Some would call it a classic case of supply and demand.
I would call it gouging.
Actually, “gouging” seems to be the best-case scenario.
David Wiggins views it as a combination of gouging and theft by deception.
The issue arose because the young Cuyahoga Falls resident did the right thing on New Year’s Eve: He refrained from drinking and driving.
Wiggins, who graduated from Kent State in December with a degree in aeronautics, wanted to pull the old gang together for one last New Year’s Eve blowout before they all headed off on their individual career paths.
So he and five other recent KSU grads arranged to spend the night at the Days Inn at Interstate 76 and state Route 43, and catch a cab to and from downtown Kent, a distance of 3.2 miles.
For obvious reasons, New Year’s Eve is prime time for cab companies. The first four companies Wiggins contacted were booked. He finally hooked up with A-1 Cab.
Wiggins says that when he asked how much it would cost to take his group to downtown Kent, he was told $10.
So they climbed into the cab company’s lone vehicle, a 15-passenger Ford van, for the short, straight jaunt up Route 43.
When the van pulled up to the Water Street Tavern, they were told the tab would be $60 — $10 apiece.
That would be $60 for a 3.2-mile cab ride.
That’s $18.75 per mile.
That’s $1 every time the van traveled the length of a football field.
That’s about $15 more than it would cost you to take a taxi from LaGuardia Airport to midtown Manhattan — during rush hour.
Wiggins believed he purposely was misled, so he phoned his father, a retired Cuyahoga Falls cop, for advice.
Mark Wiggins told his son to hang up and call Kent police. David figured it would probably take half an hour for a cruiser to arrive, and then additional time would be required to take a report, and by then New Year’s Eve would be New Year’s Day. So he grudgingly paid the $60.
Rather than shell out another $60 for the return trip, David asked his father to pick them up at 1:30 a.m. Given the circumstances, Mark was happy to oblige. But he certainly isn’t happy with the cab company.
He believes these kinds of stunts sour the public on taxi service and increase the temptation to drink and drive.
“I was a cop for 35 years,” he says. “My wife is a 911 dispatcher. This is close to our hearts, because they want people to be safe, and we’re not allowing them to.”
Because the cab ride started just outside the city limits, in Brimfield Township, the five pages of taxi regulations in Kent’s codified ordinances did not come into play. If they had, failing to post the rate in the van would have been a violation.
A-1 Cab would have had an another problem inside of Kent: Its license to operate there expired in September.
As a township, unlike a city, Brimfield is not permitted to regulate cab companies. But police Chief David Oliver is familiar with A-1 Cab and its owner, Akron resident Ronald Cassie.
That’s because two of Oliver’s officers arrested Cassie on Nov. 2 after a late-night dispute over — you guessed it — the amount of a fare.
That was the night Cassie told a solo female passenger he would take her to her destination for “$15, more or less.” When the cab dropped her off, he demanded $39.
She adamantly refused to pay. They argued, and he called police. When the officers arrived, Cassie admitted telling the woman the fare would be “$15, more or less.” So they collected $15 from her and gave it to him.
While Cassie continued to argue the police were mishandling the situation, one of the officers ran his license and discovered he was driving under suspension and did not have the proper insurance. He was arrested, and his van was towed.
“I’ve talked to him, and he’s a personable guy,” Oliver says of Cassie, “but I think at the minimum it is troubling that this is the second time we’ve had a dispute where that [company] is concerned. ...
“It comes down to an honesty and character problem, in my opinion. If you’re going to run a business, run a business, and be fair and have people be able to trust you.”
Cassie also has rubbed people the wrong way in Kent.
Reports city Safety Director Bill Lillich, “There have been occasional issues with the company, including driving violations, business disputes and general offense.”
When contacted Friday, Cassie said he couldn’t remember a trip from the Days Inn to downtown Kent on New Year’s Eve and couldn’t remember any argument about any fare. He said he would have to look at his records.
By Monday, his memory was crystal clear. He said the customers in question were given the price in advance and never complained. In fact, he said, they paid him as soon as they got in the van — and also threw in a $10 tip.
They tipped you before they even got to their destination?
He said if they had been upset with the fare, they wouldn’t have paid him $60 more to take them home.
Wait; you’re saying you drove them home?
When asked how two stories could be so incredibly different, he replied, “because they’re drunks. That’s what drunks do.”
Wiggins says they didn’t even start drinking until they arrived downtown.
‘Everyone does it’
At Cassie’s usual rate — $3 per person and $2.50 a mile — the total would have been $26. When told $60 for 3 miles sounds like gouging, Cassie replied, “It was New Year’s Eve!”
He said every cab company jacks up its rate that night.
Porter’s Taxi, one of three cab companies licensed in Kent, kept its rate exactly the same — $3 per person anywhere in the city, with an $8 minimum. Co-owner Cody Sizemore says he doesn’t boost rates on special occasions because he doesn’t want to alienate customers.
“If customers have a bad time, if we’re late, if the car’s not clean, they’re not gonna come back,” he says.
Cassie claims he called around to all of the other cab companies on New Year’s Eve and all of them were higher than their norm.
So Sizemore is lying?
Early in the conversation, Cassie repeatedly said he would refund the $60 fare to the Kent State group “if that would make them happy.” Toward the end of the conversation, he repeatedly said he would refund them $30.
Apparently, at A-1 Cab, numbers tend to be in flux.
Bob Dyer can be reached at 330-996-3580 or firstname.lastname@example.org.