By KEVIN KRAUSE / The Dallas Morning News
Riding in a taxicab can be a harrowing experience during rush hour in the big city.

But when arriving in Dallas County by plane, there’s another reason for pause when hailing a cab.

Eighty-six percent of the 2,200 taxicabs operating at Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport have improperly issued vehicle inspection stickers, according to an analysis by the North Central Texas Council of Governments. That means the vehicles may not have undergone safety checks required to ensure that brakes and other equipment are working properly.

County officials don’t want tourists and business travelers riding in those cabs after stepping off an airplane.

County Judge Jim Foster said cab companies also will not be allowed to profit from bogus inspections at the expense of the region’s air quality. His office sent letters to the cab companies on Monday, sharing the alarming statistics with them and asking for their cooperation.

“I knew it would be widespread, but I’m shocked it’s so pervasive,” Mr. Foster said. “We intend to clean up the air. If anyone thinks they can circumvent the system, they are taking a big risk.”

A significant majority of taxicabs — nearly 60 percent — were inspected in five minutes or less, meaning they essentially weren’t inspected. An additional 335 cabs either were given the wrong inspection so as to circumvent emissions requirements or a different vehicle was used to acquire a passing grade.

However, despite county officials’ tough talk, there is little they can do. Current law allows police to impound vehicles and fine drivers only when they have counterfeit or doctored stickers.

Airport cab owners who received the improper inspections broke no law. But the county can go after the inspectors who issued the stickers.

Deputies and constables began targeting inspection stations last month in a series of warrant roundups. The raids are the work of the county’s Clean Air Emissions Task Force, which was formed last month.

A majority of taxi drivers own their own vehicles and work as subcontractors for the taxi companies. The drivers keep their own fares and pay the taxi companies a weekly fee for radio equipment, insurance and the right to have the company’s logo on their cars.

As a result, they are responsible for maintaining their own cars and getting them inspected.

Some taxi companies are taking proactive measures.

Yellow Cab Co., which operates about half of all registered cabs in Dallas, on Thursday will begin inspecting all its cabs monthly to ensure that the “check engine” light is not on, said company president Jack Bewley.

A car cannot pass inspection if the light is on. If drivers don’t submit to Yellow Cab’s monthly checks, the company will not give them a decal issued by the city for the right to operate in the airport, Mr. Bewley said. Cabs without a decal are subject to fines if pulled over by airport police, he said.

Richard McComb, an air quality analyst with the council of governments, said heran checks on the cabs because it is a highly visible industry, and the cars drive 100,000 miles a year compared with about 20,000 miles for most vehicles.

“This seemed like a good start,” he said. “I knew it was going to be bad but not as bad as it turned out to be.”

Mr. McComb said his study doesn’t include cases in which inspectors lie to the analyzer machine to generate a passing score.

He estimated that more than 20 percent of the 1.6 million passing inspections generated overall last year in Dallas County were bad.

“This is the tip of the iceberg,” he said.

His agency has an emissions database that participating police departments can use to determine whether vehicles have a current good inspection. Dallas County officials will meet later this week with airport officials to see whether their police department will sign up to use it, Mr. McComb said.

Airport officials did not comment on the meeting but issued a statement saying they expect all cabs to comply with state regulations, as their operating agreements require. The statement also said the airport supports all efforts to ensure that the taxis have valid inspection stickers.

“The airport has consistently demonstrated its deep commitment to environmental stewardship,” said Jim Crites, the airport’s executive vice president of operations, in the statement.

Mr. Foster said he also plans to meet with Love Field and Tarrant County officials. And he said city officials have told him that they will propose that police officers be present when the cabs are inspected.

If the stickers are fake, officers would impound the cab and fine the driver, Mr. Foster said. The city’s transportation regulation manager could not be reached for comment.

“These are all high-mileage vehicles,” Mr. Foster said. “And if they won’t pass inspection, there’s a reason. And those reasons need to be addressed.”

Questionable inspections

The North Central Texas Council of Governments recently looked at the 2,200 taxicabs operating at Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport and found that 86 percent had improperly issued inspection stickers. The breakdown:

1,283 were inspected in five minutes or less, which is impossible for a valid inspection.

255 were given the wrong test to circumvent emissions requirements.

247 did not have current inspection stickers.

80 were tested using a different vehicle.

22 went more than 13 months without a vehicle inspection.