Faced with major questions and a dispute among taxi drivers at Baltimore-Washington International Airport, the state Board of Public Works decided yesterday to delay awarding a lucrative contract to manage the fleet of taxis that serves airport passengers.
"At this point, we just have one too many questions," Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. said during the meeting in Annapolis.
The governor, Comptroller William Donald Schaefer and Treasurer Nancy K. Kopp, who make up the board, will vote Sept. 17 on whether to follow the recommendation of the Maryland Aviation Administration and award the contract to BWI Taxi Management Inc. of Linthicum.
BWI Taxi Management would pay the state agency at least $9.15 million over five years for the airport's taxi franchise. The company has run the taxi fleet there since 1997.
Bishop L. Robinson Jr., an attorney representing BWI Taxi Management, said he was disappointed that the board deferred its vote.
Silver Cab of P.G. Inc. of Lanham, which bid against BWI Taxi Management, and some of the airport taxi drivers opposed the state aviation administration's recommendation.
The delay "just points out the fact that there are a whole lot of issues that were not addressed," said Damien Alexander, a lawyer with Smith Cooper LLP in Washington who represents Silver Cab and the opposing drivers. "It shouldn't be a rubber stamp on the existing taxi company."
Airport officials informed the board that all of the companies that bid on the contract were qualified but that BWI Taxi Management made the best financial offer. The pending award has divided the 300 taxi drivers who work at the airport in Linthicum.
Night-shift drivers claim that BWI Taxi Management offered them unjust hours and heavy taxi stand fees that made it difficult for them to earn a living. Other drivers, mostly on the day shift, defended the company and said they were able to work their way up to better, more profitable routes.
In a $10 million lawsuit filed in March in Anne Arundel County Circuit Court against the taxi company, a dozen drivers accused the company of infringing on their earning potential and violating agreements. They also alleged that driver Shuiab Leigh was fired to silence him as an emerging spokesman for some of his colleagues.
Attorneys for the taxi company filed a motion to dismiss the case.
Alexander argued before the board yesterday that the aviation administration should examine hiring and management practices before choosing a taxi contractor, rather than confining itself to examining the finances.
"I urge this board to see more than just dollar signs," he said.