OC Researching Taxi Franchising

OCEAN CITY — After the list of potential cost cutting and revenue enhancement options was released last week, one item in particular reportedly sparked a number of calls down to City Hall: the idea of establishing a taxi franchise.

Albeit the fact that it is simply a conversation and a bullet point in a list of proposed changes at this stage, City Manager Dennis Dare presumed that even a recommendation to change to the taxi service in Ocean City was sure to spark a bit of controversy, and despite the fact that those same town officials weren’t ready to talk about it publicly at this week’s Police Commission meeting, most seem to be in concurrence that the town has grown to a point to at least entertain the idea, calling it an evolution of the service.

However, some are concerned that this proposed evolution of the taxi service could spark a proverbial revolution from disgruntled cabbies who like things the way that they are.

Last week, as part of a number of cost cutting and revenue enhancement options put in front of the Mayor and City Council, the final one on the list seemed to be the one that could stir up the most backlash, as Dare recommended that a taxi franchise be created that would essentially self-police itself and would get one of the only private entities that operates on public roads to actually pay money into the town of Ocean City.

“The taxi business is the only one that I can think of in Ocean City that doesn’t pay direct revenues to the town,” said Mayor Rick Meehan. “Everyone else either pays rent, or a mortgage, and to be honest with you, I’ve been in favor of franchising the taxi service for quite some time. I think we can do it in a way that will be good for both the large and the small sized cab companies.”

Meehan and several members of the council seemed to favor a medallion system, in which the franchises would essentially pay the town for a medallion, and only cabs that obtain a medallion, would be allowed to operate in the city limits of Ocean City.

For instance, in New York City, there are 11,787 medallions sold at $200,000 apiece and new regulations also require that all taxis be hybrid or fuel-efficient vehicles.

Certainly, those numbers are vastly exaggerated compared to what the resort would be dealing with in both number and cost, but it’s an example of the medallion system that is used all over the globe, said town officials.

Councilman Jim Hall also believes that making the steps to make the taxis in Ocean City look a bit more uniform is long overdue.

“I think medallions are the way to go, and I think it’s time to take the taxi service in Ocean City to the next level,” said Hall. “If you go down to Florida, every cab is extremely nice and clean, and you aren’t ever afraid to get in one of them. I think this town has evolved to the point where we need to get a better system.”

Although most on the council expected some sort of backlash from cab companies, Councilman Doug Cymek said that the people he’s spoken with in the industry have expressed a desire for a change.

“I think they are all in unison that it’s time to clean up the system,” said Cymek. “At the police commission level, we are dealing with a number of taxi violations all the time, and it takes up a lot of man hours and it needs to stop.”

Yet, at Wednesday’s police commission meeting, those in attendance including Meehan, Dare, Hall, Cymek, Police Chief Bernadette DiPino and various members of the commission, were not quite yet prepared to tackle what could be an arduous task and one in which every step of the way will likely be highly contested and analyzed.

“We aren’t ready to talk about that at this time,” said Hall. “Right now it’s just one of the ideas on Dennis’ [Dare] list, so I wouldn’t expect to get into it until after the holiday.”

Cymek also emphasized in a conversation last week that in no way was the city proposing a monopoly of any kind, but did approve of creating a standardized look of the taxis allowed on the road.

Hall also seemed to reaffirm the notion that all entities that would be affected by the change would have an influence in the final decision.

“I want to get the taxi people to come to the Police Commission and talk about this with us, as they probably have some great ideas about how to make this whole thing work,” said Hall.

Dare said that he isn’t simply trying to find ways to make the town money by creating a taxi franchise. Instead, he says he’s trying to work out a few kinks in the service.

“If the taxi service was franchised, similar to the beach stand franchise or the scopers, I think it would essentially self-police itself and have more defined rules and regulations they could abide by,” said Dare. “I can’t recall ever getting a complaint against any of our franchises in Ocean City, so as much as I’m trying to create new revenue, I’m also trying to solve a problem.”