OCEAN CITY – Taxi cab companies preferring a fare increase will have to hold off longer as the Mayor and City Council decided to delay the approval of a resolution establishing the increase amid hopes of finding common ground among taxi companies.
The Mayor and City Council last week voted to pass a motion to give a cab company owner the option to increase taxi fares from 22 cents to a maximum of 24 cents per 10th of a mile in a 4-3 vote.
Before the vote, the topic was most recently discussed at a Police Commission meeting and a Mayor and Council meeting in March. At both gathering, there was no action made toward a taxi fare increase because owners among the taxi industry could not come to an agreement.
This week, the increase came to the Mayor and City council in a resolution to be passed into ordinance form. With a presence of taxi cab owners in favor as well as in opposition for the increase, Council President Jim Hall explained that the increase is not mandatory for those who oppose it.
“If someone does not want to take advantage of this increase, he or she does not have to,” he said. “Someone does not have to change their meter if they do not want to change their meter.”
City Solicitor Guy Ayres added that the city code does not require the meters to have the highest permissible charge and specifically allows discounts.
“I know there is some sentiment among some of the cab drivers that they would like to see the cab fares all be the same but allow for the discounts,” Ayres said.
Councilman Mary Knight pointed out that a portion of taxi company owners would like the meters to remain uniform for the tourists’ sake to eliminate confusion.
“I think it is a real advantage for the tourists to hear those words and know … that they will feel fair,” Knight said. “I wouldn’t have a problem with this if there was some way we could change the ordinance where everybody would have to reflect $2.40 [a mile] on their meter.”
The council has struggled with the taxi company community for years to come to a compromise on taxi rates that all the companies will feel comfortable with.
“Again it is divided and it looks like a split 50/50 down the board,” Jim Hall said. “It’s not going to be resolved here tonight, I can tell you.”
Councilman Joe Hall asserted that if the resolution were to pass that night then it would give different taxi companies the opportunity to re-set their meters to lower rates.
“I think the price increase is justified and I think we should pass it tonight,” Joe Hall said. “If they want to have additional conversation, which would take two readings of an ordinance to change the code, to make everybody the same price that’s fine, but I don’t seeing delaying this vote for that issue.”
Councilman Secretary Lloyd Martin agreed that the resolution would allow different companies to charge different rates but wished for the ordinance to remain in having the companies have to set their meters at the same price.
“What happens now if you do this increase we’re going to see some people increase their fares and see some people decrease their fares or leave them the same,” he said. “We’re opening up a can of worms if you do this.”
Chief Bernadette DiPino said that “enforcement wise” it doesn’t make a difference to the police department.
“The enforcement would be the same if they want to have it at one rate and then somebody have it at another,” she said. “We‘ll be able to calculate the meters and be able to make sure they have the correct amount of money on there.”
DiPino added that the police department has no opinion in what the taxi companies should charge as a rate.
“I wouldn’t give an opinion one way or another because that’s enterprise and I think in a capitalist society you should allow the businesses in my opinion to set their own rates,” she said.
Council President Jim Hall offered to table the matter and to schedule an additional meeting in order to further discuss it with taxi company owners and the police department in order to come to some kind of an agreement.
“I am not going to vote on this tonight because I still don’t feel I have weight to either side,” Jim Hall said. “Again, they have not gotten together and if it is that important to them to raise the fees or the gas subsidy … they need to get together and come back to us united.”
The council agreed to table the resolution and no action was made towards a taxi cab fare increase.