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AVIANO AIR BASE, Italy — About this time a year ago, base officials were lauding a new on-base cab service for its role in cutting down on drinking-and-driving incidents.

Americans discovered that the service, operated by former airmen Ronald Wherry, was cheaper, quicker and more accessible than that provided by Italian drivers based in Pordenone.

It also, apparently, was not operating within the confines of Italian law. So when Italian taxi drivers complained, authorities responded with fines and, by year’s end, had put the service out of business.

Giuseppe Valesio, commander of the Italian polizia in Aviano, confirmed that his officers took “administrative” action against the service after receiving complaints from Italian drivers. Police in Pordenone also reportedly took action.

But the Army and Air Force Exchange Service hasn’t given up on the idea of a taxi service for those on base. Gino Rakas, who manages concessionaires for AAFES in Italy, said he’s talking with a few prospective contractors about getting the service running again.

“The issue can be resolved,” he said in an interview Thursday. “It’s just a matter of how much time it might take.”

Getting such approval through the various Italian channels generally takes time, he said.

Rakas said AAFES was happy with Wherry’s service and so were customers.

Capt. Jennifer Ferrau, chief of public affairs for the 31st Fighter Wing, said the base supported the idea. But she referred comment to AAFES, which is responsible for supervising the operation.

Rakas said Wherry, who couldn’t be reached for comment for this article, didn’t get all the paperwork and approvals he needed. He said AAFES would make sure everything was in order before a similar service starts again.

He said AAFES is open to working with Italian taxi providers based in Pordenone. But he said negotiations with them a few years ago broke down on demands that taxi drivers receive extra compensation to maintain a full-time presence on base. Such costs wouldn’t be footed by the base or AAFES, Rakas said, and would have to be passed on to customers.

“We’re trying to keep the fees as low as possible,” he said. “So we’re not going to pay that. We’re not making any money off this. We’re just trying to provide a service.”

Taxi drivers reached in Pordenone recently said they’d like to have greater access to the base. Currently, they have to pick people up and drop them off at the gates. They argue that it costs more money for their services because they first have to drive to Aviano from Pordenone.

Taxi services largely operate as monopolies in Italy, with single organizations controlling the official business for a large city or region. There are some individuals who offer services cheaper in some areas, but — as with Wherry — they’re viewed by the authorities as breaking the law.

Valentina Scheu provided translation for this article.

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Kent has filled numerous roles at Stars and Stripes including: copy editor, news editor, desk editor, reporter/photographer, web editor and overseas sports editor. Based at Aviano Air Base, Italy, he’s been TDY to countries such as Afghanistan Iraq, Kosovo and Bosnia. Born in California, he’s a 1988 graduate of Humboldt State University and has been a journalist for almost 38 years.
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