Yellow Cab drivers stage airport protest

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Yellow Cab drivers staged a work slowdown Monday at Pittsburgh International Airport to protest what they see as unfair treatment by airport officials.

After a morning demonstration during which a group of drivers drove through the airport without picking up customers, some drivers then avoided the airport altogether while others parked in the airport taxi lot, with no intention of picking up customers.

At one point, about 20 customers were waiting for a taxi.

The protesting drivers were angry at what many described as suspensions from operating at the airport resulting from minor violations. The 15- and 30-day suspensions are especially painful for drivers who rely on the approximately $40 trips, essential to pay for rising gas prices and the daily $145 lease charge to drive the cabs. Drivers complained that they cannot appeal individually once the suspensions are imposed; the cab company must appeal.

"It feels like we’re under some sort of tyrannical government or something,“ said Monty Montgomery, a driver for five years, standing by his cab in the airport lot where taxis wait before being dispatched to pick up passengers. Much of his and other drivers’ ire was directed at Dawn Romitz, the contract administrator for the Allegheny County Airport Authority.

"She’s got the police harassing us, getting physical with the drivers,” said Mr. Montgomery, referring to the Allegheny County Police officers who enforce the regulations.

Drivers said they were suspended for walking too far from the car when escorting elderly riders and their luggage into the airport; refusing service to customers who attempted to bring food into the car; napping in the overflow lot while waiting for a flight to arrive; and allegedly being disrespectful to police officers.

Mr. Montgomery told of one driver who was suspended for displaying a picture of her child on the dashboard of her cab. Ms. Romitz, who was monitoring the taxi line yesterday, said that particular suspension resulted not from the photograph, but because the driver was “being belligerent to a police officer.”

Ms. Romitz offered no further comment about what the drivers said about her, directing inquiries to an airport authority spokeswoman.

Later, the authority issued a statement that said, "These are new issues that were never raised previously to airport officials.” It also warned of continued suspensions if regulations were violated.

After the slowdown began, airport officials moved to double up and triple up passengers en route to similar destinations in an effort to keep the waiting line from growing too long.

Ms. Romitz stood curbside at the head of the line, stepping into the road to open taxi doors herself to speed movement.

Recent arrivals, standing curbside with their luggage, said the inconvenience was minimal.

"I didn’t know if business was picking up with all the shale stuff,“ said Wayne Tencer, in town on business.

He said he flies into Pittsburgh a few times a year, and that the wait for cabs is usually two or three minutes. It was closer to 10 on Monday.

"Yellow Cab has enjoyed a long relationship with the airport and we are confident these issues can be resolved,“ said Pittsburgh Transportation Group president Jamie Campolongo. The Pittsburgh Transportation Group is the parent company of Yellow Cab.

Matt Nussbaum: Jon Schmitz contributed.

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