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Ross wants transportation officials to regulate taxis

Police oversees Hub cab industry

Councilor Michael P. Ross
Councilor Michael P. Ross

Councilor Michael P. Ross is calling for the Boston Transportation Department to take over the Hackney Carriage Unit, which regulates taxicabs, amid reports of rampant corruption within the industry.

“It just seems to me that this will be an agency that will be easier to watch, easier to manage, if it is in the Transportation Department,” Ross, a mayoral candidate, said Monday.

The Boston Police Department currently oversees taxicabs in the city.

Ross’s comments came two months after a Globe Spotlight Team series reported that the a $1 billion cab industry is rife with corruption. The series also detailed a pattern of haphazard oversight by the Hackney Unit.

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In calling for the change, Ross stressed that he is not criticizing the Police Department, which he said is constantly addressing other public safety matters.

“I think we’ve seen in the last two months the real life-and-death issues that our Boston Police Department works on,” including terrorism and violent crime, Ross said. “These are the types of issues that cause other operational issues to be a distant second place.”

Ross has filed an order for a City Council hearing to look at the possibility of moving the Hackney Unit to the Transportation Department. He said police would still have enforcement duties under the move, as they do with divisions including licensing and animal control. A Boston police spokeswoman declined to comment on Monday.

A spokeswoman for Mayor Thomas M. Menino said in e-mail Monday that his office will reserve comment until a consulting firm the city hired Friday shares “best practices on how hackney should be operated.”

Menino ordered a sweeping review of how the city’s taxis are regulated and managed the day after the Globe series began.

Ross’s proposal also comes after federal agents from the US Internal Revenue Service last week raided the headquarters of Boston Cab, the city’s largest taxi company and the focus of the Spotlight series.

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Ross said that a number of events “including the raid are all, to me, symptoms of an agency that really needs to be regularly overseen by a chain of command that eventually reports to the mayor. And when that chain of command is interrupted, a whole host of matters can occur.”

Another mayoral candidate, City Councilor Rob Consalvo, said in a statement that the Hackney Unit has problems “that need to be fixed.” However, he did not say whether he thought the Transportation Department should take it over.

“We should let the independent audit do its work to identify the root problems, so we can take the right action to fix it,” Consalvo said.

Another candidate, Councilor John R. Connolly, said in a statement that “the most important thing is that, whichever agency regulates taxis, we need to bring the taxi system into the 21st century.”

Bill Walczak, who is also running for mayor, said in a statement that the practice of hiring taxi drivers as independent contractors must end and that an independent group should determine “the right number of medallions for Boston to maximize service and allow drivers and owners [to] earn a fair living.”

Other candidates did not immediately return requests for comment on Ross’s proposal.

Boston police have also responded to the scandal. In April, police placed Mark Cohen, the civilian employee who directs the Hackney Unit, on paid leave from his $110,000-a-year position pending an internal review of a reportedly heated exchange that he had with a subordinate.

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The review is pending.


Travis Andersen can be reached at tandersen@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @TAGlobe.

Correction: Because of a reporting error, an earlier version of this story incorrectly said that funds collected by the Hackney Carriage Unit to aid families of taxi drivers who die on duty were unaccounted for. A spokeswoman for Mayor Thomas M. Menino said late last month that city officials determined that the fund was transferred from the police hackney unit to the city treasurer in 2005, when it contained $45,000, and none of it has been spent.