On Monday night the taxi ordinance committee formed to untangle Eureka's messy taxi situation continued to work its way through past variations of the ordinance. Taxi service operator David "Fuzzy" White was on hand, as was Cody Steussy of Abundant Transportation and Eureka Springs Limo.
At the committee's request, City Clerk Ann Armstrong brought copies of Eurekan taxi ordinances going back nearly 100 years to compare/contrast the variations of the franchise over the decades.
The most comprehensive version located was put together 1997-2000, and Armstrong pointed out its value. "The bottom of the first page refers to state statutes, which are attached to the back, so you know there's as definition of what a taxi is, rates, permit requirements, the fact qualifications must be listed, and the fact the taxi is considered a public utility," Armstrong said.
She added the last two pages of that version of the ordinance were significant in that the franchise is defined there as "unlimited as to time," and it outlines the process for revoking a franchise.
At some point the word "franchise" was removed from city code without any existing record of the process by which this took place.
"What most people don't realize," said Armstrong, "is that if a city does away with a franchise, they must purchase the assets of the de-franchisee."
Armstrong also had on hand a copy of the council minutes for the public hearing in which White was given a certificate of public conveyance.
Alderman James DeVito focused on the safety requirements for any taxi company operating under the ordinance in the city. "What I'd like to see in our ordinance is a requirement for safety inspections," he said.
According to Steussy, the Fayetteville police dept., which is in charge of enforcing taxi safety, farms the inspections out to professional mechanics.
Alderman Parker Raphael said what was really needed was an upgraded taxi fleet. "But we haven't protected our taxi service enough to allow them to afford to to upgrade their equipment," he said. "We've never protected our taxi franchise in my opinion. I'm sure Mr. White tries to keep his taxis in good working order."
White pointed out that in 23 years he had never had an accident and never had any problems "except for some people here."
"We can't craft an ordinance based on the fact you've never had an accident or gotten a ticket," DeVito replied.
Raphael said he felt a good inclusion in the ordinance would be a regular meeting of concerned parties to gather and disseminate information on changing conditions. He also recommended using as a model the ordinances or Hot Springs and/or Fayetteville. "I can't imagine how long it took them to work all that out," he said. "There's no use in reinventing the wheel."
White added he was not against intelligent discussion of any of the issues on the table as long as there wasn't an underlying agenda at work. "If there had been real accidents -- wheels falling off cars, anything -- that would be one thing," he said. "What I'm questioning is the motivation of bringing this all to the table."
Raphael agreed. "I'm also curious why we're so interested in the taxi ordinance. Have you thought of anything else you'd like to regulate?"
Debate ensued as to whether a single taxi service could legally meet the need of population.
"The term 'meets the need' is not defined anywhere," said White, "but you adapt to circumstances and do your best. If bars stay open till 4 a.m., you need cabs operating at 4 a.m. I believe in meeting the needs. Is 24/7 service reasonable? I try to do it but I don't know that it's reasonable."
Raphael agreed. "I would assume there would have to be a period of time at night when the taxi is not available except for emergencies. Perhaps a police contact."
White addressed the confusing hybrid taxi/limo licensing arrangement, which is currently under a moratorium. "This ordinance was clearly written with the idea of a limo not being the same as a taxi," he said. The truth is, the downturn in the economy changed what a limo is worth. They're giving them away. They're cutting holes in the centers and ice fishing in them!"
Raphael said the original ordinance had been good, but, "Then the limo got bunched in there. But the whole thing must be enforceable, unlike some of other ordinance. The only thing I can see to do involves the time requirement [requiring limos be reserved at least two hours in advance] or the minimum charge [for limo rental]. But I don't see how we can proceed with fixing the taxi ordinance until we divide the two."
In the end, Armstrong took down a list of items the committee decided must be their focus, including safety inspections, regular communicative meeting, a hearing process for applicants, required hours of operation, a posted rate schedule, and the issue of jumbo cabs.
The time for the next meeting will be announced shortly