Resort Pursuing Taxi Medallion System

OCEAN CITY — The medallion system that some taxi drivers have been fearing for several weeks will be presented to the Mayor and City Council on Tuesday as part of a proposal to restructure the industry.

Police Commission member and Ocean City Councilman Doug Cymek said this week an initial proposal has been worked out at the Police Commission level and will be pitched to the council at next week’s work session at City Hall.

“We have basically put together a rough draft at the commission level even though the council obviously will have the final say on how the ordinance ends up looking,” said Cymek, “but I do think that whatever is decided will ensure a higher standard of performance in the taxi cab industry in Ocean City.”

Some of the bullet points that are alleged to be included in the proposal will include the medallions, which will be acquired through a sealed bid process, an annual renewal fee and a potential cap on the number of medallions issued (150).

Cymek said the medallions will have a set ratio split between corporate or company cab owners and individual operators. He reported the proposed 70% (corporate) 30% (individual) split is concurrent with many other cities.

“We want to make sure that the individual or so-called freelance cabbie can make a living just like someone that has a fleet of 20 cars,” said Cymek. “Either way, this system will put a lot of pressure on the companies to make sure that they pre-screen who is driving their vehicles because their medallion will essentially be on the line.”

Once corporate or individual owners acquire the medallions, they must be attached to a vehicle within 30 days and put to immediate use. Cymek said that this would ensure that companies wouldn’t buy up extra medallions and essentially sit on them as investments.

Assistant to the City Manager of Ocean City Kathy Mathias had prepared a study on taxi franchises in 2005, and when the idea was brought forward again, she said she pulled the study out and updated it to what is being done in cities throughout the country.

“We looked at so many different cities like New York, San Francisco, Chicago, Washington DC and even Frederick,” said Mathias, “and in most cases, when the initial idea to franchise the taxi industry in those particular cities was presented, the cabbies were opposed to the idea.  But, according to the data that I found, it seems that all the cabbies ended up doing very well once the system was put into place.”

Mathias said that similar to San Francisco, the proposal for display of the medallions calls for them to be placed on the windshield of the taxi itself as opposed to New York City for instance, where the medallion is essentially bolted to the hood of the cab.

Mathias also noted that the issue of a uniform cab color could be addressed in the town’s ordinance, but if a singular color is decided upon as the color of all resort taxis, companies would be given a substantial grace period (potentially up to 3 years) to come into compliance.

“People refer to them as medallions but they are actually called Certificates of Public Necessity and Convenience or CPNC’s, but they will become a commodity and it will add value to the business should the owners of the medallions decide to leave the industry,” Mathias said.

Currently, there are 160 taxis licensed in the town of Ocean City, so on the surface, the potential medallion cap of 150 doesn’t seem to be too much of a trimming of the area’s cab presence.

However, Cymek said that some companies acquire more stickers than they have cars and that wouldn’t be allowed once the new system was approved.

“Personally, I don’t think that we need 150 cabs on the road running simultaneously in Ocean City,” said Cymek. “My thought was to award 125 and keep 25 on reserve if they were needed, but we’ll see what the final numbers end up looking like.”

Some in the taxi industry have complained that there are too many cabs on the road and the installation of a medallion system could be beneficial when in comes to income earned per driver/company, but others have hinted it would be an added cost to the owners that could put some companies, already struggling through the tough economy, essentially out of business.

“They have said that this is a measure that will save the police department time and money,” said Classic Taxi owner Christy Freeman, “but all this is really going to do is make the town more money because it isn’t going to address the cab driver hiring process or the inspection process, which is what takes the most time for the police.”

Town officials, however, stress that members of the public and the cab industry will have an opportunity to speak on the matter once the issue goes to the required public hearing.

“We aren’t trying to put anyone out of business, but we are trying to improve the operation and the aesthetics of an industry that a lot of people agree needs to be cleaned up a bit,” Cymek said.

Freeman said that she agrees with the 150 medallions that is alleged to be proposed on Tuesday, but says that if it goes any lower than that, she will essentially cry foul.

“If it goes any lower than 150 medallions, I think that it’s a disservice to the customer,” said Freeman. “When it’s 2 a.m. in Ocean City, there are 100 people at Seacrets or Fagers alone that are trying to get a cab. My problem is that the people who are making this decision solely based on making the town money, aren’t on the streets where their decision is really going to matter.”

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