OCEAN CITY — Despite being something that seemingly no one in the industry wanted, all the taxi medallions sold out on Monday at City Hall.
The town of Ocean City sold all 175 available taxi medallions at $1,500 a pop on Monday, thus solidifying the notion that medallions are now the rule of the road, and in the process, added $262,500 to this year’s proverbial bottom line.
The taxi industry admittedly has mixed feelings as the two-month saga to transform the cab business in the resort has finally come to a close, because even though some may have left City Hall with a stack of medallions or just one to go into business for themselves, they are admittedly less than thrilled about the amount of cash they had to put out to get them.
“I just know it’s going to be awfully rough to pay my bills with all the money I just spent to stay in business,” said Century Taxi owner Ken Hovance, who purchased six medallions on Monday. “I was hoping that I would be able to expand my fleet but I lost out in the lottery, so I’m going to have to work 10 times harder this year to come close to making anywhere near what I made last year. With that said, though, I’m just relieved all of this is finally over.”
Kenny Ethridge, who has been driving a cab in Ocean City for several years for various companies, told The Dispatch that he was merely hoping for the opportunity to go into business for himself by nabbing one of the 27 independent taxi medallions.
Ironically, Ethridge’s name was the final one pulled out of the proverbial hat on Monday, enabling him to start his long desired “The Cab Guy” company.
“When they called my name, my knees were wobbling the whole time while I was walking up there,” said Ethridge. “I’ve been driving a cab for a long time and I’ve wanted to have my own cab business for just as long. I’m trying to do this and make a good life for my daughter, and now that I have one of these medallions, it’s a whole new ballgame.”
Of the 175 medallions purchased on Monday, 148 went to fleets (companies with more than one taxi) while the remaining 27 went to independent drivers like Ethridge.
As promised, the town allowed all registered companies and drivers who operated a cab in the resort last season to have the first shot at buying medallions, on the grounds that they could only purchase up to the same amount as they had in 2009.
In most cases, such as Classic Taxi, City Cab and Ocean City Taxi, companies purchased the same amount as they had last year, and then put their names into the proverbial hat for the lottery that was held at days’ end.
All three of the aforementioned companies were victorious in winning an extra car on their fleet via the lottery draw, while others like Hovance didn’t hear their name called, and must continue to operate with their existing fleet.
One notable cab business, AboutTown taxi, which held 10 cab licenses last year, only chose to purchase six this year, after owner Ruth Carpenter had commented publicly that she was so against the medallion rule that she was going to pull out of the resort cab industry entirely to focus on her Ocean Pines and West Ocean City clients. Carpenter conceded during the first reading of the ordinance several weeks ago, that her husband had talked her into buying at least a few medallions.
Mayor Rick Meehan conceded that he was a bit surprised that all the medallions were sold on Monday, but said that he was pleased with the result.
“I think that it went very well, and I thought it went as seamlessly as it could have gone,” said Mayor Rick Meehan. “Everyone has been patient and helpful these past few months, and I think that we’ve succeeded in trying to make the taxi industry a better business, and a more valuable business.”
The tensest moments took place during the lottery draw as there were a few accusations that potential owners were putting their names in the draw more than once and even putting in other people’s names, which was deemed to be illegal by town staff, as all who won medallions had to be present at the time of sale.
As applause filled the room with the calling of each lottery winner, it became apparent that the new faces that became a part of the cab industry on Monday, might be the ones who are smiling the most.
“The little guys are the winners in this as they can now work for themselves and have their own businesses, which I think is great,” said Hovance, “and I think it was great that everyone was clapping for them, and I’m happy for them, but I do know that’s going to make it a lot tougher out there for everyone because I believe there are going to be way too many cabs now, and too many new faces for the industry to improve as a whole.”
Regardless of the disdain that has been hurled toward the City Council and the town for almost two months, in some cases, claiming that the town was merely trying to “tap into the taxi industry for extra money,” as Classic Taxi owner Christy Freeman put it several weeks ago, there were some in the audience thankful for the opportunity.
“I’m totally shocked that I got a medallion and I’m lucky that I did, and it was an experience for the town and the drivers,” said new fleet owner Big Luke, who will operate the Jukebox Taxi. “I’m just grateful to the town council that they stuck to their guns and really tried to allow us new guys the opportunity to participate in free enterprise. Now, the guys that got their own medallions are out from under the thumbs of the companies and can make a living on their own, and I’m ready to break my neck to make it work in the dog eat dog world of the cab business.”
All in all, there will be seven new cab companies and an additional seven new independent cabs on the streets of Ocean City.
While some in the industry are still crying foul on the entire process and claim the town’s hopes to improve the business as a whole will essentially be in vain because of the new faces and the amount of cars on the road, Meehan promises the town is going to do more than simply sit back and count the additional dollars.
“This is only the first step, and we plan on getting them the added enforcement that they asked for and we will be regulating the industry by doing random drug testing on the drivers,” said Meehan. “It might be painful today, but I think that when we all look back on this a year from now, I think that we will find that it’s become a better industry for everyone because there is more to lose now. All the taxi owners will be very vested in making sure that their drivers obey the rules, and are held accountable for how they operate the cabs on the roads of Ocean City.”