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City will pursue taxi regulations

December 15, 2004|by GREGORY T. SIMMONS

gregs@herald-mail.com

HAGERSTOWN - Blasting horns, unsafe driving and uninsured or unregistered vehicles sometimes seen in local ride-for-hire companies could soon be a thing of the past after action taken by the Hagerstown City Council on Tuesday.

The council authorized actions that would eventually allow the city to issue licenses to for-hire drivers. The city's licenses would replace ones issued by the Maryland Public Service Commission, which regulates taxi drivers and similar businesses.

There are no companies within city limits that provide a true taxi service, one in which a cab can be hailed from the curbside. The companies that operate in the city are referred to in state law as transportation services, which operate under less strict regulations than taxis.

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Officials said Tuesday during the council's work session that state regulators do not have the staff to enforce their laws here.

City Police Lt. Richard Reynolds said there is one Public Service Commission agent in the state to enforce the vehicle regulations.

Reynolds said local companies are "so far removed from this one investigator, I guess they feel (it's) out of sight, out of mind."

One driver told Reynolds he'd never been stopped in 10 years, Reynolds said. All told, the state has issued $11,000 in citations since it began its efforts earlier this year.

Reynolds and Chief Code Enforcement Officer John Lestitian recommended that the city take over regulating the for-hire drivers.

To do so, the city must ask the Washington County Delegation to the General Assembly to introduce legislation that would allow the city to issue the driver's licenses to all for-hire drivers who conduct business in the city, including companies that don't have business offices in the city but pick up riders within city limits, Lestitian said.

Once that is done, the city must draft its own ordinance that would outline what drivers must do to obtain the licenses, Lestitian said.

The new rules likely would make it necessary for drivers to have proper insurance and vehicle registration and to meet certain safety requirements and other road operation standards.

The council on Tuesday authorized the City Attorney's Office to begin drafting a proposal for the county delegation as well as city staff to begin looking at what the specific requirements would be.

Lestitian said after the meeting that if the General Assembly passes the legislation, a local ordinance could be ready in June.

City Councilman N. Linn Hendershot said more taxi regulations were "long overdue," but Tuesday's decision will bode well for the city.

Taxis in poor condition is "one of those things that does incredible damage to our city. It's a perception problem," Hendershot said.

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