Commission votes to increase number of taxis but only if next budget allows

Tuesday, December 20, 2011 at 7:21pm

Permitted taxis in Nashville could increase from 585 to 673, paving the way for the city’s first driver-owned cab company, but the scenario would require additional funding in the next budget for one of Metro’s smallest departments.

The Metro Transportation Licensing Commission voted Tuesday to increase the 585-limit on cab permits by 15 percent, contingent on the ability to increase staffing to carry out additional cab inspections. The vote, which requires new cabs be hybrid, included approval of Volunteer Taxi, a proposed cab company spearhead by 61 Ethiopian Americans.

For members of Volunteer Taxi, the commission’s vote means six more months of waiting. Commissioners won’t known until June, when the Metro Council votes on a 2012-2013 fiscal year budget, whether funding to staff new employees is granted. The next budget begins July 1.

“It’s little bit overwhelming,” said Volunteer Taxi lead organizer Delelegn Ambaw, adding his group still needs to “digest” the decision.

Brian McQuistion, director of the transportation licensing commission, told The City Paper his department operates on an approximate annual budget of $460,000. He estimated two new cab inspectors, totaling perhaps an additional $100,000, would be required for the cab increase.

As part of the commission’s vote, a study is to analyze taxi fees structures employed by comparable municipalities. Cab companies in Nashville pay annual fees of $75 and quarterly fees of $45 to the licensing commission. Increasing those figures, requiring Metro Council approval, could generate additional revenue.

In addition to granting pending approval to Volunteer Taxi, commissioners Tuesday approved a new taxi company called Green Cab. The two new companies would split 76 taxi permits. The commission also approved 12 additional permits for four existing cab companies.

Volunteer Taxi organizers, many foreign-born, have already alleged old cab bosses have fired them from their jobs for conspiring to launch the start-up business. They fear future firings now that their proposal has preliminary approval.

“The threat is real,” Ambaw said. “They may retaliate.”

These foreign-born drivers, unable to unionize, hope to reduce their 14-hour workdays and supply health benefits to employees by starting their own company. This is achievable, they say, through eliminating weekly payments they deliver to Nashville’s five existing companies to use their logos and business infrastructure.

Attorney Paul Soper, legal counsel for Volunteer Taxi, said he would explore asking the commission to institute a moratorium on firing cab drivers until the next fiscal year. He said he’s optimistic the city can find funding for additional cabs.

“The fees haven’t been adjusted in a long time,” Soper said. “We have a lot of council people in our corner who understand the need for this company to succeed.”

Backers include the 10 members of the Metro Council’s Black Caucus, which announced its support for Volunteer Taxi in a letter sent to the commission Tuesday. The caucus called the proposal an “opportunity to make history for our city.”

“We offer our support to aid you in eliminating any funding and staffing concerns that create an impediment to awarding permits to Volunteer Taxi,” the letter reads.

Additional funding is the key. As it stands, transportation licensing employees, few in numbers, say they already have trouble inspecting Nashville’s 585 permitted cabs.

“The balloon is full of air,” one inspector explained.

6 Comments on this post:

By: Nashvillesanity on 12/21/11 at 11:50

This is quite possibly one of the most disturbing power grabs I've ever seen. The Metro Transportation & Licensing Commission (MTLC) has voted to increase the number of cab permits if it gets additional funding from the Metro Council. Effectively the MTLC has turned the parties who submitted a meritorious permit request into lobbyists for the MTLC to receive additional funding.

The MTLC has stated "we think you should get your taxi permits, but we just don't have the manpower to inspect your taxis." The MTLC should grant the permit application because it promotes competition, better business, and greater employee benefits in Nashville. However, the MTLC should make its own request to the Metro Council for additional funds for taxi inspectors based upon the inspector's current inability to fulfill his job.

There are 251 working days in the Metro calendar after weekends and holidays. Currently there is only one (1) taxi cab inspector to perform one annual inspection of each licensed taxi cab in the city. At the current number that's inspecting 2.3 cabs in an 8 hour day. The inspection each cab undergoes is purely cosmetic and does not include a rigorous mechanical inspection including the taximeter (yep, that's right, the taximeter in each cab is rarely, if ever, checked by Metro Government.)

