Federal lawsuit filed against city of Milw. after taxicab cap raised

MILWAUKEE (WITI) -- After the city of Milwaukee agrees to increase the amount of taxicab permits available in the city by 100 following a lawsuit - the city is sued again! This time, the Wisconsin Association of Taxicab Owners is suing.

For more than 50 years, Benny Lewis has been behind the wheel of a Milwaukee taxicab.

"I really started driving in 1963. This cab raised a whole family. Well, not this cab. I've been through about 10 cars," Lewis told FOX6 News.

Lewis is the owner of one of Milwaukee's 320 taxicab licenses. It's a prized piece of paper Lewis is finally ready to sell.

"That's what I want to use for retirement.  That's coming up next year," Lewis said.

Taxicab licenses sell for between $100,000 and $150,000 -- a value that is now at risk.

The city of Milwaukee allows for taxicab licenses to be sold by taxicab drivers to other individuals, but taxicab drivers looking to do so must complete an application, and pay a fee that is around $250.

Last month, it was announced that the city of Milwaukee is raising the taxicab cap by 100 licenses.

In May of 2013, a Milwaukee County Circuit Court judge issued an injunction preventing Milwaukee officials from denying taxicab permits to qualified drivers. This, after the Institute for Justice filed suit against the city in 2011 on behalf of three local taxicab drivers.

Legislation passed in November 2013 established the new system for taxi licensing, which includes more stringent requirements for taxi service quality and increases the limit on the number of cab licenses from 320 to 420.

The city of Milwaukee began taking “intent to apply” forms on February 3rd. If more than 100 “Intent to Apply” forms are received by the February 28, 2014 deadline, a lottery drawing will be held to determine which applicants will be allowed to proceed in the process.

Lewis fears the city's move to increase the cap will kill his business, and his long-time retirement plan.

"I think (my taxicab license) would be worthless.  Maybe $20,000 to $25,000 at the most. It doesn't make any sense," Lewis said.

Red Christensen is with the Wisconsin Association of Taxicab Owners, and says raising the license cap is irresponsible. His group is now taking action.

A 14-page federal lawsuit filed on Wednesday, February 19th is demanding the city's move to increase the amount of taxicab licenses available, be halted.

25 of the city's taxicab owners, who own two-thirds of the licenses say raising the cap is unconstitutional because it devalues their business.

The group's lawsuit is not asking for monetary damages.

"All we're asking for is the city of Milwaukee to allow us to do a study with an independent consulting (agency) to come in and tell us if we really need 100 cabs," Christensen said.

The taxicab owners say they will even pay for the study.

Ismail Harun, who represents taxicab drivers say there have already been piles of research presented, and a court has ruled the city should lift the cap altogether.

"They're just trying to find loopholes, but for us -- this is our time to really move forward," Harun said.

Drivers who do not own licenses say they simply want the opportunity those like Lewis have had.

"All we want to do as drivers is to own our own cabs and make a living and support our families. That's really what it comes down to," Harun said.

The City Clerk tells FOX6 News there are over 500 applications for the 100 available new taxicab permits -- indicating there will be a lottery.

Taxicab drivers say this shows there is a demand, and those who currently own taxicab permits say many of those interested in permits in Milwaukee are from out-of-state drivers, who work in cities without caps where there isn't enough business.

Right now, the only thing certain, is that this issue will be headed back to court.

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