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Rule changes sought to allow cab drivers to operate independently

In a move to reach a compromise between Charlotte taxicab drivers and cab companies, a city committee wants to ask another committee to consider eliminating a city requirement that forces drivers to contract with taxicab companies in order to work in Charlotte.

The Passenger Vehicles for Hire committee’s request first has to be approved by the full PVH board before the city’s Community Safety Committee will consider it.

The PVH committee said Tuesday it wants to ask the CSC to consider removing the “company affiliation” requirement from a city ordinance.

As cab drivers call for changes to the city’s rules governing how they can operate, the CSC requested suggestions from the PVH board.

The CSC began examining the taxicab regulations in June after drivers packed a City Council meeting to complain about the ordinance and plans to reduce the number of drivers who service Charlotte/Douglas International Airport.

Drivers want the city to switch to a “medallion system,” which would allow them to operate their cars independent of taxicab companies. Cab companies have opposed the change, saying it would hurt passengers by giving them no one to contact for complaints or lost items. The companies also argue that they offer valuable services to drivers, such as dispatching. At a Sept. 16 meeting, the CSC rejected the idea of a medallion system for Charlotte.

If the “company affiliation” requirement were removed from the ordinance, drivers would have more independence and be able to operate without paying cab companies franchise fees that can cost more than $500 a week.  The committee said drivers could still contract with companies for dispatching and other services.

The change would allow drivers to obtain a permit to operate a taxicab from the PVH board without being affiliated with a company. Under current rules, if a cab company fires a driver, the PVH board revokes the driver’s permit because they are no longer affiliated with a company.

“As a sympathetic company owner, I think drivers are too vulnerable if their permit can be thrown out,” said Mayur Khandalwal, owner of Crown Cab and a PVH board member.

Khandalwal and taxicab driver Abdirehman Duale, also a PVH board member, said it can cost about $1,000 for a driver to replace decals on a taxicab and dispatching and other equipment that cab companies provide.

The PVH committee will also ask the CSC to examine rules surrounding Charlotte’s “black car,” or limousine, business.

Taxicab drivers have complained that hotels in Charlotte’s center city contract with limousine companies and allow limousines to sit outside hotels but restrict taxis from waiting outside for fares.

“If the customer chooses a cab, the bellman should call a taxicab company and they will send a cab,” Duale said. “But the problem is with the bellman. They deal with the black car drivers and they take money under the table. They convince the customer, ‘This black car will charge you less.’”

Among other suggestions discussed by the PVH committee Tuesday:

  • the need for a minimum regulated rate for the black car industry. The committee is calling for an increase in the number of vehicles that are required for someone to be a black car business. Under current rules, all it takes is one limousine for someone to become such a business. But taxicab companies must have at least 30 vehicles in their fleet in order to qualify as a cab company. The PVH committee wants the minimum to be three to five cars for someone to operate as a black car company.
  • the need for options for designating a taxicab as “in service” or “out of service.” Under current rules, a Charlotte taxicab cannot be driven in the city unless a licensed taxicab driver operates it. The change would allow vehicles designated as “out of service” to be operated by a repairman or another driver who is not transporting passengers.
  • that cleanliness of taxicabs be included in possible changes to the ordinance. The recommendation stems from complaints about the poor condition of some cabs in Charlotte, the committee said.
  • the need for an amendment to the ordinance’s ban on the placement of advertising on taxicabs. The committee decided against offering that change to the CSC. Jonathan Fine, PVH board president, said the mission of the PVH is to protect consumers. The issue of advertising does not fall within that mission, he said.

    Tara Ramsey can be reached at tara.ramsey@mecktimes.com.

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