrovich and Joe Lipovich
Amanda Jo Greaver, a Morgantown resident, often used to take Yellow Cab, the only taxi company in Morgantown. She relied on the company to take her to and from work each and every day. But after a bad experience with one driver, she no longer uses the cab company as much as she did in the past.
“He [the taxi cab driver] asked me to pee in the backseat on his floorboard and he’d give me a free ride,” Greaver says. “I thought I was hearing things at first, and I said ‘excuse me?’ and he said the same thing.”
Greaver is one of many Morgantown residents who have experienced unpleasant service while using Yellow Cab. Websites like Yelp and Yellow Pages are flooded with negative comments and bad reviews about Yellow Cab. According to Yelp, Yellow Cab’s overall review is one “star” out of a five star rating scale.
Yet despite such complaints, Yellow Cab has remained the only cab company in the city since 1994 because the West Virginia Public Service Commission has declined to approve any applications for a second cab company. In the last 12 years, five taxi companies have applied to compete with Yellow Cab in Morgantown, according to Susan Small, Communication Director at the West Virginia Public Service Commission (PSC). But Yellow Cab successfully petitioned the PSC judges to deny all the applications.
Despite repeated requests for comment, Small declined to explain why Yellow Cab is allowed to exert such influence over competing cab company applications. Instead, Small kept referring reporters to the PSC’s website.
Yellow Cab owner Bobbie King also did not return repeated phone calls for comment. While several women complained about sexual harassment from Yellow Cab drivers, the company’s dispatcher disputed claims that its drivers, which includes himself, sexually harassed female customers.
“I’ve been accused of sexual harassment while working for Yellow Cab, but it’s all bull,” says Priest Cottrell, who is both a Yellow Cab dispatcher and driver.
Yellow Cab’s dominance in Morgantown goes back a long way. In 2003 Michael Ray Cole applied for a certificate to operate a taxi company in Monongalia County. Yellow Cab (then Morgantown Cab Company) filed a protest against Cole’s application. Judge Glass ruled in favor of Morgantown Cab, saying that no evidence showed it was “failing to provide reasonably adequate and proficient service,” according to West Virginia PSC Case Record.
Nearly a year after filing his application, Cole was denied a certificate to operate a taxi service in Mon. County.
In 2011 Jim Price of University Taxi, then 30, applied for a license for a second cab company in Morgantown. The same year, he was convicted of a DUI and destruction of property after he took a baseball bat to Tom’s Taxi Service, a company located in Clarksburg. Price also had a net worth of only $3,000 when he applied for the taxi permit. As a result University Taxi’s application was denied by Administrative Court Judge Keith George.
In 2013, yet another taxi company owned by Anthony Spagnuolo applied for certification. But again Yellow Cab filed a petition to protest the application, arguing that the granting of a certificate to Spagnuolo would adversely affect its business, according to a West Virginia PSC Case Record. Spagnuolo withdrew his application one month later.
The most recent applicant for a taxi license in Morgantown is Motown Taxi, owned by Andrew Vecchio, a graduate of WVU with a business and management degree. Vecchio currently works for an oil and gas company, but says he would resign and return to Morgantown to run Motown Taxi should it be approved. On Facebook, Vecchio claims that there is a compelling need for another taxi service in Morgantown.
“It’s perfectly clear to us [that Yellow cab is doing a bad job],” Vecchio says. “There’s a need for a new company in Morgantown.”
In the meantime, the West Virginia state legislature last month failed to pass legislation that would have allowed Uber, a new car service utilized largely by young people in metropolitan areas, to operate in the state.
With only one cab company in Mon County, many weekend nights see inebriated students lining the curb next to Bent Willey’s bar waiting on a cab. Students usually have to wait for over an hour for Yellow Cab to pick them up. This sometimes causes drunken fights fueled by a mix of impatience and inebriation, according to police.
West Virginia University students have also had bad experiences using Yellow Cab. Anya Thompson, a freshman social work major at WVU, says the dispatchers are rude on the phone and that a Yellow cab driver once made sexually explicit comments to her during a ride.
“Another time I called them for someone to pick me up from towers before spring break, and they were very rude and never showed,” Thompson says.
Cab companies who want a license to operate in West Virginia have to prove that the existing service is inadequate, and that there is a need for a better company. According to U.S. census data, Monongalia County has the most residents per local companies in the state, higher than Kanawha, Berkeley, Cabell, Ohio and Raleigh counties. Even though Ohio and Raleigh counties have significantly smaller populations than Mon County, they have four more taxi companies than the county in which Morgantown is located.
Alan Lindsay, a Yellow Cab taxi driver for two years, and a cab driver for 30 plus years, doesn’t believe a second taxi service is necessary in Morgantown.
“Everybody wants to own a cab company in Morgantown on game day,” says Lindsay. “Everyone wants to own a cab company in Morgantown when these bars let out at three O’clock in the morning and you have over 200 people begging for rides home for $5 a piece.”
But during the summer, when most students are gone, there isn’t enough business to sustain two cab companies, Lindsay says.
Vecchio of Motown Taxi disagrees. He argues that his research shows a need for a reliable taxi company in the Morgantown area. Motown Taxi’s hearing before the Public Service Commission is scheduled for Friday, May 1. But the final decision is not due until August 4, Small says.
In the meantime, Morgantown residents like Greaver and Thompson are hoping that when they need to use a taxi company in the near future, there will be an alternative to Yellow Cab.