Taxi drivers protest proposed rule changes at airport

BILOXI, MS (WLOX) - They parked their cabs to stage a protest on the beach in Biloxi. On Thursday, a group of taxi drivers picketed for about an hour against proposed regulations at the Gulfport-Biloxi International Airport. The drivers claim the changes being considered are unfair and could drive them out of business.

"We need our jobs! We need our jobs," the protesters chanted.

They were vocal and visible as they tried to rally support from passing motorists. More than 20 taxi drivers and owners of taxi companies gathered on the beach at DeBuys Road for a demonstration against the Airport Authority.

"We're very concerned about continuing to make a living. Most of the drivers out here, they do business at the local airport, and the airport is imposing rules that would make it difficult for us to stay in business," said taxi driver Steve Hoyt.

Most drivers voiced concerns about a proposal that would change the way they charge their customers, from metered rates to a flat rate. There would be a different price set for each zone.

"I'll have about a 30 percent reduction in income. It will hurt me very bad. It'll hurt all the drivers bad," said Raymond Hartmann, who owns Mississippi Airport Taxi Service.

The drivers said other proposed changes include raising the insurance requirements for the vehicles and limiting the age of each cab.

"The age of the cab they say has to be ten years or less. Well, that's pretty ridiculous. We have an annual inspection on these cabs that should determine whether the car is fit or not," said Bill Warren, who owns Royal Transit.

"They have rules that would greatly increase the burden to operate," said Hoyt. "The only thing for us is to get support from the public for this. We're out here just hoping that people will see our problem and understand our problem and support us as local businesses that live in this area and spend the money that we make in this area."

The public comment period ends this upcoming Monday. The drivers have sent a petition to the Airport Authority. They said facing higher operating costs and cuts to their income, they can't afford to keep the cabs on the road.

"I think it's just another attempt by the airport to get rid of the small operators. They don't like taxis. They don't like taxi drivers," said Warren.

Airport Executive Director Clay Williams sent WLOX this statement:

"The airport seeks to provide quality customer service for visitors to the Mississippi Gulf Coast. One of the first impressions that a visitor has is their experience with ground transportation. The Airport Authority wants to enhance the standards for taxi services departing from Gulfport-Biloxi International Airport."

Copyright 2014 WLOX. All rights reserved.