Many taxi companies in U.S. aren't required to fix cabs after safety recalls

Safety group calls for new taxi regulation

Last Updated Dec 23, 2019 9:07 AM EST

In many of the nation's biggest cities, there are no laws requiring taxi companies to fix cabs after safety recalls. Now, the Center for Auto Safety is calling for that to change.

The organization has sent letters demanding taxi fleets be required to address all open safety recalls before they can carry passengers, CBS News correspondent Kris Van Cleave reports. 

A review by the center found the more than 35,000 cabs licensed in nine of the 10 U.S. cities with the most taxis are not required by their regulators to get safety recalls fixed before picking up passengers.

"There's no way for a customer to know," said Jason Levine, the center's executive director. 

Only San Francisco requires cabs to be screened for recalls, he said. 

"There are no cosmetic recalls. Recalls are only done for safety reasons, defects or a violation of standards," he said.

In Baltimore, where the Maryland Public Service Commission regulates cabs, Transportation Director Christopher Koermer said the letter from the center has prompted a review of the state's regulations.

"Safety is paramount. As far as looking at the safety recalls, it's complicated. That's why we want to take a deeper dive," he said. 

Pressed on whether the state can just require cab operators to fix vehicles after recalls, Koermer said, "We certainly can, and again, that's why we're very much interested in looking at this."

Last year, CBS affiliate WUSA found as many as 1 in 6 cabs in Washington, D.C. had open safety recalls, including for defective Takata airbags, which have killed at least 24 people worldwide.

"It's not fair for the unsuspecting public," said Cally Houck. Both of Houck's daughters died in a violent crash after a recalled power steering hose broke, starting a fire in their rental car.

"You don't get over it. What you do is you get through it, and it remains with you until you die. It never goes away," she said. 

in 2016, legislation was passed requiring rental car companies to fix open recalls. 

The Transportation Alliance, a trade group representing fleet owners in 250 cities worldwide, said in a statement that "safety is the first order of business" and noted that its members "will of course be bound to follow whatever regulations are in place." 

The group believes the same regulations should apply to ride-hailing services like Uber and Lyft. 

Accidents caused by unrepaired safety defects are not directly tracked so it's not possible to know how many injuries or deaths are even related to them. The Center for Auto Safety has called on companies like Uber and Lyft to require drivers to also fix open safety recalls before taking passengers, but so far that hasn't happened.

CBS News reached out to the cities covered in this story and received the following responses:

Chicago:

The City of Chicago places an affirmative duty on public vehicle licensees (including Transportation Network Providers like Uber, Lyft and Via and taxicab companies) to make sure vehicles are safe for public passenger service. There is nothing of higher importance to the City than consumer safety, and BACP [Department of Business Affairs and Consumer Protection] prioritizes safety with regular, thorough taxicab inspections, ongoing field enforcement and dissemination of information about safety recalls to public vehicle licensees.

New York:

We must defer to federal regulators and the carmakers on the specifics of how recall campaigns are conducted, but we do monitor new recalls and have informed vehicle owners when one may impact their vehicle. We also do mailings to educate owners about how to comply with a recall, encouraging them to reach out to their dealerships. As the recall process itself improves over time, so too will our ability to help our licensees manage them more efficiently.

Houston:

It is the vehicle or business owner's responsibility to monitor and respond to recalls. The city does require an annual inspection for taxis and other vehicles-for-hire.

Los Angeles:

The Los Angeles Department of Transportation enforces adopted regulations to ensure that vehicles are safe and that service levels are professional. This includes confirming that drivers are licensed, drug tested and background checked, vehicles are insured, and performing annual safety inspections on vehicles. Because the taxi model is based on private vehicular ownership, manufacturers would notify dealerships, mechanics, and the registered owner should there be a recall and not the local transportation agency. However, if LADOT learns of a recall that affects safety, we do have authority to remove the vehicle from service.

Boston:

According to our Hackney Unit there are a total of 3197 active licenses in Boston. While the Boston Police Department is responsible for monitoring whether a motor vehicle has met the inspection requirements established by the Registrar of Motor Vehicles for issuance of a certificate, the Hackney Unit does not track recalls specifically for each vehicle.

Detroit:

The Limousine, Taxicab, and Transportation Network Company Act, effective 3/21/17, permits LARA [the Michigan Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs] to register and regulate transportation network companies ("TNCs" e.g., Uber and Lyft) and transferred the authority to register and regulate limousines with a seating capacity of eight or fewer passengers from the Department of Transportation to LARA. It also transferred the authority to register and regulate taxicabs from local governmental units to LARA. The Act contains an exception for airports, which may enact ordinances and regulations governing TNCs, limos, and taxicabs while they are on airport property. ... 

The Act also permits LARA to conduct two audits per year of a TNC's, limo carrier's, or a taxicab carrier's records, including their annual vehicle safety inspection records only for vehicles that are five years or older. ... LARA may audit vehicle safety inspection records at any time.

LARA's Corporations, Securities & Commercial Licensing Bureau conducts routine, periodic audits of the records of each registered transportation company, unless a statement of complaint is filed with LARA that prompts a complaint-related audit. ...

The Act does not address consumer product recalls of all vehicles being used by TNC drivers, limousine carriers, or taxicab carriers, regardless of the vehicle's age.

Officials in Atlanta and Washington, D.C. did not respond to repeated requests for comment.