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PUC: Taxi service restriction is illegal

Avoiding sections of W-B due to robberies may bring fines, spokeswoman says.

Burgit

A city cab company owner’s announcement he will restrict service in Wilkes-Barre after three drivers were robbed at gunpoint is an act that’s in violation of state law, a state Public Utility Commission spokesman said Wednesday.

PUC spokeswoman Denise McCracken added Burgit City Taxi could be fined for refusing fares.

Taxi company owner Robbie Burgit said Tuesday that as a result of the robberies, he decided to eliminate service to certain sections of Wilkes-Barre. He said pickups and drop-offs at Sherman Hills Apartments, South Hancock Street, South Welles Street and a handful of other areas will have either reduced or restricted service or no service at all.

“Certain trouble spots will be avoided, especially at night,” Burgit said Tuesday while standing outside his business on South Main Street, a few hours after one of his drivers was struck in the face with a pistol. “Sorry to say, that’s the way it has to go. South Hancock, South Welles streets, the bad areas, no fares are getting picked up or dropped off there.”

But McCracken said Burgit cannot make such a change without approval from the PUC. And such permission would almost certainly be denied, she said.

“To discontinue service to those areas, the owner would have to file an amendment to discontinue that territory stating that he only serves a certain area. As part of this process, he would be susceptible to protests from the public and hearings would have to be held,” McCracken said.

She said a territory would typically be an entire municipality, not just a few streets or an entire neighborhood.

She said Burgit’s license is to serve Wilkes-Barre “and within five air miles of the limits thereof.”

Multiple messages left with Burgit on Wednesday were not returned.

Reasons for refusal

McCracken said the PUC only allows for two reasons for a cab driver to not accept a fare. One would be if the customer is disorderly, and the other is if the driver is informed the nature of the ride is to participate in an illegal activity.

She said just living in a bad neighborhood is not an acceptable reason, and if someone were to call the PUC and complain about being turned away for service, the PUC would launch an investigation and the cab company would face a fine of up to $500 per incident.

McCracken suggested cab companies faced with robberies or other safety issues look into investing in driver safety training, installing cameras or protective shields between the front and rear seats.

At least one other area cab company is considering security upgrades for its fleet after three armed robberies of Burgit City Taxi cab drivers this week.

Tucker Day, general manager of McCarthy Flowered Cabs in Scranton, said he’s “absolutely” keeping an eye on what’s been happening with fellow cab company Burgit.

“Sure, we’re concerned with what’s going on,” said Day.

Measures considered

He said his drivers have not had to deal with such incidents, but as a result of what’s gone on in Wilkes-Barre this week, he’s looking at perhaps installing safety glass between the front and rear seats and other measures to protect drivers.

Safety glass may or may not have helped three Burgit City Taxi drivers this week.

One of Burgit’s drivers was robbed and pistol-whipped around 9:30 a.m. Tuesday on Arch Street, just hours after a driver was robbed Monday night near 90 S. Hancock St. Another driver was robbed Sunday morning near 249 S. Welles St.

According to Wilkes-Barre police reports on the three incidents:

• Travis Matthews, 24, a 15-year-old male and a 13-year-old male allegedly got into a Burgit taxi in the area of Garfield and Sambourne streets just before 9:30 a.m. Tuesday, asking to be dropped off on Arch Street. When the taxi driver reached the destination, he was struck in the face with a pistol and robbed of his cell phone.

• A Burgit driver was robbed in the area of 90 S. Hancock St. just after 11 p.m. Monday when a man approached his cab saying he was waiting for a second person.

The driver claimed a second man wearing a black ski mask with an open face entered his cab armed with a black handgun and demanded money, police said.

Police said the two men got away with an undisclosed amount of cash.

• On Sunday, just before 3 a.m., a Burgit driver told police he was robbed by three men in the area of 249 S. Welles St.

Day said his company has not considered restricting fares in some neighborhoods in its service areas in Lackawanna County and added that he wasn’t sure it was even allowed.

“We don’t think it’s necessary at this point,” Day said. McCarthy Flowered Cabs is licensed by the state Public Utility Commission to make pickups throughout Lackawanna County but can bring fares into Luzerne County.

Spokeswoman Denise McCracken said the PUC only allows for two reasons for a cab driver to not accept a fare. One would be if the customer is disorderly, and the other is if the driver is informed the nature of the ride is to participate in an illegal activity.

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