The state Board of Public Works yesterday awarded a lucrative contract to manage the taxis at Baltimore-Washington International Airport to the incumbent company, despite some drivers' allegations of unfair treatment.
The board, comprising Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., Comptroller William Donald Schaefer and Treasurer Nancy K. Kopp, unanimously backed the recommendation of the Maryland Aviation Administration in selecting BWI Taxi Management Inc. of Linthicum.
The contract win comes after a controversy that pitted drivers against one another. Nightshift drivers for BWI Taxi Management claimed that the company assigned them unjust hours and imposed stiff 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.
"We believe the truth finally talked, and we will do our best to serve the public and all our drivers," said Saeid Esfarjani, who owns BWI Taxi Management.
BWI Taxi Management, which has run the fleet at the airport since 1997, will pay the state aviation administration at least $9.15 million over five years for the airport's taxi franchise.
In a $10 million lawsuit filed in March in Anne Arundel County Circuit Court, 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 spokesman for some of his colleagues.
Attorneys for the taxi company filed a motion to dismiss the case. A hearing on that motion is scheduled for Wednesday.
Silver Cab of P.G. Inc. of Lanham, one of two companies to bid against BWI Taxi Management, also opposed the state aviation administration's recommendation to hire BWI Taxi Management.
Ehrlich said the board was satisfied with the process that the administration followed in awarding the contract. The board requested that the administration take the drivers' grievances into consideration.
Leigh, who continues to serve as a spokesman for some of the drivers even though he no longer works for BWI Taxi Management, told the board that the taxi company has divided the drivers, intimidating many of them from speaking out. To earn enough money to pay the state $9.15 million as promised in the new contract, the company will have to raise the drivers' stand fees, Leigh said.
"Our future employment is in your own hands," Leigh told the board members before their decision.
Bishop L. Robinson Jr., an attorney representing BWI Taxi Management, acknowledged to the board that the company had internal problems but said that management handles those problems.
"We have a grievance that has gone awry," Robinson said. "It has converted itself from a grievance to a protest to a lawsuit."
In comments after the meeting, Robinson said drivers who spoke out against the company did not have to worry about retaliation.