METER RUNNING OUT ON CAB LICENSE RULES?

taxi1Red Bank brass is looking to level the playing field for local cab companies. (Photo by Dustin Racioppi; click to enlarge)

By DUSTIN RACIOPPI

Peter Muller started up a taxi business, P&M Taxi, four months ago on West Front Street, but he’s been caught in a jam ever since.

He wanted to obtain licenses for two taxis from Red Bank, but only got one because there were no more available, he was told.

Muller said the larger cab companies have control over the licenses, and subsequently, the business. He believes there should  be more licenses given in town, or stricter controls on companies that pocket the ones not in use.

“I’m just trying to make a living,” said Muller, who is 68 and retired, but can’t make it on Social Security. “Just give me two. I’ll be happy with that.”

There’s a hording problem in Red Bank’s taxi world, some cabbies say, and local officials are again looking at ways to create more competition and make it much harder to pocket coveted hackie credentials.

The borough council has brought up the idea of increasing the license fee, tightening requirements to obtain a medallion and adding fees for transfers in order to accomplish that end.

“This will discourage people from hording licenses,” said borough attorney Kenneth Pringle.

On the table are changes to the borough’s current ordinance to increase license fees from $30 to $50 and requiring that travel logs show proof that a licensed cab has been operating in town. If it hasn’t for six consecutive months, it’ll likely be stripped of its license under the ordinance change. The council has also looked at adding a $50 charge for the transfer of a license from car to car.

Pringle said he’s been told by the borough clerk’s office that there are “numerous, numerous swaps in licenses” throughout the year, and at no charge, it creates more work at borough hall on an all-too-regular basis.

“It, apparently, is a big problem,” he said. “There’s an opportunity for it to become a bit of a black market right now.”

The council is also considering adding another five licenses, from 45 to 5o — a move that local cabbies vehemently disapproved of when the council floated the idea nearly two years ago.

But these ideas are back at the forefront because there’s an apparent monopoly on the borough’s limited licenses, says council president Art Murphy. Cab companies snatch up licenses and only use a portion of them, he said.

“The reason they buy so many is so nobody else can get them,” Murphy said. “That’s what we’re trying to loosen up.”

Charging higher prices for the licenses is one way to deter the companies from gobbling them up, backers of the change say.

The changes to the ordinance are not set, Murphy warns. At this point, the council is merely reviewing them and, after it receives input on enforcement and procedures from police Chief Steve McCarthy, will move forward with whatever it deems fair.

The existing approach to licensing really isn’t fair at all, he said.

“We want to spread ’em around,” Murphy said of the licenses. “If you’re going to use them, use them. Or give them up.”

He said the council will likely discuss the ordinance changes in a much more defined way at its next meeting, on June 28.