The city’s taxi industry is lobbying the city council to allow more than decade-old taxi cabs to remain on the roads.
Under existing ordinance, taxi cabs that have reached the age of 10 years must be retired. Age is measured counting up from the model year. For example, a 2007 Ford Crown Victoria cannot remain in services when a company renews its medallion for 2017, according to the ordinance.
36 old taxicabs from 9 companies reached the 10-year threshold as of March 31st, 2017, according to city records.
Hael Reinoso, owner of SRD Taxi of Straight Street, urged council members to grant an additional year. “Technically they are ten years. Our vehicles were supposed to be renewed until the end of this year,” she said on Tuesday night.
Her company has 12 cabs of which 1 is at the end of its life.
Reinoso appeared to create a loophole to pass her expiring car through. However, the city’s ordinance left little room for loopholes in the law by providing a clear example of the way a vehicle’s age should be calculated.
“For the purposes of this section, vehicle age shall be measured in model years, from the model year referenced by the Vehicle Identification Number (VIN) to the model year as of the expiration date of the taxi’s annual registration,” reads the ordinance. “For example, where the expiration date for all taxicab annual registrations is set as March 31, vehicles whose VIN indicates the 2004 model year may remain in service through March 31, 2014; those whose VIN indicates the 2005 model year may remain in service through March 31, 2015, and so on.”
Law director Domenick Stampone read the ordinance to council members. He rebutted Reinoso’s suggestion the taxi ordinance has multiple interpretations by pointing to the clearly written example provided in the ordinance.
Council members were mixed on whether to amend the ordinance to allow the companies to gain additional years. Council president William McKoy expressed little interest in allowing the taxi companies to keep old cars in service.
“You’ve been in business for quite a long time and this ordinance has been in place for a long time,” said McKoy. “We can’t create an exception to the law.”
Reinoso claimed the ordinance was not followed in the past years. “It just wasn’t implemented two years prior. I understand this is not a new law, but it was not implemented because of that we thought things would be done the way they have been.”
“You got credit for two years,” said McKoy as the woman repeatedly said the ordinance was not followed in the past two years. “The fact that you came after the close ties our hands.” Her one car expired on March 31st, 2017.
Council members Luis Velez, Alex Mendez, and Kenneth Morris wanted to revisit the ordinance to possibly change the 10-year service age for cabs.
“We really need to take another look at this. I drive a 2007 car and it’s in mint condition,” said Morris, councilman at-large. His car though does not transport hundreds of passengers every week.
Morris is also a car collector who likely takes better care of his vehicles than ordinary owners. He called using the model year to determine whether a car stays in service or not a “little unfair” and suggested a vehicle inspection to determine whether a car should be allowed on the road.
The city’s taxi division within the police department conducts inspection periodically which involves ensuring the vehicles are clean and meters are functioning.
“There just needs to be other criteria other than the age of the vehicle,” said Morris.
“Have you seen some of the cabs?” asked McKoy. The taxicab age conversation has been occurring for the past five to seven years. “Age of the car was 7 years or less. We moved it to 10.”
“How can we put in an extension?” asked Mendez. The council will have to amend the ordinance, said the law director. “Can we do that now?” An ordinance change will take a month and half, said officials.
Velez said the mayor can issue an executive order to grant an extension. “An executive order cannot explicitly go against what is in the code,” said Stampone. He said executive orders can fill gaps in the code or address ambiguities in law.
Morris told the dozen or so representatives of the taxi industry they can either gamble on the ordinance change and park their vehicles for the next month or two or purchase new cars for their fleets.
“The ordinance may or may not be in your favor,” said Morris. “Those in violation of the ordinance need to be parked at this time.” Some of the city’s taxi companies are notorious for having unclean and foul vehicles that lead to complaints from residents.
“People were coming down here complaining about the condition of the cab. That’s how we came up with the years,” said Ruby Cotton, 4th Ward councilwoman. As taxi company owners complained the city granted additional years until it reached 10 years.
The firms that will benefit the most from an ordinance change are the larger cab companies. Reinoso has just 1 car from 2007. However, the bigger firms like Super Serv Taxi of Broadway, will see a bigger benefit.
Super Serve, also known as Svoy Taxi, has 30 cars. 10 of them expired this year. There’s also Excellent Transportation of Park Avenue which has 5 cars from 2007. Excellent has a fleet of 39 vehicles.
The city has a total of 12 taxi companies that have 217 medallions, according to city records.