The City should definitely increase the number of inspectors and require more rigorous mechanical RANDOM testing on more than one occasion throughout the year, but that's a separate point. The issuance of licenses should be based purely on a calculation of whether the drivers are qualified, whether the taxis are in good condition, and whether Nashville has the capacity to operate them - not whether the MTLC thinks they have enough staff to inspect the cabs which are admittedly good and necessary for the community.

Honestly, the simple answer to this problem is for the City to appoint a few different private garages/service centers to perform rigorous cab inspections which are managed by a central Metro employee. Make the cab drivers/companies pay for the required testing and Metro oversight through the fee charged, and the MTLC doesn't even have to worry about keeping an inspection team on staff and maintaining facilities where the inspections are performed.

Its sad that on this issue our government is broken.

By: Nashvillesanity on 12/21/11 at 11:58

Also, just to make the math easy - the proposal of the MTLC for an additional 2 employees would bring the total number of Metro inspectors to three (3). With three inspectors and 673 taxis in 251 working days, that means each inspector will be asked to complete the herculean task of performing 0.89 taxi inspections per day. (That better be a pretty detailed inspection over the course of an eight hour day.)

Yes, the MTLC has conditioned the issuance of more permits on Metro providing more funding so it can employ a panel of inspectors who will be asked to inspect less than one (1) taxi per day on average.

Where do I sign up?

By: producer2 on 12/21/11 at 12:46

Transportation Licensing Commission
1417 Murfreesboro Road
P.O. Box 196300
Nashville, TN 37219-6300
Tel. (615) 862-6777
Fax (615) 862-6765

By: govskeptic on 12/21/11 at 3:51

Increase the existing 500 + cabs. I'm guessing there are a lot of
licensed cabs sitting somewhere with blown engines etc. etc.
Maybe there are license sitting on desk tops for a rainy day as
there certainly doesn't seem to be that many actually working
cabs in this city!

By: great advisor on 12/22/11 at 4:44

As a former taxi driver in Nashville I can say with certainty that the Transportation Board is about to take a step to further exacerbate the problems of poor service, poverty among cab drivers, and riches among some companies mascarading as taxi companies but in reality are dispatch services with no responsibilties toward the welfare of their drivers. Nearly all American drivers quit years ago because of these entrenchched policies, leaving immigrants escaping political oppression or extreme poverty - or both - as the only ones able to endure a job that to Americans would seem draconian in reward versus effort. It's like the Viet Nam War in one way: everybody on both sides is lying and the little guys pay the price. Members on the board have no experience in the day to day operations of the industry. Then there are others like Butch Spyridon: "Competition is good." Got news for you Butch, competition has gone too far. The amount of taxis need to be cut back, not increased. Give the drivers who want to start a new company what they want but let them get their new drivers from the existing pool. Put competition between companies into the mix. Let them bid for the existing drivers between themselves. Requiring "green" taxies is not economically feasible for someone not making minimum wage and I can gaurantee you that taxi drivers do not make minimum wage unless they're paying off a dispatcher (another problem). The only way a driver can make it economically is to buy a three or four-year-old car and run it as long as he can. So new cars are out of the picture. Of course the whole problem of the taxi dilemma is on the mayor as he appoints the Transportation Board toard to run things and then hides from the problems that he doesn't even know exist..

@Joey Garrison: If you really want the lowdown on the whole industry get my email address from City Paper, let me know of your interest, and I'll make myself available for an interview.

By: Ask01 on 12/22/11 at 9:16

Perhaps I'm missing something here. I am the first to admit that fact.

i've been laboring under the perception funds generated by the collection of licensing and permit fees were supposed to support the agency collecting said funds.

Government should be operated efficiently within a budget, should it not? Of course, I also believe in Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny, the Tooth Fairy, and the Great Pumpkin. Just kidding.