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Commissioner wants probe of cabbie's firing

Hillsborough Commission Chairwoman Pat Frank said Wednesday she is troubled by the firing of a former United Cab driver who attempted to gain independence for cab drivers in Tampa.

The case of Frank Dunn, reported Wednesday in the Times, revealed "the monopolistic situation of two companies providing taxi service in this county," Frank said.

Dunn, she said, "is being used as a symbol of what happens to someone who wants to compete with the big boys. You lose your job. You lose your income."

Frank repeated her concerns at a meeting Wednesday of the Hillsborough Public Transportation Commission, which regulates the operation of for-hire vehicles. Frank serves as a member of the commission along with other county and municipal elected officials.

The commission's executive director, Greg Cox, said he thought the dispute stood between Dunn and United Cab.

Dunn, 49, was fired two weeks ago. He had driven a cab for United for nine years. He had been pricing cab equipment and organizing his own association of Tampa taxi drivers when he was fired.

In Hillsborough County, almost all of the county's 472 existing permits have been awarded to United Cab, Yellow Cab, and those two companies' subsidiaries and affiliates.

A representative of United Cab did not return messages seeking comment. United Cab officials have told Frank, though, that they were within their rights to terminate someone who was threatening to become their competitor.

Frank disagrees, saying "this is a controlled situation where there's tight regulation of who can work and who can't."

After their discussion Wednesday morning, the transportation commissioners directed their attorney to look into the firing, Frank said.

"Do (drivers) not have a constitutional right to discuss this issue with other people?" Frank said. "If we know they've been terminated to be prevented from going into business, are we exposed to something that has constitutional overtones?"

Commissioners also asked their executive director to look into possibly modifying taxi permit requirements in a way that might let individual cabbies go into business on their own, instead of depending on the approvals won by the two large taxi companies.

Dunn, who did not attend the meeting, said Wednesday he was gratified that some public officials are concerned by the power of the large cab companies in a restricted market.

"It's not like McDonald's or Burger King," Dunn said. "It's a regulated market that gives the cab companies basically guaranteed income.

"I'm told that if I want to work in the cab industry, I have to give up my First Amendment right to free speech, and I'm out the door."

_ Information from Times files was used in this report. Larry Dougherty can be reached at (813) 226-3337 or doughertysptimes.com.

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