Dress code suggested for taxi driversCouncil rejects regulations
A proposal to have island taxi drivers adhere to a dress code, as well as a series of other rules, failed at the most recent Town Council meeting after a group of drivers expressed their distaste for the measure.
The Motor Vehicles for Hire Commission had drafted a dress code, a ban on pets in cabs, and a ban on advertising in or on the vehicles, and presented this to the council for approval. However, the council voted to ask the commission to revise its proposal and also incorporate more input from taxi drivers.
About 12 drivers and owners attended the Monday, Dec. 2 council meeting to voice their opinions in a lively but civil debate. Opinions were mixed on the advertisement and pet bans, but the driver’s were almost, but not quite, uniformly against the dress code.
As part of the proposal, there would be guidelines for clothing, “Shirts: clean, with long or short sleeves, no holes, rips or tears; no cut offs; tucked neatly into pants if the shirt has tails. If a square bottom, shirt may be left out. No halter tops. Sweatshirts may be worn only as outer garment.”
Motor Vehicles for Hire Commissioner Connie La Rue attended the meeting to explain the reasons for the proposal.
“Some other places do have a dress code. We don’t want passengers to feel nervous because the driver looks funny,” she said. She said there were various complaints, although she didn’t give specifics when asked to.
Taxi driver Mark Emmanuelle spoke in support of this: “We’re ambassadors to Block Island. It’s all about how you present yourself.”
Others disagreed. “I think at some point, you’re taking away some of the differences and the charm of being on Block Island,” said Vicky Carson, comments that were echoed by others. “I think you’re trying to regulate the way a young person dresses.”
“It’s freedom of expression,” said Allie McCabe. She read from the tourism publication “The Block Island Guide,” which lists a describes the Block Island taxis as “a unique fleet of taxi cabs cabs on Block Island.”
Cab owner James Rondinone said it should be up to each owner to regulate their employees’ attire. “I should be able to speak to them [my drivers], and say, ‘here’s an issue,” he said.
Another regulation in the commission drafted said: “Chauffeurs may not bring their pets to work, except for licensed service animals. Fares’ pets may be carried at the discretion of the chauffeur, except licensed service animals must be carried.”
“I have my little dog in the cab with me,” said Linda Pearson, disagreeing with the regulation. “If I don’t have him, everyone says, ‘where’s your dog?’”
Rondinone spoke in support of the pet ban, commenting that they could be a potential safety violation.
A third suggestion in the draft said, “No advertising may appear on or in motor vehicles for hire. For purposes of this regulation, information identifying the motor vehicle for hire is not considered to be advertising.”
First Warden Kim Gaffet asked if this would mean there could be no brochures for island events such as a clambake. La Rue said this is not the intent.
Taxi driver Greg Burns said that Ed McGovern’s cab advertises Yellow Kittens bar and Winfield’s restaurant, both owned by McGovern. Cab owner Tim McCabe advertises his other business, Rustic Rides, as well.
“It’s not like they’re plastering the cab with trashy advertising,” Burns said.
However, Emmaneulle said this could be taken advantage of in the future.
“If you’re a taxi owner, you’d be stupid not to solicit from other businesses to make money, he said. “What the taxi commission is supposed to do is observe, see if something is going astray, and try to nip it in bud.”
While the council voted unanimously to send the three points back to the taxi commission for revision, the council did approve one regulation, a legal clarification that formally gives the Motor Vehicles commission authority to enforce the town’s current taxi ordinance.
Also at the meeting, the council approved a change to the taxi ordinance that will reduce the number of taxi licenses to 32. There are currently 34 licenses. The number will be reduced through attrition, after the next two license holders pass away.
La Rue said drivers asked the commission to reduce the number because there is not enough business to support the current amount of taxis. Most drivers expressed support for this.
“Expenses are way up, and revenues have not kept up,” said Rich Gann, speaking in favor of the reduction. “It would be a bonus to the owners to put a little more money in our pockets.”
A few disagreed, including Polly McMahon: “We have a lot of fares. On a busy day, it’s all we can do to get to the boat quick enough.”
The Town Council also discussed looking into existing wording in the taxi ordinance, which seemed unclear about when a taxi license is revoked after a license holder passes away.
Contract renewed for IT consultant
The town council voted 3-1 to renew a one-year contract for the town’s Information Technology (IT) consultant Michele Spero, who manages the town’s technology.
Councilor Warfel voted against this contract renewal, arguing that the contract should be put out to bid through a Request For Proposal (RFP) process.
This resulted in a heated back-and-forth between Town Manager Nancy Dodge and Warfel. Both interrupted the other, spoke in raised voices, and repeated arguments multiple times.
At several points, Warfel said to Dodge: “Stop trying to argue with me.”
Dodge continually let out seemingly frustrated sighs as Warfel repeated his comments. The sighing prompted Warfel to quip: “please stop doing this.”
Dodge had recommended that Spero’s contract be renewed and not put to bid.
“Why are you so opposed to putting out an RFP?” asked Warfel.
“To me, that implies a level of dissatisfaction,” Dodge said. “When I get someone who is good, I don’t want to insult them. If they’re working for us, I’d like to keep them.”
Warfel said he was dissatisfied with the technology in the town. “I don’t see a lot of movement, and we are behind the times,” he said.
Dodge pointed out that Spero, about a month ago, had presented to the council all the town’s technology projects she is working on. At that meeting, Warfel provided little comment and criticism regarding Spero’s performance.
Also at the Dec. 2 meeting, the council:
- Renewed the licenses for five companies who sell moped rentals. The council voted to add a stipulation that moped traffic violations be better enforced.
- Approved a management agreement between Block Island Health Services (BIHS) and the town. This explains the responsibilities of the town to help with building maintenance at the town medical center, and also lays out the town’s expectations of BIHS.
- Voted 3-1 to send a letter in support of the Deepwater Wind cable landing at Scarborough Beach in Narragansett, R.I. Several government agencies, including the Coastal Resources Management Council (CRMC) and Department of Environmental Management (DEM) are reviewing this proposal. Warfel was the nay vote.
- Voted to support a grant application by the Island Institute, a non-profit that is seeking to help islands increase their renewable energy. The council held a lengthy discussion about this topic, as Warfel disagreed about which renewable energy sources are better to focus on. He said he supported the overall grant.
- Discussed possibly allowing the Recreation Board to use social media to promote events. Councilors agreed that a meeting between the Recreation Board would be the best approach to discuss this.
- Voted to charge a $5 fee for replacing a lost shellfish gauge, which measures the size of shellfish. Replacements were previously free.
- Received and approved the monthly police report, the annual financial statements from the Block Island Tourism Council, and the Housing Board annual report.
- Voted to continue the enforcement of a New Shoreham Wastewater ordinances violation. According to Wastewater Management Inspector Don Thimble, a property off Corn Neck Road (Plat 4, Lot 32-2) has a failed septic system. The owner, Claire Gorayeb, has not been responsive to him, Thimble said.
Also, several island residents provided public input at the meeting. Chris Blane asked the council to contact the Department of U.S. Fish and Wildlife, because the department has disallowed hunting on its Block Island property, according to Blane. He also asked the council to provide free deer tags for hunters. Blane also commented that there should be more brush cutting on Corn Neck Road.
James Rondinone commented about erosion and unsafe conditions at the Mohegan Bluffs and suggested creating a bicycle stop at island intersections.