By Chuck Strouse
By Scott Fishman
By Terrence McCoy
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By Ciara LaVelle, Kat Bein, Carolina Del Busto, and Liz Tracy
By Pepe Billete
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For four years, county enforcers have ticketed cabbies whose vehicles don't have a SunPass toll transponder, citing it as a violation of code. The only problem with that, say cabbies, is no such law exists here. "The county, when it comes to cab drivers, doesn't care about rules and regulations," declares cabbie Raymond François. "That's because most cab drivers are immigrants, they don't speak good English, and they don't have political power."
Well, now the local beaded-seat-cover contingent has found its very own Rosa Parks: 47-year-old driver William Vilna, who is determined to fight a $50 ticket in court. "This issue isn't rocket science," says Vilna's lawyer, Jose Javier Rodriguez. "It comes down to common sense and English. If you're going to have code enforcement, you need a corresponding code."
In September 2005, county commissioners passed a resolution directing officials to "establish a date by which all taxicab chauffeurs shall be required to obtain and use a SunPass," but nothing was ever written into law, Rodriguez says. Instead of citing a specific code number, he says, enforcers have been scrawling "failure to meet SunPass requirements" on tickets. Since the toll system isn't especially taxi-compatible — most cabbies switch vehicles, but SunPass requires registration to one license plate — already cash-strapped drivers have racked up hundreds of dollars in fines.
How bad has it gotten? The ticketing has resulted in taxi drivers succumbing to "foreclosures, homelessness, breaking up of families, being forced to work 18 hours a day, and sleeping in their cabs," according to perhaps hyperbolic literature that drivers handed out in front of the county commission chambers downtown last week.
In steps Vilna, who threw down the gauntlet after receiving a ticket in November; he had a SunPass transponder, but the battery was dead. In a February hearing, he'll argue that every ticket issued to a taxi driver for not having SunPass has been a violation of law. "This matter concerns much more than a simple $50 citation," Vilna declared in his appeal. "It concerns an attempt by Miami-Dade County to bypass the legislative process."