Ocean City Tweaks Taxi Regs, Adds Category For Uber

OCEAN CITY – An amendment to the law regulating the local taxi industry was approved this week in advance of Uber’s arrival in Ocean City.

On Monday evening, an ordinance came before the Mayor and City Council on second reading that makes a list of changes to Ocean City’s taxicab law as well as including language in regards to Uber.

Ocean City allows for a total of 175 taxicab medallions in the city limits — up to 85 percent issued to fleet holders and up to 15 percent issued to independent holders. Currently, all medallions are owned by holders and fleets and are sold between them.

The ordinance requires medallion holders to have their vehicles inspected annually, operate by meter, proof of insurance, hold a business license and drivers must obtain a permit as well as be subject to background checks and drug tests.

A couple of weeks ago, the City Council passed the ordinance on first reading, listing a number of changes to the taxicab regulations, including a $50 replacement fee for a lost or stolen medallion, verbiage making it unlawful to charge a cleaning fee to a passenger in excess of $150, changing the annual taxicab inspection decal expiration date from March 31 of each year to April 30 and instituting a fee structure for vehicles inspected after April 30, assessing a fee of $7.50 if the owner fails to timely notify the taxi driver of a drug screening request and, if not paid, the owner’s medallion shall not be renewed.

It also adds provisions for voluntary deactivation and reactivation of taxi driver licenses if the driver is unavailable for random drug testing for more than two weeks and a provision for suspension or revocation of taxi drivers permit if the Chief of Police determines a violation constitutes a hazard to public safety, adds suspension and revocation measures based on conviction of felony or other offenses and outlines an appeal process, and establishes a policy for lost and found items where a taxi cab company will have to return items left in cabs to the police station within 24 hours.

In addition, language will be added under “Transportation Network Services,” referencing definition and assessment of a 25-cent fee for each trip generated by a Network Service company commencing on July 1, as outlined in the Annotated Code of Maryland, Public Utilities Article.

The last policy listed is in regards to car service companies, such as Uber that is a smart-phone enabled car service that has hit the streets in over 200 cities nationwide. A smart-phone app links a passenger to an Uber driver. The app provides many user-friendly features including fare estimations and the option to share a fare but since the company’s inception in 2009, Uber has met resistance from local, state and national governments usually backed by a frustrated taxi industry.

The Police Commission began discussions over Uber in February when City Solicitor Guy Ayres explained Uber had gone unregulated for years and was in the process of working with the Maryland Public Service Commission (PSC) in becoming regulated due to frustrations that arose among the Baltimore taxi industry.

The General Assembly approved this year legislation giving Uber and other app-based car services permanent legal status in Maryland. The bill creates a separate “transportation network services” category for Uber and similar services, so that they would not be classified under the state’s definition of “common carriers” like taxis and limo services.

Uber would have to register with the PSC, conduct background checks on drivers and maintain at least $1 million in liability insurance, which is similar to what Ocean City already requires of local cabs.

Earlier this year Uber representative Kaitlin Durkosh reported the company currently does not have any immediate plans to expand to Ocean City. However, Uber has advertised for drivers in the area on social media.

“The ordinance is not primarily about Uber. This is really about making some changes to the existing ordinance that has been in effect now for a few years and there were some things we discovered that would improve the ordinance. The addition of Uber came up later in the game. When we got notice from the PSC that they would be regulating Uber, we were then able to determine how exactly it would affect us,” Mayor Rick Meehan said on Monday. “There were just two taxi medallions that transferred and one was for $7,000, which is far and above what they originally sold for. It looks to me that the taxi industry is well aware that there is a possibility the Uber service will come to Ocean City but they are ready to stand and compete. It might be another incentive to prove the industry and take it to another level … and enhance the taxi service. Right now, the taxicab industry is still viable with the medallions holding their value, and they understand what can happen if Uber comes but Uber has been able to work with the taxicab industry in other cities as well.”

The council voted unanimously to approve the ordinance in its final reading.