Bowling Green, Ohio—Good luck calling a cab on a busy Friday night in Bowling Green, Ohio. You’re likely to be met with unanswered phones, full voicemail boxes, and, if you’re lucky enough to get through to a dispatcher or driver, hour-long waits just to get across this small college town in Northern Ohio. It turns out that the town with nearly 20,000 college students doesn’t have a single traditional taxi cab driving its streets.
That is because an archaic city law limits the number of taxi permits to just 16. And the people who own those permits don’t even use them to run traditional taxicabs. Instead, the city’s public transit system (which controls half the permits), as well as its two private transportation companies, all operate ride-sharing van services that have long wait times and force customers to zigzag across town on the way to their final destination.
In a transportation economy now dominated by customer-focused, technology-driven services like Uber and Lyft, Americans have come to expect better.
So why is Bowling Green protecting its residents from competition and technological innovation? That is the central question posed by a lawsuit filed today by the Institute for Justice (IJ) on behalf of Green Cab, an Athens, Ohio-based taxi business. The lawsuit challenges Bowling Green’s city ordinance capping the number of cabs allowed to operate in the city.
“Bowling Green is regulating a twenty-first century transportation economy with a set of archaic laws that only serve to perpetuate poor service and outdated business models to benefit a small group of entrenched interests,” said IJ attorney Meagan Forbes, who represents Green Cab in the case. “Bowling Green’s cab cap has nothing to do with protecting the safety or welfare of its residents, and everything to do with protecting its current cab companies from competition. In this case, Ohio’s Constitution makes it clear that it is unconstitutional for governments to hinder individuals’ right to earn an honest living.”
Green Cab is proof positive that traditional cabs have a bright future in transportation. The company, which was founded in Athens, Ohio in 2012, uses state-of-the-art technology to manage its fleet of nine low-emission Toyota Priuses. As a result, Green Cab is able to offer $3 and $6 flat-fare rides to anywhere in town, with quick pick-ups and friendly door-to-door service. Green Cab’s owner, John Rinaldi, was inspired by the customer-focused service offered by Uber and Lyft, and tailored his business to work in a small college town. The company’s model has proven to be a success in Athens, and now Rinaldi wants to expand to Bowling Green, Ohio, home to Bowling Green State University.
But when Green Cab tried to apply for a permit to operate in Bowling Green, the city administrator literally laughed them out of the office. Bowling Green sets the number of taxi permits at just one permit for every 2,000 residents. As a result, there are just 16 taxi permits for the entire city, and the city uses nearly half to operate B.G. Transit, its city-run shuttle service, which has limited hours and requires an hour notice prior to pick up. The city has granted the remaining permits to two companies, both of which operate ride-sharing van services.
“Economic liberty requires equal opportunity. All I want to do is bring my taxi business to Bowling Green,” said Rinaldi. “When we applied for a taxi permit in Bowling Green, a city employee laughed at us. I’m standing up for my rights, and in doing so, I hope to stand up for the rights of the residents of Bowling Green, who deserve the opportunity to use my service.”
The lawsuit was filed in the Wood County Court of Common Pleas. Green Cab and IJ argue that the City’s cap violates the right to economic liberty, a right protected by the Ohio Constitution. Andrew Mayle of Mayle Ray & Mayle serves as local counsel for the lawsuit.
“The Institute for Justice has a long history of protecting transportation freedom in the courts,” concluded said IJ senior attorney Robert McNamara. “In Bowling Green, twenty-first century transportation is being shut out by twentieth century regulations. We’ve seen exactly what happens in cities without a cap: safe, affordable and modern transportation. And that’s certainly nothing to be afraid of.”
The Institute for Justice has helped open taxi markets in cities across America, including Denver, Cincinnati, Indianapolis, Minneapolis and Milwaukee, and for more than 20 years has been the nation’s leading advocate for the rights of entrepreneurs.
For more on today’s lawsuit, visit http://ij.org/bowling-green-taxis.