OCEAN CITY – Taxi drivers and companies could be facing stricter rules and enforcement in the near future, after discussion at a recent Police Commission meeting resulted in the unanimous agreement to add more teeth to the current regulations.
After noticing an increase in complaints over taxis this past summer, Sergeant Scott Harner decided to delve further into the on-going issue and take a closer look at the root of the problem. After keeping a closer eye on taxi cab complaints and violations this summer, Sgt. Harner decided to gather the information he found and present a proposal to the Police Commission.
Harner presented his findings to the Police Commission this week, citing specific instances of taxi violations and suggesting several solutions to an on-going and increasing problem in Ocean City. More specifically, Harner requested that $10,000 be allocated and utilized to regulate stricter rules and enforcement on taxi cab drivers as well as taxi companies.
Harner explained that he, as well as several other police officers, had noticed an increase in complaints regarding taxicabs. Complaints have been coming from not only citizens, but from other taxi drivers as well who are calling to report on other taxi drivers not in compliance.
On one specific occasion, Harner observed a taxicab driving with a passenger in the back but with its overhead lights on. (Lights should be turned off when carrying passengers to and from destinations) Sgt. Harner pulled over the cab and discovered that the meter was also turned off. After questioning the passenger, a local and an employee of a local bar, she informed him that they frequently call the taxi company. She informed Sgt. Harner that the drivers will turn off the meters for them because they are locals.
On another occasion, a taxi driver was denied his taxi license twice, but continued to drive his taxi anyway. The violation did not come to the attention of the police until the cab cut off a police car, causing enough damage to the police car to put it permanently out of service.
Harner noted several other violations seen this past summer, suggesting that the police department be afforded a set number of dollars to aid stricter enforcement. Harner explained that it would not only help them create better enforcement, but would also send the message out to cab drivers and companies that enforcement was happening. Harner added that it would also give the citizens a better product.
“I think once we start this enforcement we’ll get a better product,” Harner said, explaining that although money would be needed, it would be refunded through the municipal infractions issued. Each violation carries a $100 municipal infraction.
“It’s a public safety thing to me,” said Councilman Lloyd Martin, suggesting that they require “how’s my driving” stickers to be placed on all cabs with a number for people to call to report any violations.
Harner suggested that the money be divvied out in shifts, being utilized mainly for officers with traffic training and to officers who are well versed in taxis and the current ordinance.
“Then you still have a whole range of officers out there who probably need to be involved in traffic enforcement,” Council member Jay Hancock said. Hancock suggested that all officers be better educated on the traffic and taxi regulations.
Hancock also pointed out that enforcement needed to be increased on not only the drivers, but on the cab company owners as well.
The commission agreed that the enforcement was a necessary step toward solving the problem. City Manager Dennis Dare, when asked about whether the financing was feasible, said, “I think it’s workable.” Police Chief Bernadette DiPino also showed full support for the proposal.
Harner suggested that the proposal go into affect next June, but the commission felt starting as soon as possible, perhaps even New Year’s Eve, would be better.
“We need to start sooner rather than lather,” said DiPino. “Get them before the summer starts.”