Jonathan Bilyk Oct. 28, 2013, 10:21am

A taxi operator has sued the city of Chicago and the company the city selected to serve as the new centralized cab dispatch service for taxis specializing in transporting those in wheelchairs.

The suit claims the new system violates the rights of the operators of these specialized taxis by forcing them into a business relationship with a dispatcher they did not choose, making them to purchase and install equipment that does not work in their cabs, and by compelling them to, in essence, text and drive, despite laws forbidding it.

On Oct. 24, Evgeny Friedman, a New York taxi operator who owns several Chicago taxi medallions,  along with Friedman’s Chicago-based taxi operator Dispatch Taxi Affiliation Inc., and the Greater Chicago Taxi Association, filed a complaint in Chicago’s federal court against the city’s taxi regulatory body and its new dispatch vendor, the Open Doors Organization, and Driven Solutions LLC.

In the complaint, Friedman has asked a federal judge to slap an injunction on the city’s Department of Business and Consumer Protection and Open Doors to prevent them from continuing with the rollout of the new centralized dispatch system for cabs equipped to handle passengers with wheelchairs, also known as wheelchair accessible vehicles (WAVs).

The legal action arises in the wake of a move earlier this year by the city to force all operators of wheelchair accessible cabs to take part in its new centralized dispatch system through Open Doors.

Previously, dispatch services for WAVs were provided by a private for-profit company, Flash Cab.

However, in late 2012, the city of Chicago solicited proposals from vendors to operate what it called its Open Taxis program, a new dispatch service that would be mandatory for all WAV cabs.

In March 2013, the city indicated it would award that project to the non-profit Open Doors.

That same month, Friedman’s company sued the city over the process by which Open Doors was selected as the city’s “exclusive licensee to implement a centralized dispatch service for WAV equipped taxicabs.”

While that case was pending, the Chicago City Council in June enacted an ordinance awarding the license to Open Doors.

A little more than a month later, the case brought by Dispatch Taxi against the city was dismissed by the circuit court with prejudice. Friedman and his company have not appealed that ruling.

In the months since, Friedman asserts in his recently-filed federal lawsuit, the rollout of the new dispatch service has been plagued by both administrative and technical problems.

He contends that the tablet computer-based equipment that Open Doors has required WAV taxi operators to install requires them to communicate with dispatch via text message, which would violate city ordinances and state law against texting while driving.

He claims the new system also could jeopardize the ability of taxi operators to be paid for their services, as the new equipment does not allow them to properly process payments from the subsidized payment cards used by virtually all of the customers of WAV cabs.

Friedman further alleges that some taxi operators have been hesitant to install the new equipment as it makes them a more attractive target for thieves.

In addition to seeking a temporary and preliminary injunction against the city and Open Doors, the suit asks the federal court to award Friedman’s company and others an amount of money that could help them recover what they may have lost as a result of the problems during the rollout of the new Open Doors dispatch system since August 1.

The plaintiffs are represented by Jeffrey H. Bunn and Saskia N. Bryan of Latimer LeVay Fyock LLC in Chicago.

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