The Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission is cracking down on operators of “Amish taxis” who regularly serve as drivers for members of the religious group but are not certified to carry passengers.
The PUC this fall began targeting the unlicensed taxis, or jitneys, serving more than 350 Amish families in Clearfield, Indiana and Jefferson counties. Amish religious beliefs do not permit driving motor vehicles.
The commission is responding to complaints, including some from drivers who paid to become state-certified to carry passengers, PUC spokeswoman Jennifer Kocher told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.
“It’s different than something occasional, like taking a neighbor to a grocery store,” Kocher said. “We’re targeting routine trips where people who are (certified) and are following the rules are saying, ‘Wait a minute here.”‘
State certification for drivers to carry passengers costs $350 a year. Vehicles must also be certified, either as metered taxis or as paratransit vehicles. Commercial insurance fees vary for paratransit vehicles but can cost up to $6,000 annually, Kocher said.
Six people have obtained the required certificates from the PUC’s Altoona office, which covers Clearfield, Indiana and Jefferson counties. Since the enforcement campaign, another 13 people have applied for them, Kocher said.
The PUC has issued 95 warning letters and is considering fining scofflaws up to $1,000. The agency may soon target Amish enclaves in Beaver, Butler, Lawrence and Mercer counties, Kocher said.
Bonnie Huzinec, 56, said the state’s actions are “extortion.”
Huzinec said she started driving the Amish about five years ago after meeting some Amish women shopping in Dubois who needed a ride to their farm five miles away. Now, Huzinec drives the Amish to weddings, funerals and other events that are too far or too dangerous for horse-drawn buggies to make on congested highways.
“I go wherever they want me to go,” said Huzinec, of Luthersburg. “They call me or knock on my door.”
Huzinec and others who drive the Amish wouldn’t specify their compensation. But mileage, driving time and gas prices are considered, and meals and lodging are provided if drivers make longer trips out of state, the newspaper reported.
“There are secrets. But if I need work done around here, (Amish friends) do it. I get gifts. My kids get gifts. It’s bartering,” Huzinec said. “What’s the problem?”
Information from: Pittsburgh Post-Gazette,