Taxi proposals get pushback

City officials spawned a spirited but civil debate Tuesday when they hosted a public hearing on proposed changes to Oxford’s taxi ordinance.

“Last year Memphis had five cab companies, and we had 12,” Mayor Pat Patterson said. “This was a complaint-driven situation. This is not where we just grabbed the cab companies by the throat.”
Responding to complaints from taxi passengers (or passengers’ mamas, according to some drivers), aldermen had proposed a host of changes including lowering fare limits, requiring video recording, banning passengers from the front seat unless back seats are full, and requiring printed receipts (with pickup and dropoff locations along with fare) for every passenger.

Taxi drivers, company owners and a lawyer spoke on behalf of Oxford’s taxi industry, whose business is heavily dependent on taking late-night visitors from downtown bars back to their homes, hotels or campus housing.

One proposal would have allowed a $10 charge for the first customer but restricted charges to $5 each for all other riders on the same trip. Taxi advocates complained that deciding who pays the $10 would cause conflict. Beyond that, they said, on the University of Mississippi’s home football game weekends, Oxford is so crowded that extra fares are justified by the traffic.

“I don’t think the ordinance takes into account the time it takes to get from A to B on a game day, where a five-minute ride turns into a 45-minute ride,” said one woman who works with Rebel Taxi. She noted that high demand enables hotels and other businesses to charge higher prices for football weekends.

Alderman John Morgan hinted that the city shouldn’t have a say in rates.

“If they know what the rate is and it’s a maximum of $80 (for eight passengers), it’s capitalism,” he said.

Jimmy Thompson, owner of A-1 Taxi, added, “It’s cheaper to ride with me than with OPD (Oxford Police Department).” He also said much of the “price gouging” is done by unlicensed cabbies from out of town who come to Oxford on busy weekends and pick up fares in private cars.

Cedric Pegues, owner of VIP Taxi, said charging less than legal maximum rates is a competitive tool but that during major events full fares help make up for those who jump out without paying or those carried without fare just to get them home without further danger.

“I give people (who can’t pay) a safe ride all the time,” he said.

Some speakers noted already having video cameras that may not meet every detail of the proposed changes.

“Current camera systems should be grandfathered,” urged attorney Stewart Rutledge. “Rock Star’s cameras don’t have a control system that is separate from the cameras. Since some of these drivers are ahead of the curve … let’s grant them some leniency.”

Rutledge asserted that the front seat, where the driver can keep an eye on them, is the safest place for severely inebriated passengers. In passenger vans, he added, it may be the only seat with a functional window.

“People throw up in cabs all the time,” he said. “Let them ride up front if they’re going to throw up.”

Thompson noted that a single passenger in a rear seat is a recipe for robbery.

“If I’m driving somebody … and he’s the only one in my cab, I don’t need him to be behind me,” he said.

Alderman Jay Hughes argued that receipts for all passengers would protect drivers and companies from false accusations. He also noted that easing traffic crunches on game days would alleviate some of the incentive to price-gouge.

Patterson said more effort would go into policing against out-of-town taxis.

“We have a code-enforcement officer now, and part of his job is to stop some of this gypsy stuff,” he said.

Aldermen could vote on the proposed ordinance on July 1, but any substantial changes to the proposal would likely delay it until July 15.

errol.castens@journalinc.com

Twitter:@oxfordcitizenec



About Errol Castens

I'm a news reporter and columnist for the Daily Journal and the Oxford Citizen. Focusing on Oxford and Lafayette County, I've been a part of the L-O-U community since 1991.