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$4 million at stake in dispute between PSTA and Clearwater Yellow Cab

The county's bus system and a taxi company are butting heads over the price of a cab ride for disabled passengers.

The difference seems small — a matter of $3.50 per cab ride. But over the life of the contract, more than $4 million in taxpayer money is at stake.

The Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority, which pays Clearwater Yellow Cab to pick up disabled passengers, says the taxi company contracted to be paid a total of about $9.05 per ride. Period. The passenger pays $3.50 for each ride, so that means the PSTA would reimburse the cab company the other $5.55.

But the cab company says it's entitled to $9.05 from the PSTA plus the $3.50, for a total of $12.55 per ride.

That $3.50 may not sound like a lot, but with about 250,000 rides per year, it adds up to about $875,000 annually. And over the course of a five-year contract, the amount becomes even more substantial — about $4.375 million.

That's money the PSTA doesn't want to give up.

Thus far, PSTA spokesman Bob Lasher said, negotiations have been friendly. But a recent letter from PSTA attorney Alan Zimmet to the board about the situation indicated that Yellow Cab was ready to sue or even walk away from the $18.1 million contract signed late last year if the PSTA refuses to pay the full $9.05.

But Yellow Cab's attorney, John Camillo of Fort Lauderdale, said that's an overstatement of the company's position.

Yellow Cab, he said, cannot afford to continue with the contract if it does not receive both the fare and the PSTA payment.

As for suing, Camillo said he only suggested having a judge interpret the contract.

Until then, he said, both parties are trying to work things out.

Lasher agreed that "both sides are doing what we can to work this out so it doesn't affect the passengers. One way or another, their service will not be interrupted."

Lasher said he was surprised to hear of the dispute.

Yellow Cab, he said, has provided prompt service and has many new vehicles. Riders have been pleased and have praised the company, he said.

fast facts

How the contract works

The PSTA contracts with a cab company to pick up disabled passengers who need on-demand service as part of the county's DART program. That amounts to an average of 250,000 rides every year.

PSTA and Yellow Cab agreed that the price per ride for most runs would be $9.05. Some runs that cross zones are priced $5.45 higher. Each passenger pays $3.50.

PSTA says that agreement means that Yellow Cab can get no more than the contract price for the ride. In other words, PSTA wants to reimburse Yellow Cab only $5.55 per ride — the $9.05 minus the $3.50 the passenger pays.

But Yellow Cab says the agreement means that PSTA pays $9.05, the contract amount, and the company gets to keep that sum in addition to the $3.50 the passenger pays.

$4 million at stake in dispute between PSTA and Clearwater Yellow Cab 02/17/09 [Last modified: Tuesday, February 17, 2009 9:37pm]
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