Portland Jetport rescinds taxi policy after accusations from Somali drivers

Portland taxicab driver Jama Farah addresses reporters Monday in front of City Hall, where attorney Sigmund Schutz of Preti Flaherty announced plans to file a restraining order against the city over a new policy requiring cab owners to renew their licenses in person.
Seth Koenig | BDN
Portland taxicab driver Jama Farah addresses reporters Monday in front of City Hall, where attorney Sigmund Schutz of Preti Flaherty announced plans to file a restraining order against the city over a new policy requiring cab owners to renew their licenses in person. Buy Photo
By BDN Staff, Special to the BDN
Posted Dec. 09, 2011, at 8:25 p.m.

PORTLAND, Maine — The Portland International Jetport is rescinding a new policy requiring taxi licenses be renewed in person after an outcry from Somali cab owners and drivers, according to the city.

The city intends to review the issue in the coming months, Nicole Clegg, director of communications for the city of Portland, said in a press release.

Preti Flaherty attorneys had filed a temporary restraining order in Cumberland County Superior Court this week to block the policy from being implemented.

“We welcome the city’s reversal of its earlier decision preventing Portland taxi drivers from using Power of Attorneys for business licenses and airport access permits. This policy could have prevented my clients from earning a living and supporting their families, if it caused the loss of an otherwise valid permit,” Attorney Sigmund Schutz said Friday.

The change in policy had been announced on Nov. 2.

The city has a moratorium on issuing new nonreserved airport access taxi permits until the number of permit holders drops below 40. According to Schutz, 49 Somali immigrants hold such licenses.

A cap was proposed two years ago by jetport officials, who told the city’s Transportation Committee the airport doesn’t have the space or demand for more than that. Clegg said the city grandfathered permit holders who already had been working at the site.

Schutz had said the new policy “abruptly and illegally” attempted to override the state’s power of attorney law. Many of his clients, Schutz said, return frequently to their native Africa to tend to family needs and have in the past relied on appointed attorneys to file license renewal paperwork for them while they are away.

By imposing a policy that makes it difficult for those immigrants to renew their licenses while refusing to issue new licenses, the attorney said the city was effectively driving the Somali drivers out of the business.

At a meeting with permit holders last May, concerns were raised that the power of attorney designation was being utilized for long-term transfer of Jetport permits to others, according to the city.

“It has become clear that expending resources on potentially costly litigation is not the best method to address the underlying issues stemming from the use of Powers of Attorney. The safety and legal concerns I have regarding possible transfers of these permits through Powers of Attorney may be better addressed by ordinance and policy changes,” said Jetport Director Paul Bradbury, according to a press release from the city of Portland.

The jetport, which is situated mostly in South Portland, is owned by the city of Portland.

BDN reporter Seth Koenig contributed to this report.

http://bangordailynews.com/2011/12/09/news/portland/portland-jetport-rescinds-taxi-policy-after-outcry/ printed on September 23, 2014