Leroy Jones perspired under the hot Denver sun, burdened by the heavy tray of Coca-Cola drinks he was attempting to sell to thirsty baseball fans on a summer afternoon. As “The Star-Spangled Banner” sounded over the public address system, Jones paused, removed his cap, and placed a hand over his heart, a tear welling in his eye as he joined the crowd singing our national anthem.
That scene, depicted on CBS's “Eye on America” news report, would seem to portray a man in pursuit of the American Dream. But for Jones, it was a dream denied.
A few years earlier, Jones was earning a living driving a taxi for the ubiquitous Yellow Cabs. But like many people toiling in the employment of others, Jones recognized that the best way to get ahead was to go into business for himself. Jones and three of his fellow drivers, who were African immigrants, discovered a niche in the Five Points section of Denver—a low-income community where taxicab service was in great demand but rarely available. Jones and his colleagues put together a business plan to create a new coopera- tive company called Quick-Pick Cabs. They had everything they needed: a petition signed by scores of consumers, knowledge of the industry, capital, and insurance. Everything, that is, except a little piece of paper from the Colorado Public Utilities Commission (PUC) called a “certificate of public convenience and necessity.”
To obtain the certificate, Jones and his colleagues would have to demonstrate not only that the city's three existing taxicab companies were not serving a particular market—which would present no problem—but also that they could not service that market. That requirement was impossible to fulfill. So despite their obvious fitness and the demand for their services, Jones and his colleagues received the same response from the PUC that every other applicant for a taxicab license had received since World War II: application denied. Before long, Jones and his colleagues were fired from Yellow Cabs and forced to pursue other employment to provide for themselves and their families.