An ongoing rivalry between cab companies, Long Beach Taxi and Beech Street Taxi, is coming to a head.
According to Beech Street Taxi owner Thomas Cipolla, Long Beach Taxi’s ability to saturate the Long Island Rail Road station on Park Avenue takes away a third of his business. Cipolla is pleading with City Hall to help get what he calls a fair chance to grow his business.
Cipolla said the rivalry between him and Long Beach Taxi owner John Marsala started once Cipolla opened for business in June 2008 and the two companies jockeyed for positions at the taxi stand on the west side of the train station. Cipolla said that it became such a contentious issue that then City Manager Charles Theofan and his assistant, the late Garret Rooney, called both owners to City Hall and after a discussion instructed Long Beach Taxi to stay on the east side of the station, where they rent space and normally park their fleet of cars. No contract or any kind of document was signed, Cipolla conceded.
“For four years this has worked,” he said.
But both Marsala and his attorney and Long Beach Democratic Party Chairman Michael Zapson stated that this meeting never happened. Zapson said the west side of the station is public property that is used as a taxi stand.
City Councilman John McLaughlin, who did not attend the meeting in 2008, recalled that both owners made this agreement with Theofan. “It was done as kind of handshake to try to keep the peace,” said McLaughlin, who added that Cipolla agreed not to park at the taxi stand in front of Marsala’s auto business, West End Auto, at 927 W. Beech St. (Beech Taxi is at 1046 W. Beech). “I think it was equitable. Each party gave up a little bit.”
Meanwhile, Cipolla said that when he woke up on Feb. 17, his drivers had left multiple messages on his phone stating that Long Beach Taxi cabs were monopolizing the west side of the station where Beech Street Taxi usually parks, all the while keeping some cars on the west side.
City of Long Beach bus dispatcher, Bill Marks, confirmed the incident last Friday, saying that buses were unable to get through to the adjacent bus depot. “I had problems Friday when they first brought the cabs to the other side,” he said.
Cipolla suspects that because there is a new City Council and administration, that no one will remember the agreement he and Marsala had with the prior administration. He took the issue to the council members, both at their Long Beach Listens forum at the West End Community Center on Feb. 20, and at the following day’s council meeting at City Hall. “I have been in touch with Legislator Denise Ford,” he continued. “She is the only one who called me back, set up a meeting with me and would like to help.
Gordon Tepper, a spokesman for the city, said the city declined to comment.
Zapson, who said he has represented Marsala for the past four to five years, recalled that a lawsuit Long Beach Taxi has against the city started around that time, after the city took away 22 of Long Beach Taxi’s 47 medallions, of which his client purchased for more than $1 million. Zapson said eight medallions were given to Cipolla. The case is pending a decision in the Supreme Court in Mineola.
Zapson alleged that Cipolla is not allowed to own medallions because he was convicted of a felony for selling them. “They (Beech Street Taxi) are in receivership because they couldn’t pay their bills,” he said. “I think he’s grasping at straws.”
But Cipolla denies that his company was selling medallions. “We were taking in a partner,” he said, noting that his bills are paid. “There is no felony conviction.” He explained that last year he was in negotiations to take on a partner to expand his business with a limousine service, but he didn’t realize he couldn’t do so when in receivership due to the lawsuit.
“You’re not allowed to sell medallions, it doesn’t work that way,” he said. “They are licensed by the city. What does that have to do with anything going on today?”
When asked if, as chairman of the Democratic Committee in Long Beach, he believes there is a conflict of interest for represents Marsala against the city, Zapson dismissed the charge because he said he took the case prior to his chairmanship: “No, this has been going on for four years.”
* This story was updated at 12:17 p.m. on 2/29/12.