September 19, 2001 11:00 pm

By Alice Perry Linker

Observer Staff Writer

Blue Mountain Cab Co. has apparently stopped operating amid allegations that senior citizens have been charged more than an allowed fee for weekend and evening rides.

The citys current permit holder to operate the taxi, Melissa Gandy, could not be reached for comment. The La Grande Police Department confirmed that Gandy assumed Blue Mountains operation earlier this year after the death of former owner Dale Lovett.

Attempts to reach Blue Mountain Cab by phone were unsuccessful.

The reasons leading to the end of taxi operations are unclear, but District Attorney Russ West, who also serves as Union Countys counsel, said Wednesday he believes the cab company has stopped operations.

He said there have been allegations that senior citizens were charged more than the allowed fee for weekend and evening rides.

Using state special transportation funds, the county has been subsidizing evening and weekend cab rides within La Grande and Island City for seniors and people with disabilities.

A contract with the cab company states that people who qualify for the subsidy buy tickets for $1 each, and any one-way trip within the two cities is to cost each person only one ticket, said Marlene Perkins, the countys administrative officer.

The riders give the tickets to the cab company, which presents them to the county for a reimbursement of $4 per one-way trip.

Perkins said the most recent reimbursement from the county to the cab company has been delayed, following allegations that the company charged some riders either three or four tickets for a round-trip ride to Island City. Four tickets would generate a reimbursement of $16.

West said no charges and no accusations of wrongdoing have been made.

Thats what were looking into allegations, he said. Were not saying anybody did anything wrong. Weve been trying to resolve the issue and weve met with Melissa Gandy.

West said if any seniors or people with disabilities were charged more than one ticket for cab rides from La Grande to Island City they should call his office.

The county began subsidizing evening and weekend cab rides for special needs groups in February 2000 when it received a grant to buy a van with a wheelchair lift. The van was leased to the cab company at no cost, Perkins said.

The county and Community Connection, the non-profit organization that administers the Union County Senior Center, hope to set up an evening and weekend transportation program for special needs people, Perkins said.

Frank Thomas, director of the senior center, said Wednesday he is looking at budgets and trying to determine how to provide a


Were looking at a two-to-three-week timetable, no matter what we decide, he said, but were committed to being part of the


There are indications that Blue Mountain Cab may be for sale. Michelle Buchet, administrative secretary for the La Grande Police Department, said Wednesday that two people have inquired about applying for permits to own a cab company, but she said only one person has taken a permit application and that has not been returned.

To receive an owners permit, an applicant must fill out a two-page form and submit to a criminal background check. An owner must provide a valid Oregon drivers license and insurance statement. The final decision on ownership is usually made by the La Grande City Council, Buchet said.

Community Connections weekday van-bus service has not been affected by the changes in weekend and evening service, Thomas said. The weekday bus operates from 7 a.m. to

6 p.m. and is available to all who want to ride. To schedule a ride, call 963-7532.