Anne Arundel

State extends BWI taxi contract for one year

People flying into Baltimore's airport will continue taking cabs managed by BWI Taxi Management Inc. after the state's Board of Public Works decided Wednesday to defer for one year a decision on whether to award the contract to a different company.

The move ends for now protests by cabdrivers who did not want the state contract to go to a Virginia-based firm. Maryland officials said questions raised during the debate prompted them to hold off on granting a new four-year contract.

Dulles Airport Taxi Inc. would have paid the state about $1 million more for the airport rights. But current cabdrivers at Baltimore-Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport feared that the Virginia company would cut jobs and pay.

"Today, in the parking lot, everybody's shaking hands and congratulating each other," said Olga Dimant, a taxi owner-operator who has driven under the current contractor for 12 years. "Unfortunately, next year we have to start again."

Maryland Treasurer Nancy K. Kopp agreed to defer the contract decision, as did Lt. Gov. Anthony G. Brown, who presided over the meeting of the Board of Public Works because Gov. Martin O'Malley was at the Democratic Governors Association meeting in Chicago.

During the meeting, Comptroller Peter Franchot noted that Dulles Airport Taxi, which bid $7.1 million for the four-year contract, "did not do anything wrong." He said he wants the Maryland Department of Transportation to have one more year to review the contract and find a way to balance state revenues with the needs of the taxi drivers.

That could mean deciding whether an added $1 million in the state's coffers outweighs the potential loss of independent cabdriver jobs. Dulles Airport Taxi had proposed reducing the number of independently owned cabs, from 88 percent of the fleet to 55 percent, according to an application that drivers must complete to be considered for employment with the company.

Also, the Maryland Aviation Administration plans to cut about 70 taxis from the current fleet because demand for taxi service has declined at BWI despite an increase in air passenger traffic, said airport spokesman Jonathan Dean.

"The main concern we had was that no one lose jobs at the airport," said Bashir Ahmad, who has been an airport driver for about 10 years. "We want this transition to be smooth. We want to put it in the contract, 'These are the drivers you're going to work with.'"

Farouq Massoud, who runs Dulles Airport Taxi, said he wants to be able to eliminate drivers with poor safety records.

"My philosophy is simple: I need safe drivers and I need courteous drivers," Massoud said. "Because safety is No. 1, we could weed out — at the maximum — 20 drivers."

Massoud has sought the BWI contract three times in the past and said he plans to reapply again next year.

Saeid Esfarjani, head of BWI Taxi Management, said he had hoped his company would be granted the full four-year contract but was grateful to get it for another year.

"It's a good day for us," he said.

Baltimore Sun reporters Liz F. Kay and Annie Linskey contributed to this article.