North Adams City Councilor accuses City Cab owner of violating taxi regulations
NORTH ADAMS -- The owner of a new taxi service has come under fire by city officials for allegedly violating a number of regulations -- at least one of which he is openly flouting.
Councilor Keith Bona has accused City Cab owner Michael McMillian of operating an unlicensed vehicle, using unlicensed drivers and undercharging customers. He also said drivers were seen smoking in their cabs, which also is a violation.
Bona's accusations came during Tuesday's City Council meeting, during which he unsuccessfully argued that the council should delay a request to grant licenses for two City Cab drivers. Bona wanted to hold the licenses until the concerns could be heard before the Public Safety Committee, of which he is chairman.
"I don't think this is going to infringe on the business at this time. As you know, we've approved many taxi drivers, so it's not stopping his business," Bona said. "I think it gives us the opportunity to discuss this further and hopefully get some situations settled."
The council disagreed, and eventually voted 7-2 in favor of granting the licenses for Erik Shields and Brandon Hurst, with Councilor Joshua Moran joining Bona against the measure.
McMillian, a cab driver of more than 20 years, concedes that he is in violation of the ordinance that mandates the rates companies can charge for rides within the city.
He said the city ordinance should only dictate the maximum charge. Rates are currently set at $6 for a ride within a mile of the city center and $7 for a ride outside, after an increase of $2 approved by City Council earlier this year at the request of Tunnel City Taxi -- McMillian's competition.
"[Officals said] ‘You've got to charge what the other guy's charging,' but I said ‘No I don't,' " McMillian said. "You can't tell me I can't charge less. There's no way they can do this."
The rise in prices approved by council has discouraged some potential customers from taking cabs, according to McMillian, who proposed his business to the city in February and opened for business in late May.
"Most people, when I got started, said that they couldn't take cabs anymore, that they just couldn't afford it," McMillian said.
Bona said cities typically set rates to deter companies from putting each other out of business by excessively and competitively cutting costs. Although the companies are private, taxis are relied on by the public and need to be maintained, he said.
McMillian did not directly address the other allegations.
Mayor Richard Alcombright said he and police Lt. David Sacco recently met with McMillian to discuss the issues, but that they remain unresolved.
He said City Cab has begun operating a third cab without approval, and is waiting for the next Zoning Board of Appeals meeting for approval.
"While waiting for that meeting, they've put the third cab on the road," Alcombright said.
The ZBA, which meets on Monday, will address whether adding a third cab to McMillian's fleet may still constitute a "home business," Alcombright said. McMillian started the business earlier this year operating only one cab from his residence, but hopes to expand it.
"My personal opinion on it is that seems to be drifting away from a ‘home business,' " Alcombright said when reached Wednesday. "Where is that line, you know?"
The Public Safety Committee will meet Sept. 2 to discuss concerns about McMillian's business.
During Tuesday's meeting, some councilors were uncomfortable holding up the licenses, which would be delayed another at least two weeks, until the council's next meeting.
The company has never been formally cited by law enforcement, according to Alcombright.
"Why should we hold two people up from making a living because we have to deal with ordinance violations," said Councilor Wayne Wilkinson. "Maybe they were counting on feeding their family next week. ... don't think we should penalize the applicant."
Councilor Jennifer Breen took it a step further.
"I think [delaying the licenses is] a violation of the owner's rights at this point."