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Police Chief Warns Gypsy Cabs To Register or Face Fines, Suspensions: Livery Plates Not OK

 

With only one legal taxi cab now operating in the city, Chief Sienkiewicz’ letter to unauthorized “livery” cabs has stirred activity at the city clerk’s office.

 

By DAVID REID

NORTHAMPTON – Unauthorized cabs operating in the city as taxis but not registered with the city and operating outside its strict taxi cab regulations were put on notice by Police Chief Russell Sienkiewicz last week to shape up or face fines up to $300 per day and possible suspensions.

Northampton Media photographed this company picking up a fare on Prospect Street earlier this week, in apparent violation of the city's taxi ordinances. (David Reid photo)

In his June 6 letter, the chief gave “All Taxi and Livery Businesses Conducting Transportation Services in the City of Northampton” 10 business days to comply with the city’s taxi regulations or face a variety of possible penalties.

The crackdown comes in the wake of Northampton Media’s exclusive June 1 report that the Green Cab Company run by Peter Pan Bus Lines here was closing its seven-vehicle taxi business. That development left the city with only one registered taxi company, Cosmic

Cab, which has only one licensed cab. (To see our story on Green Cab’s closing, click here.)

Peter Pan VP Bruce Westcott said one reason Green Cab was shutting down its cab business here was because numerous city-based gypsy cab companies – operating as taxis but licensed as livery companies – were undercutting Peter Pan’s legitimate operations. By operating older cabs with lower insurance and cheaper “livery” license plates, paying cabbies less money and charging lower fares, Westcott said, these rogue taxi operators had created an uneven playing field in which his business could not make money.

The demise of Green Cab left Cosmic Cab as the only 100-percent legal taxi service in the city.

Since fall 2010, Green Cab operated five taxis and two vans from the Peter Pan bus station at 1 Roundhouse Plaza, in the parking lot below City Hall.

Several taxi companies, properly licensed in Amherst but which do not fall under Northampton’s taxi regulations, are also known to be operating in the city, reportedly picking up and dropping off customers.

Neither Sienkiewicz nor Mayor David Narkewicz were aware that the city’s taxi regulations were not being complied with and that, with Green Cab’s departure, there is only one licensed cab in the city.

Both also expressed concern that the city population served by taxis – the elderly, the poor and many physically or mentally disabled folks, as well as those who choose not to own a car or drive – would have no safe and regulated cab service to depend on. Each also vowed to strengthen the city’s taxi laws and enforce those already on the books.

The Police Chief’s Stern Warning and a Promise of Stricter Enforcement

Police Chief Russell Sienkiewicz is cracking down on rogue cab companies in the city.

The city’s taxi regulations require all prospective cabbies to undergo criminal background checks, to display taxicab licenses bearing their photograph while driving cabs, and for all taxi cabs to be inspected twice yearly and to carry insurance levels well above that of civilian vehicles. For companies operating outside the regulations, the police have no record of the vehicles or the drivers, and can exercise no oversight.

In his letter, Sienkiewicz noted that it “has recently come to the attention of the Police Department that several businesses operating in Northampton as ‘Vehicles for Hire’ are using registered ‘Livery’ vehicles, when in fact these vehicles are operating as ‘Taxicabs.’”

Such vehicles, the chief said, are not in compliance with either city ordinances or state statutes.

According to Sienkiewicz, who helped draft the city’s current taxicab regulations two decades ago, a taxicab is defined as “any vehicle which carries passengers to or from a location in the city for a fee, whenever summonsed, without any prior arrangement or contract.”

A livery vehicle, the chief wrote, “is any limousine or other vehicle designed to carry 15 or fewer passengers for hire, e.g. for business courtesy, employee shuttle, customer shuttle, charter or other pre-arranged and pre-paid transportation.”

Failure by companies acting as taxicabs in the city to register their vehicles and for drivers to obtain proper licenses within 10 days, Sienkiewicz wrote, could result in fines of $100 to $300 per violation, as well as suspension by the state Registry of Motor Vehicles of a driver’s license for cabbies or of the vehicle’s registration.

“After the 10-day grace period,” Sienkiewicz concluded, “full enforcement efforts for compliance will take place.”

In past years, police officers have conducted stings by calling unauthorized companies for a ride to and from a store or home, with responding companies and cabbies receiving non-criminal tickets.

A Flurry of Activity Among Cab Companies and Drivers

Aaron's Paradise Transportation is hustling to bring the operation into compliance with city regulations.

According to City Clerk Wendy Mazza, there has been a flurry of activity from cabbies and companies since the chief’s letter was mailed.

One of the companies operating here with livery license plates is Aaron’s Paradise Transportation, whose business certificate states it operates from 221 Pine St., Suite 143, here.

According to Mazza, Aaron’s owner Scott J. Bellemore of Shutesbury came to her office in recent days to pick up 13 applications to change his vehicle registrations from livery to taxi cabs. Also, said Mazza, several cabbies from Aaron’s have also applied for taxi cab driver licenses; Sienkiewicz is empowered to approve all taxi drivers after a criminal background check. If he rejects a driver based on his record, the would-be taxi driver can appeal to the City Council’s Public Safety Committee.

Bellemore could not be reached in time for this story.

In addition, Mazza said, one taxi company licensed to operate in Amherst has indicated it intends to expand operations here.

And Cosmic Cab is trying to double its fleet of taxis by applying for an OK to add a second vehicle: a white 2002 Dodge Caravan. Its other vehicle, a red 1998 Caravan, is currently the only properly registered and insured taxi cab operating in the city. That additional cab license was approved by the City Council at their last meeting.

Meanwhile, two drivers from the defunct Green Cab company are trying to start a new cab company here plan to call GoGreen Taxi, but have not yet registered as a taxi company with the city. Although the cabbies have secured the old phone number from Green Cab (586-0707), their efforts to run their company from the Peter Pan station where Green Cab operated were scotched two weeks ago when a tentative offer fell through, they said.

Expect to see several more players enter the taxi cab business here.

© 2012 Northampton Media

David Reid can be reached at dreid@northamptonmedia.com

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