Mile-High Victory for Taxicab Entrepreneurs

June 3, 2013

As loyal readers of Liberty & Law will remember from our December issue, IJ is devoted to identifying opportunities to advance economic liberty for transportation entrepreneurs like taxi drivers nationwide. That devotion has allowed us to bring constitutional lawsuits in key jurisdictions across the country and also to bring less traditional cases like our representation of Mile High Cab in Colorado, where we presented that state’s supreme court with its first-ever chance to interpret Denver’s new taxi regulations. But seizing opportunities is only part of the equation; we also have to win. I am pleased to report that we have been doing just that. (And not just in Colorado—see Anthony Sanders’ report on our Milwaukee taxi victory.)

Our Denver case grew out of legislation passed in 2008 that removed key barriers to entry—specifically, the new law said that the state’s Public Utilities Commission (which regulates taxis) could not keep otherwise-qualified entrepreneurs out of the Denver market unless it had actual proof that the new entrepreneurs would harm the public. The commission, of course, did not like this one bit and kept right on doing what it had always done: locking new businesses out of the Denver taxi market. The first case to arise under the new law was a denied application by a new cooperative called Mile High Cab, Inc. We knew Mile High’s case would make or break the 2008 reforms, and, worried that Mile High could not afford an attorney to make the right arguments, we took the case straight to the Colorado Supreme Court ourselves. We hoped to convince the court to issue a stern rebuke to the commission.

It worked.

In April, the Colorado Supreme Court issued a unanimous opinion holding exactly what we had been saying all along: The 2008 law forbids the commission from shutting new businesses out of the market just because it thinks Denver might already have enough cabs. Without real evidence that a new company poses a danger, the commission’s job is to get out of the way.

These reforms make sense. The people of Denver no more need a state commission to decide whether Denver has enough cabs than it needs a commission to decide whether the city has enough restaurants. Entrepreneurs and consumers, not state bureaucrats, are best able to make those decisions.

More than 20 years ago, IJ looked out at a national landscape full of outdated, anti-competitive transportation regulations and resolved to improve things one case at a time. Since then, our battles on behalf of taxi drivers, commuter vans and limousines have ebbed and flowed, but our resolve has remained clear. Last month’s victory is just one more step in this long-running battle, and it only deepens our commitment to keep fighting, and to keep identifying and seizing opportunities. And, of course, to keep winning for groups like Mile High Cab and transportation entrepreneurs all across the country.

Robert McNamara is an IJ senior attorney.

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