By Alex Bridges
A former Front Royal taxi driver refutes claims that he took a list of clients from one employer to help a competitor.
A lawsuit filed last month in Warren County Circuit Court accuses Timothy Cooke and other employees of A1 Taxi LLC of stealing information from Yellow Cab of the Shenandoah, including a secret list of clients served by the company and customer invoices.
The complaint filed by Manassas attorney David Silek, on behalf of Yellow Cab owner Anthony Elar Jr., identifies Cooke and former drivers Robert Passamore, Charles Forbus and Carl Brown III as defendants, along with A1 Taxi. Cooke left Yellow Cab on April 2. The other defendants left Yellow Cab in January and in April.
"They have no secret list of clients or whatever," Cooke said. "The client list is more or less the phone book. The only list that they got of clients are the people that call in on the phone."
Cooke noted that he believed Yellow Cab may keep information on clients who pay for service by credit card.
"It wouldn't be nothing to A1 because A1 is strictly cash," Cooke said.
Cooke refuted the allegations in the suit he says accuses him of stealing.
"Anyone in the town of Front Royal you can call up and ask how much the fair is for Yellow Cab and they could tell you," Cooke said. "It's not nothing that's confidential."
The complaint accuses Cooke and the other drivers of breaking contracts they signed with Yellow Cab. The complaint has asked the judge to order the individual defendants to not be allowed to work for any other taxi company for a year.
Cooke acknowledged that he signed a contract with Yellow Cab at a time when the company had no competition. Cooke noted that the agreement he signed identifies him as an independent contractor.
"You're an independent contractor, you can work for whoever you want to," Cooke said.
Cooke also refutes claims made by Yellow Cab owner Anthony Elar Jr. that his company performs random drug tests on its drivers.
"I was never drug tested, never in my life, ever since I've been there, nor have I ever seen anybody else drug tested," Cooke said.
Cooke said he left Yellow Cab after suffering a stroke and a mild heart attack while working for the company.
"It's too much stress," Cooke said. "You're not making any money. You have to pay them so much per mile that you put on that car and the dispatchers they can run you from one side of town to the other and put all the miles on the car that they want to."
Cooke noted that drivers spend their own money on gasoline for the vehicles.
"In my opinion it's a transparent thing to try to eliminate the competition in Front Royal," Cooke said.
Cooke said he left Yellow Cab once before and went to work for Elwood's Cab Company. Cooke went back to Yellow Cab but left in April, according to the lawsuit. Cooke then went to work for A1.
However, after suffering from medical issues, Cooke left A1 about three weeks ago. Cooke said he has since enrolled in classes at Lord Fairfax Community College.
"It's just the stress of all these allegations," Cooke said. "I'm tired of my name being slandered, put through mud all in the newspaper.
"It's not anything against A1," Cooke added. "I'm probably going to go back to work with them at some point after all this stuff is finally dismissed from court."
Documents filed in the lawsuit indicate that Yellow Cab had cease-and-desist letters sent to the defendants. Cooke claims he never received the letter.
Unrelated to the court case, Town Council and staff are considering a new set of rules that would regulate taxi companies in Front Royal. Yellow Cab owner Elar began to push for regulations aimed at restricting certain convicted felons from driving cabs, to keep vehicles maintained and working properly and safely.
Cooke claims the proposed regulations under consideration by town leaders and pushed by Yellow Cab are that cab company's reaction to increased competition in Front Royal.
"A1 has six cabs and that's too much competition for them and they're doing everything they can to eliminate them," Cooke said. "He's losing a lot of business to the competition, and competition is fair play."
Yellow Cab also has accused Cooke and the other defendants of taking information on pricing from their former employer to A1. Cooke admitted that A1 has lower prices.
"We charge a heck of a lot less," Cooke said. "There's a lot of people that's switching over. They can go from point A to point B for almost half the price. They're gonna choose, the way the economy is, they're gonna save money. They're not worried about who's driving the cab, so long as they get there safe."
The proposed regulations also would require companies to maintain their vehicles. Cooke said certified inspectors check A1's taxis.
Cooke and other cab drivers agree on a requirement that would keep registered sex offenders from operating taxis. Companies may do that anyway, Cooke said.
"Nobody in their right mind would hire somebody like that for transporting the public," Cooke said.
The push to restrict convicted felons from driving taxis would affect some current cab operators. Cooke admitted he has a felony conviction on his record from 13 years ago.
"Since I did that I've straightened my life up," Cooke said. "I've never done anything wrong since, aside from a speeding ticket or something. I'm married. I've got a family. I tread on the right side of the street."
Contact staff writer Alex Bridges at 540-465-5137 ext. 125, or firstname.lastname@example.org