Taxi cab service goal: Consumer safety

A vehicle from Ace 1 Transportation heads to pick up a client on Jackson Lane Thursday, July 20 in Middletown. NICK GRAHAM/STAFF

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A vehicle from Ace 1 Transportation heads to pick up a client on Jackson Lane Thursday, July 20 in Middletown. NICK GRAHAM/STAFF

It’s all about consumer safety, say taxi cab owners and Butler County city officials.

Taxi companies are in business because people need transportation from Point A to Point B and local cities are taking steps to assure passengers’ safety expectations are satisfied.

Before the first fare can be collected, taxi companies, drivers and the vehicles must submit permits, pass background checks and inspections if they want to be licensed to work in the cities.

In Hamilton, there is a 30-page taxi ordinance that was last replaced in 2006. The ordinance covers everything from how to start a cab company to allowed mileage rates to periodical safety checks to possible penalties if the regulations aren’t followed.

“They’re just like any business,” said Rich Engle, director of Hamilton’s public works department and city engineer. “Except they’re mobile.”

He said since cab companies have “direct contact” with residents, it’s imperative they all operate following the same safety guidelines.

“When you go on vacation, and you get in a taxi, you expect it to be safe,” Engle said.

Middletown Police Lt. Jimmy Cunningham said the city is in the process of updating its cab ordinance and hopes to have it implemented sometime this year. He hopes the revised ordinance — armed with its stricter penalties — will reduce the possibility of illegal activity occurring in and around the cab business, a trend police have fought in the past.

He called the revamped taxi ordinance “a huge accomplishment” because “we want to make the community safer.”

Cunningham said those who have committed “violent offenses” or are driving under suspension have been eliminated from operating a cab during the application process that eventually has to be approved or denied by Police Chief Rodney Muterspaw.

In 2016, there were four licensed cab companies operating in Middletown, and this year, that number dropped to two, according to city records. Cunningham believes some companies closed or decided not to open in the city because they didn’t want to follow regulations.

Crystal Lamb, who works for Ace 1 Taxi in Middletown, one of the two licensed companies in the city, said she welcomes the stiffer regulations because she doesn’t want companies operating illegally in the city. All taxi companies should have to adhere to the same regulations, she said.

“It’s a good thing,” she said of the ordinance.

Lamb said those who use cab companies have to be assured the drivers are operating legally and are safe, insured and licensed. Her company employs two drivers and the company has operated in Middletown for eight years.

“You call a cab because you want to get home safe,” she said. “We want to get you home safe.”

Mike Thompson, who has owned and operated City Taxi in Hamilton for more than 10 years, agreed.

“It’s all about community safety,” said Thompson, who added safety is more important than profitability.

He said Hamilton’s taxi regulations are “quite tight” and they “should be.”

Thompson said the city inspects his vehicles every six months to assure they’re operating safely and checks their mileage meters. He also has trained all 20 of his employees, including 14 drivers, how to perform CPR.

In response to the heroin epidemic in the region, some have pushed cab companies to carry narcan, which reverses the effects of the opiate. But Thompson doesn’t want narcan in the cabs.

City Taxi runs in Hamilton and takes passengers throughout the county. He said the company only is licensed to pick up passengers in Hamilton. He said residents take cabs to work, the hospital, grocery store, anywhere. He said 70 percent are repeat customers.

“It’s different every day,” he said with a laugh. “People are incredible. Sometimes the people you think will be the worst are the best.”

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