Company halts cab service in city Reluctance to go into unsafe areas is reason cited


Carroll County Cab has pulled its taxis out of Westminster rather than go into areas that the operators say are crime-ridden, a move Mayor Kenneth A. Yowan charged was racially motivated.

The company's operators, Bob and Margaret Bell turned in their city permits at police headquarters the night before a scheduled Sept. 20 meeting to discuss complaints from customers who said they had been refused service.

Westminster Police Chief Sam R. Leppo said the permits were accompanied by a letter from owner Don P. Brannan withdrawing Carroll County Cab from city service.

Countywide Taxi & Transportation Service, which has been in business for four months, is the only taxi service with a permit to operate in Westminster.

Mr. and Mrs. Bell acknowledged that none of Carroll County Cab's five drivers had been a crime victim, but they said they would not continue service in areas they believe are dangerous.

"You just don't go looking for trouble," Mrs. Bell said.

Mrs. Bell said criminals use the Metro system to Owings Mills to reach Westminster.

"They come straight out -- people from Woodlawn, Randallstown," she said.

She cited a drug-related shooting 2 1/2 years ago on South Center Street as an example of increasing crime commited by outsiders.

"That man was from Woodlawn," Mrs. Bell said. "What was he doing out here?"

City police said they have received complaints from people who were refused service on Church, Charles, Bishop, Center, Union and Green streets and on Sullivan and Pennsylvania avenues.

Mr. Bell said it had been the company's practice to refuse service around Charles and Center streets at night.

Mr. Yowan said he concluded that the decision was racially motivated because the area where Carroll County Cab refused service is where most of Westminster's blacks live.

"If you give me a list of the areas where 90 percent of the minority population lives and 10 percent of the Caucasian population, I can only come to that conclusion," the mayor said.

One of those who complained was Reba Smith, a Charles Street resident who was left stranded on Main Street when her car broke down about three weeks ago.

Ms. Smith said she called Carroll County Cab and was told she would have to wait an hour for a cab.

She waited, called again and was told it would be an additional 45 minutes.

When she made her final call, Ms. Smith said, "The lady said, 'We don't deliver out to Charles Street because it's too dangerous.' "

Ms. Smith said she told the Carroll County Cab dispatcher, "I'm a little fat woman, and I don't have a gun."

She said she offered to give the driver her purse when she got in the cab to prove she didn't have a weapon, but the dispatcher refused. Ms. Smith then called Countywide Taxi.

She said she again was refused service. So she walked home.

Robert Bizzarri, owner of Countywide Taxi, pledged that his cabs will go "wherever there are paying customers."

Mr. Bizzarri said a cab may have been unavailable when Ms. Smith called.

However, he said, company procedure would be to tell the customer how long the wait would be, not to refuse service.

The Westminster City Council approves applications to operate cabs in the city.

The Police Department issues licenses and enforces rules.

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