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Police Give New Cab Recs to City

IOWA CITY, IA (CBS2/FOX28) - The Iowa City Police Department is trying to take several steps to make taxi cab rides safer for everyone who uses them.

Police presented a series of five recommended regulations to the city council at a work session on Tuesday night, compiled after a number of passengers were sexually assaulted by their cab drivers in the last year.

The police want to see all cab companies in town do the following five things:
-Own all of their vehicles and have all of their drivers be employees, not independent contractors
-Have a 24/7 dispatch line staffed from a central location
-Make each driver carry a city-issued ID
-Require drivers to sign a responsibility sheet, and
-Have all cabs painted with one unique color scheme

But not all businesses are on board.

"They're trying to control our businesses, they're not trying to help us, or help the customers, in fact," said Number 1 Cab owner Rafat Alawneh.

To be fair, Alawneh is really in favor of most of the police recommendations. He has most of them in place already. Number 1 cabs are painted a bright orange color, and Alawneh requires each driver to sign a policy agreement upon hiring. He also owns all his cabs.

His problem comes with the mandated employee regulation. Right now, Alawneh's drivers are all paid as independent contractors, giving Number 1 Cab a percentage of what they make. Being an actual employee would force Alawneh to pay them a wage, something he said is tough in the cab business.

"You're not going to see employees, or a driver, agree on a certain amount of wage," he said, because drivers often make different fares during different times of the year.

But police say, the goal of turning drivers into actual employees is all about accountability, as are the other measures.

"We're approaching this from a public safety standpoint on what we think would be best practices to make sure our citizens are receiving safe cab rides," said Iowa City Police Lt. Doug Hart.

Legally, the move might be necessary. Under IRS regulations, companies can't have any control over independent contractors. That would mean drivers could come and go as they please, and couldn't really be held accountable.

It means a more expensive workforce, because keeping actual employees is more expensive from a tax perspective.

Alawneh is just hoping the city and companies can work together.

"We need those safe drivers, safe employees, and safe town," he said.

The police department said it is concerned about how the increased costs might affect smaller cab companies, but with the number of sexual assaults that have happened, they say safety needs to  come first.
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