Taxi companies seek higher regs
In the name of safety and image, Park City’s For Hire Vehicle companies are asking the city for more regulations on taxicab vehicles and drivers — regulations similar to those imposed on their companies at the Salt Lake City Airport. Higher standards could also curtail the hundreds of $75 licenses issued each year. Last year alone, there were 415 licenses issued, according to Park City’s Finance Department. According to Park City’s Ace Transportation Inc. owner Robert O’Brien and owners of other Park City cab and shuttle companies and Park City Police Chief Lloyd Evans met as a Task Force twice over the summer to discuss the future of the for-hire vehicle industry. The amount of licensed cabs has grown considerably, in part because of smaller cab companies driving up from Salt Lake. Park City cabs do not have the same privileges as Salt Lake cabs. Currently, there are only three taxicab franchises that are licensed to operate in Salt Lake: Ute Cab Company, Yellow Cab, and City Cab. Park City for-hire vehicles that operate as taxicabs in Park City, therefore, can only act as shuttles to and from the airport in Salt Lake. The reverse is not true for Salt Lake cabs, which can operate locally so long as they have Park City business licenses. According to the Salt Lake City Department of Airports’ shuttle standards, vehicles with a scratch longer than six inches are denied a license. Yet, cab companies in Park City can have doors that don’t even open, Kevin Beliveau, owner of Park City’s Daytrips Transportation says. Substandard cabs, rusted and broken, can therefore get licensed to operate in Park City as cabs and deliver Park City guests to area hotels and resorts. At last week’s Park City Council work session, Evans, on behalf of shuttle and cab companies, asked the government to consider implementing a 10-year-old age limit on taxi vehicles holding 15 passengers or less, and raising the minimum insurance requirement from $750,000 to $1.5 million. "The biggest concern seems to be the industry’s feeling that there’s a glut of companies coming in offering taxi services," he said, adding that the industry feels that it needs to begin to protect and preserve the image of Park City. Code requirements do not appear to deter companies from licensing their for-hire vehicles in Park City. City staff in fact found an increase in the number of licensed for-hire vehicle companies in the past few years. Staff recommended to council that the current city ordinance regulating the for-hire Vehicle businesses in Park City remain the same. O’Brien, asked council why the insurance requirement of $1.5 million was originally lowered to $750,000 in December of 2004, since most every cab that comes from Salt Lake doesn’t take advantage of the lowered requirement. "My impression is that the cabs coming up from Salt Lake all have $1.5 million insurance plans, it just never made sense to me why that changed," he said. "Why would they ask for something they never intended to use?" City staff’s report supported O’Brien’s argument: of the 400 vehicles licensed in Park City, those vehicles with the lesser level of insurance accounted for only a dozen vehicles. Park City Manager Tom Bakaly reminded council that before the insurance rate was lowered last year, some Salt Lake cab companies threatened to sue Park City’s legal department for their $1.5 million insurance requirement, since, as Salt Lake cabs, they were only required to have a $750,000 plan. To avoid any legal challenges in the future, council voted to change the minimum requirement of Park City’s for-hire vehicle Licensing Municipal Code. Bakaly added that city staff could not find any change in the number of Salt Lake companies signing up for Park City for-hire vehicle licenses. The lowered requirement did not increase the number of vehicles with $750,000 insurance plans, he said. The industry’s concern about the safety and age of vehicles is not year round, but during peak visitor periods when the city gets bombarded with various cab companies, according to Donnie Novelle, owner of Park City Transportation and chair person of the task force. "That’s when you see the very old sedans and drivers that don’t know how to get around," she observed. "It’s about safety and protecting the environment from toxic emissions," she said, adding that in a recent study of licensed vehicles in Park City, only eight Park City-based for-hire vehicle companies had vehicles more than 10 years old, compared to 18 vehicles used by Salt Lake shuttle and cab businesses. Limiting the age of vehicles won’t do much to curtail the increasing number of cabs licensed in Park City, but it will take away 10 percent of Salt Lake cab companies who come to town during peak visitor days, O’Brien said.
Council member Joe Kernan was concerned that cab companies that wanted to operate older model vehicles with character wouldn’t be able to if there was an age limit, and he wouldn’t want to discourage that, he said.
"We fly in planes that are what, 40 years old?" he argued. "There’s got to be some way to test the safety of a car without requiring an age limit."
There shouldn’t be new laws simply to discourage out-of-town business, Kernan said.
O’Brien says the task force will hold its next meeting in March to take the Park City for-hire vehicle industry to the next level, which he says might mean Park City cab companies request to be franchised like companies in Salt Lake, though that would likely be a last resort. "There are too many [for-hire] vehicles registered in Park City," he explains, noting that 750,000 Salt Lake residents are serviced by less than 200 cabs, while Park City has more than twice as many cabs, with a population that likely doesn’t exceed 15,000, even at the height of ski season.
"I just don’t think it’s good customer service. These companies are legally entitled but not qualified to drive people around. They don’t know where they’re going," he said.
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