More taxis are coming to Nashville and many of the new drivers will be the owners of their own cab company.
“This is the American dream,” said Shimenes Tafesse, vice president of Volunteer Taxi, a company led by a group of Ethiopian-born immigrants, now authorized as the first-ever driver-owned company in Nashville.
With a nervous crowd of cab drivers watching, the Metro Transportation Licensing Commission, which oversees Nashville’s taxi industry, voted Thursday to authorize 120 new cab permits, lifting the cap on taxis in Davidson County from 585 to 705 by next spring.
Under the agreement approved by the commission, 60 of the taxis can begin service immediately, while 60 more can hit the streets after Music City Center, Nashville’s new convention center, opens in April 2013.
Of the first allotment of 60 cabs, two existing companies will receive 15 permits apiece: Taxi USA and Checker Cab. The commission voted to allocate 30 of the permits to Volunteer Taxi, a group that for more than a year has asked for a chance to break into an industry dominated by a handful of cab bosses.
Nashville’s existing cab industry, Volunteer Taxi organizers contend, requires 16-hour workdays by drivers, offers no health benefits or workers’ compensation, and forces drivers to pay weekly franchise fees called “licks” to use a company’s logo.
With the clearance to open, they say a burden is now lifted. “We’ll be on the road within 60 days,” said Delelegn Ambaw, president of Volunteer Taxi, which requested 61 permits, but is satisfied for now nonetheless.
Nashville currently has five operating cab companies. With the opening of Volunteer Taxi, the number will rise to six.
The licensing commission will reconvene in January to decide which companies would receive the second allocation of 60 permits. On Tuesday, nine companies applied, including five new companies. Each group can reapply in January.
Among those denied permits Thursday was TENN-CAB, a second proposed driver-owned company formed by a group of Somali drivers.
Expanding the number of taxis in Nashville –– pushed by those looking for a piece of the pie –– has caused angst for many existing companies. Some drivers fear more cabs will reduce business.
“It’s dog-eat-dog out there,” said driver Maurice Harris of Yellow Cab, the only Nashville taxi company that didn’t apply for more permits.
The commission, however, gave more credence to a recent report from RPM Transportation Consultants  that supported the need for cabs after the 1.2 million-square-foot Music City Center opens.