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Rocky wants more taxis to roll

He aims to let outside cabbies in during Games

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The Olympic transportation plan is missing something, says Dave Jackson.

Shuttle buses are great for hauling herds of people to sporting events and downtown Salt Lake festivities. But what about the couple who want to go out to dinner at an east-side restaurant? What about the family of four who want to see the Utah Museum of Natural History and would rather not wait in the cold for a bus?

We're going to need more taxicabs during the Olympics, said Jackson, who owns City Cab and runs a portion of the city's 235 certified taxis.

Mayor — and former cabbie — Rocky Anderson agrees and is urging the City Council to approve an ordinance to temporarily remove the limit on taxi licenses.

Hoteliers and restaurateurs "want every piece of rolling stock on the street," said Jay Magure, Anderson's chief of staff. Some in the hospitality industry don't see affluent Olympic visitors waiting to board crowded shuttle buses, especially if they're headed for an Olympic sponsor's party or coming back from a nightclub to their hotels.

Don Barron, co-owner of Yellow Cab in Salt Lake City, runs 112 cars now. During the Games, "we could probably run 100 more," except "we don't have those vehicles . . . I certainly think (the city) will need more cabs. From what I gather, you can't have too much transportation during an Olympics."

The City Council will discuss the proposed ordinance at its meeting Tuesday. One cabbie, however, warned the council members this week that Games-time demand may not reach Olympic levels.

With the constant urgings for people to use the bus system, "we're just not going to need extra cabs," said Ross Aguirre, who drove a taxi in Los Angeles during the 1984 Summer Games. Speaking at the council's meeting last Tuesday, Aguirre added that Salt Lake City's normal complement of cabs will be enough — and if scores of extras are allowed to come in through February, all drivers could suffer from a shortage of business. The international cabbie grapevine tells him that drivers in Atlanta (1996) and Barcelona (1992) didn't see an Olympic-size increase during their Games.

"We have an economic escape hatch," if the increased number of taxicabs creates a hardship, said Magure. "We can rescind the ordinance summarily if we get a lot of cab drivers sitting on their hands." The proposed ordinance would allow taxi operators from Murray, South Salt Lake and West Valley City to come into the Olympic host city — but if that proves to be too many taxis for too few riders, the mayor's office will tell the extras to go back home.

"We'll obviously have to have a notification period," perhaps five days, before those drivers have to leave, Magure said. He couldn't say how he'll determine how many is too many or at what point Salt Lake drivers are suffering. "We're going to have other issues besides cabs to worry about" during the Olympics, he added.

In any event, City Cab's Jackson said, the demand for taxis could stay small due to ignorance.

"We've been really concerned," he said, "because in any advertisement you see about (transportation during) the Olympics, taxicabs are never mentioned. You wouldn't know taxicabs were even in town."

E-mail: durbani@desnews.com