CHAPEL HILL - Cab fare will no longer depend on which company picks you up, and in the future, you may even be able to catch a ride in a pedal-powered rickshaw.
The Town Council unanimously approved a revised taxi ordinance last week that sets flat rates for traveling downtown and to outlying areas. The original 1986 ordinance was last amended in 1993.
Council member Jim Ward questioned a recommended menu of additional fees for different size bags and suitcases. The fare should be based on mileage, he said.
That way, “they know ahead of time, and it’s simple to explain, and it’s simple to understand,” he said.
The council’s vote approved a series of flat-rate fares but excluded a 10-cent per bag fee for more than three grocery bags. Town staff will take another look at the remaining baggage fees.
Then UNC Student Body President Mary Cooper asked the council last year to review taxi regulations, which she said put students at risk and allows drivers to overcharge. State law allows towns to license and regulate vehicles for hire.Flat-rate rides
Chapel Hill Police Chief Chris Blue and town staff met with local taxi companies, researched other towns’ rules and reviewed public comments from a June 18 public hearing to come up with the new rules.
The result is a flat rate for rides within a 1.5-mile zone around downtown. Outside the zone, trips will now cost $2.50 per mile, with a minimum $5 charge. The fare for special events is $5 per person – an attempt to compensate taxi companies for fares they might miss while waiting in heavier traffic.
The revisions require taxicab companies to have $30,000 worth of liability insurance to cover an injury to one person, $60,000 for two people injured and $25,000 for property damage. They also require mandatory drug testing; and allow debit and credit card payments. The town manager may designate taxi stands downtown and declare a temporary fuel surcharge when gas prices hit certain levels.
Companies may also hire drivers with a felony record more than 10 years old and recoup costs when passengers soil their cabs.
The Police Department will enforce the system, and records supervisor Flora Parrish will continue inspecting taxicabs. Eventually, a dedicated inspector will be hired.
Current UNC Student Body President Will Leimenstoll said he supports the changes.
“There may be some increased costs, but I think at the end of the day, we’re going to do our part to try to give taxi companies here free marketing to really try to help make up those increased costs,” he said.Not all agree
Blue said most but not all taxi companies agree with the changes.
Lesley Parr, who operates Time To Go Taxi, said the town should crack down on out-of-town taxi companies working in the area who don’t have to meet the requirements.
Time To Go Taxi has been charging $3 a mile, with an $8 minimum, he said. Drivers estimate the distance traveled using a GPS, and passengers can choose whether to pay his rates, he said. The town’s proposed rates are “ridiculous,” he said.
“Here I am, behind the wheel of a car trying to get somebody somewhere as safe as possible, and I have to explain all of this,” Parr said. “ My concentration needs to be on driving, not explaining the rates.”
The revisions also create new rules for the day when pedicabs might return to town, Blue said. Pedicabs operated before with only a business license, but none are here now, he said.
Pedicab drivers will follow insurance, permitting and drug-testing requirements, but be restricted to streets with a posted speed limit of 25 mph or less.
Mark Dreyfors, manager of Durham-based Greenway Transit, said his pedicabs left Chapel Hill in 2009 when revenue from advertising on the side of his pedicabs declined.
Greenway Transit now operates mainly in Raleigh and Durham, with some contract events in Chapel Hill, he said. If the town’s population grows denser or the company finds a steady sponsor, he might bring them back.
“We would love to partner with the city or a business to develop a really cool, fun way to move people by pedicabs,” he said.