Denver Taxi Fight Heads to Colorado Supreme Court

John Kramer
John Kramer · November 5, 2012

Arlington, Va.—It is election week, and if you want to understand why so many small business owners are upset with government at every level, just take a look at what is happening to the would-be operators of Mile High Cab, who this week are taking their fight to open a new cab company to the Colorado Supreme Court. The case will be heard on Thursday, November 8, 2012.

For four years—long since demonstrating it would be both a financially and operationally fit business—the state’s Public Utilities Commission still refuses to issue the owners a “certificate of public convenience and necessity,” a document needed to provide cab service in the state. Why the delay? Simply put, the PUC is engaging in crony capitalism: ignoring recently revised state law designed to improve competition in the taxi industry and protecting existing businesses from competition.

Mile High is represented by the Institute for Justice, which more than 18 years ago waged a successful fight on behalf of Freedom Cabs to become the first new cab company in Denver in 50 years. IJ is a public interest law firm that represents government-harassed would-be entrepreneurs nationwide. Through its litigation and activism, IJ has helped open taxi markets in Denver, Cincinnati, Indianapolis and Minneapolis. It is currently litigating a similar challenge in Milwaukee.

“In 2008, Colorado took an important step toward joining the nationwide trend toward freer taxi markets, but the Public Utilities Commission seems set on taking two steps back,” said IJ Senior Attorney Robert McNamara, who will argue the case. “The legislature has ordered the Commission to stop using its power just to protect existing businesses from competition. Now it is up to the Colorado Supreme Court to step in and make sure that happens.”

“The riding public and would-be entrepreneurs—and not the government or existing businesses—are in the best position to decide if Denver needs a new taxi service,” McNamara said. “But the PUC is allowing existing taxi companies to dictate who will be allowed to compete with them. That is not just outrageous—it is illegal, and we expect the Supreme Court to recognize exactly that.”

“Having the Institute for Justice representing us is incredibly exciting after such a long fight,” said Mekonnen Gizaw, Mile High Cab’s treasurer. “I am confident that we will win our fight for taxi freedom.”

“Starting a taxi business is an excellent way for a would-be entrepreneur to get started: It doesn’t take much capital, and it doesn’t take much formal education,” said IJ President Chip Mellor, who represented Freedom Cabs. “But the Public Utilities Commission is trying to take that opportunity away from Denver’s taxi drivers. We’re going to put a stop to that.”