1. It's 2:30pm on Thursday afternoon. Our taxi company has eleven vehicles on the street. Eight of these vehicles have been waiting for a call for over two hours. That's EIGHT people who don't know if they'll have enough money to fill their cab up with gas at the end of their shift.
2. It's 2:30pm on any given Thursday at Wilmington Airport. Driving up Airport Blvd you begin to see the taxi line. Count them! Sometimes as many as 12 -15 taxis, just sitting, waiting, for hours. That's 12-15 people who don't know if they'll have enough money for groceries this week if business doesn't pick up.
3. It's 2:00am in downtown Wilmington on a Friday night. The bars stop serving alcohol. Hundreds of people file out and look (hopefully) to find a safe way home. Some may have to wait over 20 minutes to get a ride. A vehicle pulls up that looks like a taxi cab, a patron hops in. The patron is slightly intoxicated (which, by the way, seems to be the fault of the taxi companies) and gets in the "taxi" to get a ride home. There is no meter. The license plate does NOT begin with the letters "TA" or "TB". This also means that this vehicle, operating as a "taxi", can not POSSIBLY have commercial taxi insurance, if it did, it would have a license plate starting in the letters "TA" or "TB". This vehicle does NOT have a city issued sticker in the window identifying it as a legally licensed Wilmington taxi. The patron goes 2 miles and is charged $15.00!! In a legal, PERMITTED taxi this fare would be $7.20, shown on a TAXIMETER which has been inspected for accuracy by the City of Wilmington. But this unknowing patron has been forced to pay (or risk confrontation!) DOUBLE the legal fare to an ILLEGAL taxi.
All 3 of the above scenarios are true. I know this because I have worked in the taxi industry in Wilmington for fifteen years. Every year of those fifteen years the taxi industry has heard "there aren't enough cabs". Every year we pay our money to the city (airport permitted cabs pay TOO MUCH money to obtain their permits to sit at the airport), and every year we follow the rules and pay our taxes only to watch illegal taxis take money out of our drivers' and our companies' pockets.
But, in a city that has (on the average) MORE taxis per 1,000 citizens that almost everywhere else in the country, there aren't enough cabs? In a city where four or five days a YEAR we experience a 200% population growth, there aren't enough cabs when the scenarios above are the norm? I don't see anyone calling the city council if they have to wait 4 hours at Outback on the 4th of July weekend, does this mean we need 50 more Outbacks?
In all of the reports I have gotten from drivers, friends, and customers regarding the last council meeting the "topic" is a comment made by members of the city council demeaning cab drivers as a whole. Thanks for adding to the stereotype. Did ANY of said council members bother to identify WHICH taxi company the "tank top/shorts wearing, surly drivers in inadequate vehicles" were driving for? (It could very well have been a "gypsy" cab)! Do any of our council members have a CLUE how many decent, hardworking people they insult with such comments? Was this comment supposed to be more easily swallowed because they gave us an additional $.50 to the prime time nightly surcharge? Thank you for that, but because of the stereotyping the public will accuse the cab companies of "ripping them off".
So, we'll do a study. There is an abundance of information to be found on the taxi industry. Number crunching, real data and similarities are worldwide. But the bottom line facts are the same. You only need so many taxis per 1,000 population. I do believe this is the same business rationale that is used to determine need for ANY type of business in any area.
I don't understand why the bigger focus isn't on those who are operating illegally while our population is left in the dark. I don't understand the unrealistic expectation that this city is even in the same league as large cities like New York, Chicago, or LA when it comes to taxi cabs. NORMAL wait time for a taxi ANYWHERE is 15-20 minutes. Note I said "NORMAL" wait time, if it's slightly busier or if people decide to go to another stop while they're in the cab it CAN and WILL change. Even New York has less cabs per 1,000 people than we do.
But, instead of the city council sitting down with ALL the taxi companies (not just the three largest, but ALL of the companies who have Wilmington permits)in a more concentrated setting than a last minute council invite to the monthly meeting, maybe then we can reach them with some type of understanding to our business and come up with possible solutions to the over crowded downtown bar area and a more efficient way to clear out downtown. This is important to our industry, we want people to be safe. But we also want to know our city stands behind us and will work WITH us instead of just insulting us in the public eye.
P.S. Another thanks is due for the "clean up" fee being added to the statute. Nothing is worse for a cab driver than to have to clean up some strangers bodily fluids in the middle of trying to clear out downtown!
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