(Aug. 16, 2013) You talkin’ to me?
While not yet at the pariah level of Travis Bickle, Robert DiNiro’s dark character in “Taxi Driver,” the city may soon be asking cab drivers to stop corralling their vehicles on 64th Street, at the request of a nearby business owner. But cabbies say the street is a prime location that they have just as much right to as anyone else.
Dead Freddie’s restaurant owner Steve Carullo asked the city’s Police Commission this week if any arrangements could be made so that cab drivers would not use 64th Street as a de-facto staging area. The street borders Carullo’s restaurant to the north, and also runs out alongside the bay inlet that Dead Freddies’ dining area overlooks.
“On any given day I’m losing about 40 parking spaces and it’s becoming an eyesore,” Carullo said. “If I had come and seen this four years ago when I bought the property, I wouldn’t be here.”
While not an official location, drivers from multiple cab companies use the street as an exchange point for shifts. Drivers will park their personal vehicles on the street and get in a cab vacated by the driver from a previous shift, who then drives his own personal vehicle home.
Not only is 64th a central location in the resort, cabbies say, but it also has virtually no through-traffic and an abundance of perpendicular parking spaces.
“It’s not like we’re inundating a neighborhood with commercial vehicles,” said one cab owner, who did not wish to be named. “The only thing actually on that street is a sewage treatment plant. I have just as much right to park there as the guy who owns Dead Freddie’s.”
The city has enforced rules against overnight parking in some areas, such as the Caine Keys neighborhood, to prevent residential areas from being used for commercial purposes. But discriminating between one commercial use – cabs – and other uses, such as beach or restaurant parking, presents some legal and ethical dilemmas.
“How do you target one specific type of vehicle?” asked Councilman Dennis Dare. “Any properly licensed vehicle can use a city street.”
It would be possible for the city to mandate where cabs could and could not be left, City Manager David Recor noted, via the town’s ordinance that already established a regulatory medallion system over the cab industry.
“But if you say they can’t park on one particular street, it’s just going to push them into the next street,” Recor said. “You’d have to legislate a specific area for them.”
Council President Lloyd Martin noted that the city has plenty of extra space in the West Ocean City Park and Ride that could be used for such a purpose.
“It’s a legitimate complaint,” said Mayor Rick Meehan. “They’re actually staging their business in the street and not on their own property. It may be that they have to find their own private lots to do this.”
However, cabbies contend that they have already established the right to stage business in public streets, via paying the city for the medallions that give them the right to operate a taxi in the resort’s limits.
The city initially sold 170 medallions for $1,500 each when the program was implemented in 2010. Additionally, the town gets a 25 percent cut of the sale price every time a medallion changes hands; cabbies are free to openly trade their medallions, although the market price of a limited supply has naturally risen above the initial 2010 price.
The city’s fee also has a set minimum of $500, meaning that cabbies will essentially have to pay a higher tax rate if they sell their medallions for less than $2,000. The city had previously discussed raising the minimum, to raise the margin floor on transfers and raise the sale prices even higher.
“This isn’t an anti-cab discussion,” Meehan cautioned. “This is a matter of how we can work with them to make the situation better for everybody.”