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Cabs that cross border targeted

At the urging of Hillsborough County taxi cab companies, transportation officials are cracking down on cabs from other counties that pick up fares in Hillsborough. The Hillsborough Public Transportation Commission, which regulates cabs in Hillsborough, sent certified letters last week to several Pinellas County cab companies that have been doing business in Hillsborough.

The letters warn that companies not authorized to work in the county are subject to having their cabs impounded and to criminal prosecution for operating in the county without a permit.

The news is just what Hillsborough cab companies, especially those paying hundreds of thousands of dollars in concession fees for the privilege of soliciting business at Tampa International Airport, have been rooting for.

James Szekely, president of the Suncoast Taxi Drivers Association/Communications Workers of America Local 14315, said outside companies that don't pay concession fees have an unfair edge over higher-priced Hillsborough taxis.

"Hillsborough cabbies are trying to protect their turf," Szekely said.

Anthony Gonzalo, director of the Public Transportation Commission, said the policy described in the letter always has been the rule, but some companies needed to be reminded. Gonzalo's agency and airport authorities have promised to be more vigilant about enforcement.

They're happy in Hillsborough, but for Jerry Vallee, who owns Bats Taxi on St. Petersburg Beach, the news may prove a nightmare for his 10-year-old family business.

"When a tourist comes down here, and they've been coming down for years, if we bring them to the airport in Tampa, they want us to go back and pick them up again," Vallee said.

"How do you explain to someone who's 94 years old" that the company can't pick them up from the airport any more, Vallee said.

He said his company doesn't solicit business at the airport, but merely responds to specific requests by customers to be picked up. He estimated the company makes 200 to 300 pickups a month.

"Our only crime is that we're running an efficient business," Vallee said.

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