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August 23, 2011

In Memoriam: Paul Robar, Owner of Benways Transportation (1955-2011)

Paul Robar A giant of the Burlington taxi community has passed away.

Paul L. Robar of Colchester, who built Benways Transportation into the largest taxi company in Chittenden County, died last Thursday, August 18. He was 55 years old.

Robar purchased Benways Transportation in 1973; he was also the owner of Morf Transit and Apollo Limousine. He was hospitalized in critical condition on July 27 after crashing his car on North Avenue in Burlington; he apparently suffered a brain aneurysm while driving. Police said Robar was traveling south on North Avenue when his car left the roadway and brushed a telephone pole and a tree, causing the airbags to deploy.

Recently, he had been a vocal opponent of the city of Burlington's new taxi regulations and threatened to pull his business out of the city if they were enacted, pledging to take "every legal action known to mankind to fight them." Passed by the city council on July 11, the regulations require all cabs to install taximeters by next year and impose a host of other restrictions on cabbies. Robar had predicted taximeters would cost riders more than the current zone pricing system.

Reached by phone, Robar's widow and business partner, Wanda Robar, said she wasn't up for talking about her late husband. Paul Robar's funeral was yesterday, August 22.

Benways car Fred Solomon, an independent taxi owner who drove a cab for Robar at two different times in his life, describes his old boss this way: "I wouldn't say he was cutthroat, but he was a tough and relentless businessman.

"Paul was the epicenter of the Burlington taxi industry for over three decades," Solomon adds. "His operation, Benways Taxi, was the stabilizing force in the local taxi world. He employed dozens, if not hundreds, of local folks through the years. Those of us cab owners who competed with him couldn't help but admire his own drive and success."

Robar was a colorful character with a penchant for unfiltered quotes. Discussing a threat from the state of Vermont to fine his cab drivers $10,000 for smoking in taxis, Robar told Seven Days, "I can ream them a new butt hole. I can tell them they're not going to smoke, but it's a little harder said than done." Robar complained about refugee taxi drivers who don't speak English getting assistance from resettlement programs. "You've got to be able to speak English, and you've got to know where you're going," he told me in February, adding that when the ride is over, "They understand the money. They understand that, but they don't understand anything else."

Robar also had a brush with the law years ago. In 2004, Paul and Wanda Robar pleaded no contest — not admitting guilt, but acknowledging the state had enough evidence to convict — to two misdemeanor charges that they failed to file Vermont withholding tax returns and had failed to remit Vermont withholding tax to the Vermont Department of Taxes in the 2003 tax year.

According to his obituary, Robar "was very proud to have provided employment to 75 people every week. He believed it was important to have a job that helped people in their daily lives; which he did as he provided a wide variety of rides to and from important events in customers' lives." He was both a Mason and a Shriner and was, according to the obituary, "the type of gentleman that could easily rally a large group to do good for the less fortunate."

"He employed dozens, if not hundreds, of local folks through the years."

That is true and I was one of them. In the summer of 1995 I was 22, and newly elected to the city council. I was also unemployed and broke. Paulie gave me a job behind the wheel of car #12. It was a gritty, enlightening and poweful experience made possible by a man with a big personality and a good heart.

My deepest sympathies to Wanda and the Robar family, and to the good folks at Benway's on Riverside Avenue. Paul Robar was a true pillar of the community.

Paul Robar was expelled from Free Masonry as of December 5, 2011

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