City subcommittee responds to complaints against new taxicab policy on State Street
By Nora Hertel | Fri, 07/13/2012 - 3:14pm
Eight cab stands installed through mid-June designate locations for cabs and patrons to meet just off of State Street between the hours of 6 pm and 6 am. Cabs can line up at the stands, two of which are located at 400 North Frances and 300 West Gorham, depending on parking availability. Customers can find or wait for cabs at these locations.
An amendment to Section 12.915(8) of the Madison General Ordinance sponsored by Soglin himself hopes to prohibit cabs from parking on State Street or driving and looking for customers. The amendment changes the language of the ordinance to reflect the fact that State Street no longer has wide curbs, or bump-out parking for cabs, as it did before State Street’s most recent reconstruction.
“The mayor was concerned that there were a lot of cabs … making U-turns on State Street, that they were ‘cruising’ – that’s what they call it – looking for fares,” explained Transportation Operations Analyst Keith Pollock from the city’s Traffic Engineering Department .
According to Pollock, it is technically illegal for cabs to drive on State Street unless they are dropping off or collecting passengers who called the dispatcher for a taxi. This has been illegal since State Street became a transit mall.
And since State Street no longer has designated spots for cabs to wait for passengers, they are not permitted to do so. Polock said Soglin’s amendment attempts to clear up the language to reflect the current circumstances on State Street.
“Being that those bump-outs no longer exist that [part of the] ordinance is moot,” said Pollock.
The amendment was introduced on June 4, and the Common Council referred it to the Transit and Parking Commission, who then referred it to the Downtown Coordinating Committee. The amendment has not yet been passed by the Common Council.
On July 13 the State Street Taxi Subcommittee considered the changes and heard testimony from more than 15 people in opposition to the amendment. One speaker registered as neutral, and no one spoke in favor of the amendment.
Speakers included representatives from Green Cab of Madison, Union Cab, Badger Cab, Greater State Street Business Association, and Downtown Madison Incorporated.
A new grassroots group is also following the progress of the amendment carefully. Cab Drivers for Madison Safety sprung up in opposition to the amendment. The group formed on June 19, and hopes to modifythe amendment to allow cabs to seek fares on State Street between 10 pm and 4am.
The Taxi Subcommittee took the testimonies and recommendations to heart. Alders Mary Carbine, Mike Verveer, and Patrick McDonnell voted to recommend a substitute amendment allowing access for cabs on State Street between the hours of 10 pm and 4 am. They also recommended the council reevaluate cab stands with consideration of local stakeholders and industry representatives.
Christina Ballard, one of the founders of Cab Drivers for Madison Safety, explained that taxis provide an important service to businesses, police, and passengers on State Street. Having cabs on State Street at bar time helps clear out pedestrian traffic and returns people who have been drinking home safe. Forcing people to use taxi stands may be difficult for those unaware of the new policy, those who aren’t fully mobile, and those uncomfortable leaving the main drag in the dark, Ballard said.
And the policy is bad for the taxi drivers, who Ballard said don’t receive much support from the city for the important service they provide.
“Another reason we would like that access [to State Steet at night] is because it really affects the bottom line, and the driver’s income,” said Ballard. “Drivers are not paid hourly.”
David Lee, Operations Manager for Union Cab also worries that the stands will discourage cab use in general and result in a loss of revenue, with potential passengers returning to their cars instead.
While Lee appreciates the city’s attention to downtown transportation, he finds the amendment to the ordinance an unnecessary complication.
Lee remembers Soglin’s leadership role in making State Street into a mall during his first mayoral term in the ‘70s, and he sees this push to displace taxis as an extension of Soglin’s earlier efforts.
“[Soglin’s] trying to put his stamp on [State Street] and clean it up,” said Lee. “And he thinks that removing cabs off the street late at night would do that.”
Before the amendment is revisited by the mayor and the Common Council, the new recommendations from the Taxi Subcommittee will be further explored at the Downtown Coordinating Committee meeting on July 19.
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