After a night partying downtown, taking a taxi home is the safe choice.
But there is a 20 percent chance your driver isn’t.
Despite carefully outlined regulations set by the Athens-Clarke County Police Department to ensure the quality of drivers and safety of passengers, many of the permitted county cabbies have an excessive number of traffic and other violations. Of the 145 people holding a cab license in ACC, 28 have accumulated 10 or more marks on their records in ACC alone over the last 10 years.
That’s one in every five taxi drivers.
Records, taken from municipal, state and superior courts, show incidences ranging from civil cases to minor seat belt violations to felony charges of aggravated stalking.
All but 24 of the 145 have at least one minor violation and 3.4 percent have at least 20 separate incidences filed with the court.
But many still take Athens cabs every day.
Ashley Minor, a freshman political science major from Americus, said cab drivers with numerous incidents doesn’t inspire much trust.
“I don’t guess it’s a safe form of transportation if they cannot safely drive to where you’re trying to get to go,” she said.
But she added having several violations is not necessarily a reason not to be allowed to drive a cab – the relative safety of a driver is dependent on what the violations are, as not all cases are traffic or criminal violations.
She said there should be a maximum number of traffic citations or criminal offenses any driver has on his or her record.
“They are responsible for other passengers,” she said. “I would say probably 10 to 15 at the max [is OK], but the lower the better.”
Talmage Holton, the day dispatcher for 5 Star Taxi, said the company trusts the ACC screening process to only give permits to acceptable people.
“Athens-Clarke County vets them pretty heavily,” he said. “If they go through their process and they make it through, that’s good enough for us.”
Just under 7 percent of drivers were charged with some form of theft and almost 5 percent were charged with a battery.
And only a small number were charged with a felony — around 5 percent, or 7 people.
Corey Klawunder, a sophomore environmental engineering major from Columbus, said as long as the drivers aren’t hurting passengers, he doesn’t see a problem.
“As long as they’re driving well and they don’t kill anybody, I say power to them,” he said.
Trevor Lisa, a sophomore English major from Charlotte, N.C., said whether or not a driver has numerous acceptable violations is not the point. The issue is complicated, he said, because while violation-free drivers are ideal, cabs must be available.
“[With] all of the college students who go downtown you need a lot of cab drivers,” he said. “I mean obviously you don’t want people on the road who are breaking the law, but at the same time you do need a large volume of cab drivers to sustain the population.”
Though many drivers have frequent violations, not all tickets, charges or even arrest warrants lead to convictions, so in some cases the charge isn’t acknowledged by the government or by the companies who hire.
There are four registered cab companies in Athens — Cab Athens Co., 5 Star Taxi, United Taxi Cab and Golden Taxi – and all have certain ACC rules they and their drivers must abide by in addition to company rules.
Ghamal Mitchell, owner of Cab Athens Co., which employs 14 drivers, said the company has several requirements.
“We look for driving experience if possible, we make sure the drivers have a clean driving record, we do a criminal background check on them and we do a week’s training,” he said.
He said drivers could be fired for treating customers poorly or no longer keeping up with ACC ordinance requirements.
“They would shut us down in 24 hours [if we didn’t follow the ordinance rules],” he said.
According to the list of registered cabbies and court records, only one of Cab Athens Co.’s drivers has over 10 incidents listed and three have no record at all.
Also, drivers for the company comprise one of the seven felony charges, three of the ten thefts and only one of the seven battery charges.
Holtom said drivers for 5 Star must have “a fairly clean driving record.”
“As far as their driving record they could have three points, six points, really the questions is will they be able to be insured by our insurance company,” he said. “It kind of varies.”
5 Star drivers, according to the list and court records, make up eight of the 28 drivers with over 10 violations and five have no record. Additionally, 5 Star drivers have no thefts listed, only one felony and only one battery charge among them.
Traffic or other violations, Holton said, are not the only reason a person might be fired — and he said “people get fired all the time in the taxi business,” though usually not for any criminal reason, but because they are not performing.
“They could have an incident with a student or someone else that we didn’t feel was good customer service,” he said. “There are a variety of things they could do to get fired.”
He said there isn’t a specific number of stops or violations a driver is fired for — it’s at the owner’s discretion or contingent on the ACC ordinance, which is the final rule on working drivers getting and keeping their licenses.
United Taxi, which has the largest number of drivers, also has the largest number of infringements overall with 15 drivers having over 10 incidences, two felony charges, five theft charges and four battery charges.
But United also has the largest number of crystal clear drivers at 13.
Golden Taxi comes in at four drivers with over 10 infringements, three charged with a felony, two with theft, one with battery and three have no record.
Though many cabbie hopefuls have far from a squeaky clean record, to get a license from ACC, they all go through an extensive screening process no matter which company they work for — and not all applicants make the cut.
Laura Lusk, ACCPD permit coordinator, said to get a valid cab license, candidates have to go through an application process, which includes personal information, listing traffic accidents, citations, criminal history and references.
“We give them the actual ordinance, we give them the parking ordinance and we give them the alcohol ordinance,” Lusk said. “We give them these three forms with the application so they understand the rules and regulations.”
Every applicant has a full background investigation by ACC including a check for legal citizenship, verifying criminal history and a seven-year driving history check from the DMV.
Not all criminal pasts are approved, such as “a criminal offense involving the operation of a motor vehicle resulting in the death of any person” or if a person has committed “any felony in the commission of which a motor vehicle is used,” according to the ordinance.
But many violations are excusable if enough time has passed.
For example, any felony, criminal intent to commit, or the commission of any crime involving theft among other things is permissible if five years have passed since the termination of any sentence parole or probation, according to the ordinance.
“Something that people in Athens-Clarke County — the riders and students — don’t understand is it’s a very thorough application process,” Lusk said. “And also that someone may have a criminal history doesn’t deny them the right to have a taxi cab permit.”
Klawunder said he doesn’t mind the time limitation on certain offenses as long as the infraction “wasn’t killing people or harming other people.”
Minor also doesn’t necessarily have a problem with the rules, depending on the driver and the situation.
“I guess it depends on how long they’ve been out and their history and if they have good behavior,” she said. “If they have a history of good behavior since being charged, I guess it’s alright.”