Dallas Cabbies Are Taking Fight Over Natural Gas Taxis at Love Field to the Supreme Court

Thumbnail image for CabsProtest_sign.jpg
Patrick Michels
The scene at City Hall on the morning of January 27, 2011.
It's been more than three years since the City of Dallas first began moving CNG-powered cabs to the front of the line of taxis at Love Field. The protesters have long since vacated the City Hall plaza, and the city's attention has inevitably drifted. But through it all, the cabbies have never lost hope that their gas guzzlers might once again be allowed at the front of the queue, nor have they given up their legal fight, even after having their asses handed to them in federal court.

The Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals dealt their dreams a possibly fatal blow last week when a three-judge panel emphatically denied the appeal filed by the Association of Taxicab Operators, agreeing with the lower court's decision to grant the city's request for summary judgment.

The cabbies' argument always seemed a bit paradoxical. Their claim was that the city's decision to give preference to CNG taxis, which run cleaner than their traditional gas counterparts, was essentially a violation of the Clean Air Act. They homed in on a provision of the law that barred states and cities from adopting their own emissions standards -- this is the same one that California ran into trouble with a while back -- and argued that the front-of-the-line rule amounted to a de facto mandate to buy CNG taxis.

See also
Whether City Hall's Worried or Not, Another Taxi Drivers' Strike Starts Today

Cabbies' Suit Against Dallas and It's Love Field Line-Cutting Rule Tossed Out of Court
Cabbies Say There's a Taxi Monopoly in Dallas, and They're Fighting to Break it Up

The Fifth Circuit summarizes:

The driver-affiants reported the head-of-the-line privilege had led to a rise in the number of CNG cabs servicing Love Field and had slashed business by as much as fifty percent for traditional cabs. By one ATO-member driver's count, forty-six CNG cabs operated at Love Field.5 As a result, they reported, some drivers of gasoline-powered taxicabs worked longer hours to make ends meet and were forced to weigh the expense of purchasing a CNG vehicle against the prospect of giving up their work altogether.

The court poked a number of holes in that argument. First, it points out that the CNG rule applies only to the 200 or so cabs (out of more than 2,000 licensed in the city) that regularly operate at Love Field. Furthermore, the city's not telling cabbies to go out and buy CNG cabs; it's simply providing a modest incentive for doing so. Finally, the Clean Air Act provision they cite is followed almost immediately by one explicitly allowing states and cities to pass regulations restricting pretty much everything except emissions standards.

All in all, the court writes, the impact of the rule hasn't been nearly as significant as the taxi drivers and their attorneys suggest.

Kelly Hollingsworth, an attorney representing the cab companies, thinks the court badly misjudged the impact of the CNG rule. It seems innocuous enough -- so what if a natural gas taxi or two gets to skip to the front of the line? -- but it's effectively put dozens of independent cabbies out of business. There are enough CNG taxis at Love Field that the driver of a traditional taxi can go a whole day without picking up a customer. And even when you count the hotels and convention centers and late-night bar pickups, "there is no place in Dallas for the drivers to replace this business," Hollingsworth says.

On a side note, Hollingworth takes issue with the assertion that the CNG rule was an attempt to make the airport greener. He points out that it made no provisions for other environmentally friendly vehicles like hybrids, which CNG cabs are allowed to pass. "This environmental thing is just a fig leaf," he says.

So, the cabbies are preparing to ask the U.S. Supreme Court to review the case, and he thinks the justices will agree that the city's CNG rule amounts to a clear preemption of federal law by a local government. That's assuming it's among the 5 percent or so of cases the high court decides to review.

Meanwhile, the cabbies' fight against the area's big cab companies, which they say have a monopoly, continues.

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Take a page from the lefty play book and mob the personal residences of those responsible. Intimidation works wonders. Sometimes.


What is the purpose of the lawsuit? The city is not going to pay damages and neither will the big cab companies. The worst the city would do is to reset the clock and put in a grace period. These guys are going to buy a gasoline car to use for one year and be right back where they are now? This action was very political and very legal. The Supreme Court is always leery of stepping into true political processes except to step on lower courts that violate that principle. From its earliest days, the Court has clearly believed that the beauty of America's system is that politicians get to make stupid decisions.


This was a great example of the City of Dallas operating at its Machiavellian worst.  Tom Leppert and Daphne Fain teamed up on this occasion to score a big win at the expense of a bunch of powerless, black owner/operators of cabs.

Leppert was looking to score points with T. Boone Pickens, in anticipation of his (at that time unannounced) Senate bid.  Daphne Fain (John Wiley Price's "associate") was looking to make some extra coin doing what she does best--- marshaling support from South Dallas politicians for things that typically end up screwing their own constituents.  Fain was hired by the large taxicab fleet operators (owned by guys in the Park Cities) to convince the South Dallas council members to sell out the independent black owner operators by:

a)  mandating CNG taxis for use at the airports; and

b)  not allowing any grace period.

The idea was that by mandating an immediate, substantial investment if taxicab owners wanted to service the airport, only the large white-owned fleet operators would have the capital available to comply, and most of the independent black operators would be driven out of business.  (For this very reason, every other city in the U.S. that has adopted CNG requirements for taxicabs has allowed for a grace period.)

To my knowledge, Leppert and Fain succeeded spectacularly, driving a fair number of the black operators out of business, forcing them to go to work as paid employees for the white-owned fleets if they wanted to stay in the same line of work (since they lacked the capital to purchase new vehicles immediately).


@WylieH It has nothing to do with race moron. If you want to get at the front of the line buy a clean fuel burning vehicle. I'm sure they sell those to people of color.


@webslicer @WylieH I read the 5th Circuit opinion when it came out and generally agreed with it.  But that's beside the point that Wylie's making here.  If he's correct about the politics behind this (and I have no reason to doubt that he's correct - I just don't know anything about it), it's reprehensible.  Naked money grab by fat cats, disguised as environmental-friendly regulation, with the complicity of South Dallas's power brokers and at the expense of black small business owners.

everlastingphelps topcommenter

@webslicer @WylieH This is about creating a barrier to entry.  Barriers to entry are always imposed most heavily on poor, immigrant and minority business owners.  You might not like the implications, but its true.


@webslicer @WylieH As I tried to point out, the independent owner-operators (approx. 99% of whom are black), generally lacked the financial resources to purchase a new vehicle immediately.  Only the large, white-owned fleets had sufficient capital to do so.

The issue of race comes into play with respect to Daphne Fain, who works with John Wiley Price ("our man downtown").  In this case, she actively worked to implement a policy which probably put more self-employed black business people out of work than anything done by the City of Dallas in the last 20 years.


@TheCredibleHulk Exactly.  The distinction collapses in this instance.

Add the layer of faux environmentalism and it's a giant clusterfuck. 

TheCredibleHulk topcommenter

@webslicer @crimjunkie @WylieH 

Mindless institutional racism is racism nonetheless.

It's very difficult if not impossible to parse the distinction between class and race in this instance.


@anon @webslicer @WylieH He's been investigated a couple times, and had huge sums of no doubt corrupt money seized by the feds that's an accomplishment.


@webslicer @WylieH It's racist because JWP gets elected by talking about his race, and nothing else. He certainly can't talk about his accomplishments on behalf of the people who elect him. There are none to speak of. 


@WylieH @webslicer So because they are black AND broke, it becomes racism? Sorry. You need to look up the word again, you clearly don't know the definition.

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