Burlington taxi owner blames Obamacare, regs for closing


DRIVEN OUT OF BUSINESS: Benways Transportation owner Wanda Robar says health care costs and other regulations led the company to a dead end.

By Bruce Parker | Vermont Watchdog

A company with a 30-year history as Burlington’s largest taxi provider will close its doors for good July 4 weekend. The owner said Obamacare and the high cost of doing business in Vermont contributed to the closing.

“It’s very expensive all the way around,” Wanda Robar, owner of Benways Taxi, told Vermont Watchdog regarding the cost of doing business in Vermont.

“Don’t forget we have Obamacare coming, too. And for my staff, I knew it wasn’t possible. They didn’t make enough money to really pay what the Vermont health care exchange items are going to cost — and do cost right now.”

Robar, who took the reins of the company after her late husband, Paul Robar, died in 2011, said neither the family-owned business nor her workers could afford the costs associated with health care.

“I knew that they couldn’t get the subsidies that they could in this year for (the years) coming up. And I knew there was no way I could facilitate that either and make it go over,” she said.

TAXI DRIVER: Residents of Burlington will no longer catch a ride in the iconic Yellow Cab taxis operated by Benways’ famously friendly cabbies.

The decision to close marks an end to a transportation service that holds 34 of the 225 taxi licenses issued by Burlington. Benways, which operates Yellow Cab, Airport Taxi, Apollo Limousine service and Morf Transit, will lay off approximately 70 employees.

According to a letter Robar provided to the media, Benways sought buyers among larger transportation firms that could absorb the higher insurance costs. Robar said no firm wanted to assume the risks.

Asked if other companies similarly would be pressured to fold, Robar said, “You’re going to have more. I went because I know what’s to come.”

When asked why competing taxi companies hadn’t yet closed, she said, “Well, they weren’t as big…as they get bigger, and they get into a different level, they too will feel the effects of what happens the larger you become.”

Prior to his death in 2011, Paul Robar — affectionately known to Burlingtonians as “The Cab King” — threatened to take Benways out of Burlington as the City Council moved to pass new regulations. As council members pushed for mandatory taximeters to replace the city’s long-standing zone pricing system, Robar threatened to take “every legal action known to mankind to fight them.”

The City Council passed the new cabbie regulations July 11, 2011. Robar died five weeks later of a brain aneurysm.

Asked if Burlington regulations contributed to the closing of Benways, Wanda Robar said, “It’s not as if they just pick on me. It’s everybody.”

“The guy next door, he has different regs. But he pays, too.”

The announcement to close the company drew employees together one last time. When Robar informed employees late Monday, she asked everyone to stick with her through the July 4 holiday weekend.

“I asked them in the room to please show me a show of hands, and it was unanimous that they would finish this with me.”

Robar offered gratitude to her employees, approximately 98 percent of whom were also present at her husband’s funeral three years ago.

“I’m grateful for the staff. I’m honored that they hung tough with me. We did a good job. We’re just at the end of the rainbow.”

Speaking in honor of her late husband, she said, “The era is over. He’s gone. He’s not coming back. We will never be the Cab King he was.”

Contact Bruce Parker at bparker@watchdog.org