Thursday, June 20, 2013
PORTLAND — City officials plan to create a taxi board to represent the interests of cab drivers, owners and customers in improving taxi service and oversight.
The board would address a variety of issues raised Thursday during an annual meeting with taxi owners and drivers at City Hall. Concerns ranged from unsafe and dirty cabs to overcharging and a lack of taxi stands.
The board also would take up larger questions, such as how to improve enforcement of taxi ordinances and whether Portland should limit cab licenses because the city has too many taxis for it to be a viable livelihood.
City Councilor Kevin Donoghue said creating a taxi board would help bring clarity and resolution to long-standing problems that often generate diverse opinions but few solutions.
''Every other form of public transportation in Portland is overseen by a board of directors,'' Donoghue said. ''We need a venue like that for taxis because they deserve a higher level of attention than we're able to provide on the council.''
Portland has a dozen licensed cab companies and 136 licensed cabs, including 51 that work out of Portland International Jetport, city officials said. They compete for about 60,000 fares each month.
A company license costs $300 per year, or $600 at the jetport. Each cab license costs $75 and there's no limit on the number of licenses that may be issued.
However, cab drivers say there are many unlicensed cabs in the city -- a factor they say is driving down earnings and jeopardizing the overall quality and safety of taxi service.
Charles Bragdon, an independent cab driver, said he believes that more than 200 taxis operate in Portland. With an overall population of 65,000, that's about one cab for every 325 residents. The industry standard is about one for every 1,000 residents, he said.
''Ten years ago, an independent cab driver made $1,000 a week,'' said Bragdon, one of more than 25 cabbies who attended Tuesday's meeting. ''Now, drivers are making $350 a week at best.''
While Bragdon said Portland should trim the number of taxis operating in the city, other cabbies disagreed. Steve Kuntz, owner of ASAP Taxi, said the city should enforce the 42 pages of taxi ordinances already on the books rather than limit the number of cab licenses.
''If these rules were enforced, you would have fewer cabs on the road,'' Kuntz said.
Judy Harris, the city's transportation coordinator, said police are usually too busy answering calls for service to enforce taxi ordinances, which pertain to nearly every aspect of cab operations and driver behavior. She's developing a proposal that would allow her and other designated city officials to issue fines to cab drivers who violate the ordinances.
Harris said she encourages drivers to follow regulations, but still she gets complaints about drivers inflating fares, refusing to give payment receipts, failing to log passengers and taking the long way to nearby destinations.
Bashir Shuriye, owner of Airport Cab Co., urged Harris to take action against cab drivers who violate the ordinances.
''Take that guy off the street,'' he said.
Harris noted that city officials are reviewing all taxi policies, including the expense of overseeing cabs at the jetport. It costs $98,000 per year to have the jetport's parking contractor manage the 51 taxis waiting in line for fares, said Paul Bradbury, jetport manager.
Bradbury said the jetport has stopped issuing licenses to new cabs in an effort to reduce their numbers through attrition. Eventually, he said, the jetport plans to issue a competitive request for proposals and hire a single taxi company to serve the airport.
''That's the way we handle every other concession at the jetport,'' Bradbury said. ''Taxis would be the same.''
Staff Writer Kelley Bouchard can be contacted at 791-6328 or at: