DURHAM – City Council members have approved a revised ordinance that will subject shuttles, limosines and other for-hire passenger vehicles to more or less the same scrutiny taxis now receive.
The move answered years of lobbying by taxi operators like Paul Thompson, president of ABC Cab Co., who complained about competition from previously unregulated shuttles.
Thompson called the rules package approved Monday night “a good ordinance” that will prevent safety problems attributable to people whose “character is not good enough to be tranporting our citizens.”
But another taxi operator, Johnny White, questioned whether police and the city’s Transportation Department are properly set up to enforce the new rules, which include licensing and inspection requirements.
“We have cars coming into the city between the hours of 10 p.m. and 2 a.m. who are not authorized to be here, and they are operating at will, picking up our passengers and taking them wherever,” White said.
He added that city government needs “a working body to catch these individuals.”
White was alluding to the common belief that shuttle services – which already weren’t allowed to cruise for passengers – have been poaching business generated by Duke University students and other patrons of Durham’s late-night bar scene.
Transportation Director Mark Ahrendsen conceded that he and Police Department commanders have yet to work out how they’ll deal with those complaints.
But for now, operators who suspect a competitor of operating illegally can call city Taxicab Administrator Gracie Chamblee to report them, Ahrendsen said.
The council heard a different sort of skepticism from Milford Williams Jr., who runs a private paratransit service that will also fall under the new regulations.
Williams said for him, the city’s $50-a-year vehicle inspections will duplicate those already required by the state. He termed that a “hardship,” and like White questioned how well officials will enforce the new rules.
No one on the council voiced any objection to the new rules, which passed on a 6-0 vote.
The decision ironically came four days after a conservative lobby, the N.C. Institute for Constitutional Law, published an article on its website critical of taxi regulations in other states.
It argued that ordinances that, like Durham’s, regulate the number of taxis that can operate in a city can run afoul of a state constitution ban on “perpetuities and monopolies.”
Institute leaders singled out for criticism an ordinance in High Point that also requires taxi operators to buy more insurance than state law demands. Durham’s ordinance follows the state’s insurance standards.
The group – one of number of conservative organizations associated with former state Rep. Art Pope, R-Wake – has offered legal assistance to a variety of causes and is best known for challenging business incentive programs.