City Approves Taxi Ordinance With Late Changes

OCEAN CITY — Despite some lingering rage from a few cab companies and drivers, taxi medallions will now be the rule of the road in Ocean City.

The City Council voted unanimously on Tuesday night to approve final reading of an ordinance that would instill a $1,500 taxi medallion as a requirement to operate a cab in the resort, and a number of other changes to cabbie laws and fees, presumably ending a month long battle between town officials and the “pick-‘em-up” proprietors of the city streets.

However, there were a few last-minute additions to the ordinance that had some cabbies up in arms and feeling even more violated and overcharged than what they had been arguing all along.

Several new sections were added to the ordinance on Tuesday and were deemed to be necessary additions to ensure public safety and industry improvement, according to Councilman Doug Cymek.

“We didn’t really do any of this 11th hour addition stuff that some cabbies might accuse us of,” said Cymek. “The additions we made were pretty cut and dry: keep your cabs clean, there will be random drug tests for drivers and the town would like to have correspondence with a company’s insurance provider to ensure that there are no lapses in coverage. We just want to make sure that the cabs are clean, drivers aren’t on drugs and that the cars are insured, which I don’t think is too much to ask.”

Yet, some cab owners, such as Classic Taxi owner Christy Freeman, thought the last-minute additions to the ordinance were just another proverbial slap in the face to the cab companies.

“Clearly, they are trying to regulate our businesses in addition to increasing our costs to operate,” she said. “I feel like I lost the battle for the $1,500 medallion fee and the $500 annual renewal fee, but now I just feel like they are meddling in my business, while extorting me at the same time.”

Cymek pointed out that the town will incur all the costs of random drug testing for drivers, and he assured the taxi industry that their pleas for better enforcement of the laws would be heard and carried out with the increased revenue created by the medallion ordinance.

“What I heard loud and clear during these discussions was the need for an inspector or an officer to properly enforce the taxi industry and I’m going to make this my pet project to ensure that that happens,” said Cymek.  “With the inspection fees we collected last year, which was about $24,000, we didn’t even come close to covering the costs to do all that we do for the cabs already, so now, with this $70-80,000 that we should have coming in on March 1, we should be able to get them the enforcement they have asked for.”

Cymek also said that the taxpayers of Ocean City should not have to pay for the enforcement of an industry in addition to what they have to pay to use the service, but ironically, the added costs for the taxi companies, will also equate to added costs for those who ride in them.

As part of a separate resolution on Tuesday, the new fee structure for cabs will be $3.20 at initial pickup, and $2.20 per mile, which is a 20-cent rise in each fee.

Still, some in the cab community feel that these medallions, which will be sold on March 1, at 10 a.m. at City Hall, should be their business licenses, but as it stands now, cab companies must purchase the medallion and a separate business license for $300.

“The medallion should be our business license,” said Freeman, “but this is something that I’m going to keep fighting them on because I pay more money for a business license in Ocean City than some restaurants in this town pay, and now I have to buy a $1.500 medallion for each car.”

Yet, some cab drivers and owners were at the very least optimistic about the new system, such as Ocean City Taxi owner Carl Kufchak who as the town’s largest fleet owner of taxis, spoke publicly that the new ordinance would work and it would better the quality of service throughout the resort.

In addition, the council decided to put all 175 medallions up for sale on March 1, at a 85-15-percent split (fleet/individual respectively), and any medallions not sold by the end of the day on March 1, would be banked by the Mayor and City Council until they decided to release them for a future and a presumed much heftier price.

“I still think that you are setting us up for disaster,” said AboutTown taxi owner Ruth Carpenter. “If there aren’t enough beach umbrellas on the beach, no one is going to die, but if there aren’t enough cabs to take people home at 2 a.m. and they are standing in line for more than 30 minutes, they might try to drive and then we have a real problem.”

Mayor Rick Meehan argued that “business sets its own level” and noted that the amount of medallions being offered at the March 1 sale is actually more than the number of cabs that were licensed in Ocean City last year.

“I think we’ve been more than fair with this ordinance, but we can’t hold the cabbies hands through this entire medallion sale process,” said Council President Joe Mitrecic. “If it were my business, I would make sure I’m here at 10 a.m. on March 1 and I know all of what I need to do according to what this ordinance says.”

Finally, the council also decreased the percentage that one fleet owner could own in the town from up to 50 percent to 35 percent, setting in place the rule, via ancillary motion, that no fleet owner will be allowed to have more than 51 cars.

Still, Freeman argues that the new ordinance will do nothing to change the way the industry is run, but what it will change is the costs to be a part of the industry.

“This was brought up by [City Manager] Dennis Dare in a list of potential revenue enhancements, but it was presented by the Mayor and Council as a way to clean up the cab industry,” said Freeman. “It’s not going to change the industry, it is just going to be a revenue generator for the town that is going to be passed onto the consumers. They just saw the cabbies as an untapped resource.”