The Block Island Times
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Motor vehicles commission seeks input

By Stephanie Turaj | Dec 23, 2013

A nearly-empty room at a Wednesday, Dec. 18, meeting of the Motor Vehicles for Hire Commission left members wondering how do they attract more taxi drivers and owners to their meetings?

“We can try to hold a meeting, but if no one comes, what do we do?” asked commissioner Brad Marthens.

There was only one member of the public in attendance, Patrick Tengwall. (Two town clerks, four members of the commission, and The Block Island Times were also present.)

“There has got to be a creative solution for you to get owners and drivers to come to your meetings,” said Town Clerk Molly Fitzpatrick.

Commissioners decided to compile a list of drivers’ and owners’ email addresses to message them in advance of meetings. Fitzpatrick said a Facebook post from a taxi driver was what attracted attention to a recent Town Council meeting regarding taxis. However, Commission Clerk Bonny Ryan noted town employees are not allowed to use Facebook at Town Hall.

The commission is specifically looking for input on its recent proposal: a dress code, a ban on pets in cabs, and a ban on advertising in or on the vehicles.

When this idea was presented to the Town Council for approval at a recent meeting, about 12 drivers and owners attended to debate the proposal. Because of the many comments at that meeting — most in opposition — the council voted to ask the commission to revise its proposal and incorporate more input from taxi drivers.

The commission expressed initial reluctance to revise the proposal.

“I’m inclined, after working on this for three years, to send it back to the Town Council as it is, because it’s not an unreasonable request,” said Marthens. “Every town with taxis has a dress code. Drivers have just got to be presentable. They represent the community.”

“One comment I heard on the street was that we’re trying to take over their individual liberties,” said Commissioner Geoffrey Lawrence. “Give me a break.”

“I think the reason the council sent it back to you was because of a big turnout of drivers at the meeting,” Fitzpatrick said. “Without the support of the drivers and the owners, the regulations are not going to fly without constant enforcement. The council can’t really pass a regulation if they have a roomful of people objecting.”

The commission ultimately agreed to revisit the proposal when more people were in attendance.

Also at the meeting, Fitzpatrick asked the commission for input on another change to the taxi ordinance. This would be a legal clarification about when a taxi license expires after the license holder passes away. Fitzpatrick said the ordinance currently requires the license to be revoked immediately. This creates a problem if a license holder passes away while the cab is operating at that same moment.

The town attorney has proposed two weeks for a single person, and 30 days for a married couple (so the remaining spouse can transfer the license). The commission members supported a shorter period such as 24 hours, instead of two weeks, for a single person.

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