2016-11-17 / Front Page

City will lack taxi services

By Anthony Aloisio
Staff Writer

BIDDEFORD – Twin City Taxi, a taxi cab business that serves southern Maine, recently notified the city that it will not seek to license its cabs in Biddeford for 2017. Twin City has the same owner as Alternative Taxi, which will also leave Biddeford. With the September closing of another taxi business that serves the Biddeford area, A-1, Biddeford may be left with only one cab to serve the city – the sole cab operated by Able Taxi.

The reason for Twin City’s departure, according to owner Rock Long, is the burden of regulation on his cabs by city ordinance.

“For the last three years I’ve been doing my best to comply with them,” Long said. “I’ve gotten a bunch of tickets.”

A-1 taxi service, separately, did not shut down because of the regulations, according to owner John Surran.

“Our vehicles went to the police department, they passed with flying colors,” Surran said. “We ran quality cabs. We had no issues whatsoever with the city of Biddeford or with the police department.”

Surran said the reason A-1 went out of business was the high cost of running a small business in Maine, and that Biddeford was not responsible.

The Biddeford ordinance, amended in 2013, requires all taxi cabs that pick passengers up in Biddeford to be licensed by the city. To be licensed, the cab must pass an inspection by the city that is independent of state vehicle inspection requirements.

“What we’re basically looking for is, public safety,” said Lt. Ricky Doyon of the Biddeford Police Department, who conducts all inspections. “These taxi cabs put in a lot of miles.”

“We always go over there with brand new inspection stickers, and then they flunk us,” Long said of the city’s inspection process. “There’s not even a standard of what they’re looking for, only that they have to be clean and in good repair.”

The ordinance reads that “taxicabs shall at all times be clean and in good repair inside and out,” and does not name specific standards.

According to Doyon, who said he is certified by the state to do inspections, he does not put the vehicles on a lift. The city’s inspection is different from the state’s, and less rigorous.

“I look at the tires,” Doyon said. “If I can see the brakes I look at the brakes. If they’re grooved or rusted that means they’re not working properly. I’ll check the exhaust, I’ll look for anything that’s broken or hanging.”

“We’re here two, three, four, five minutes max, unless we find something that’s an issue,” Doyon added.

Long said that his vehicles often fail because Doyon, along with Codes Enforcement Officer George Monteith, don’t know what they’re doing.

“It’s been torture,” Long said. “I’m all done.”

According to data recorded by Doyon, in 2014 Twin City ran 12 cabs, and eight of those failed inspection. The average mileage of its cabs was 176,181 miles. That year A-1 ran six cabs, two of which failed inspection, and for which the average mileage was 129,970 miles. In 2015, Twin City ran 17 cabs, seven of which failed inspection, and for which the average mileage was 181,481. A-1 ran six cabs, all of which passed inspection, and for which the average mileage was 147,972 miles. Able Taxi runs one cab, with a mileage of 252,750 this year, and which failed in 2015 but passed in 2016.

Long believes that the city is not accommodating with scheduling of inspections.

“If I have a car that dies, that means whoever drives that car is out of the job until the Biddeford police feel like inspecting the new one,” Long said. “They do it at their convenience, never at ours.”

“We are very flexible. We work with them. If they say we’re not flexible, that’s not the truth,” Doyon told the Courier in response.

For his part, Surran said he never had problems scheduling inspections.

“(It was) just conversation back and forth, and we’d get the vehicles inspected,” Surran said.

According to Doyon, the busiest time for cab inspections is the beginning of the year. The ordinance requires that cabs be inspected by Jan. 31 of each year. But according to Doyon, there is flexibility.

“If the beginning of the season comes and we just can’t get it in, they can still operate under the old inspection license,” Doyon said.

Cabs that come online after Jan. 31 must be inspected before they can operate. Doyon said he’ll see about two of those every three months.

Saco has a similar inspection requirement for cabs, according to Biddeford Police Chief Roger Beaupre. Long said he plans to continue operating in Saco.

At the Nov. 1 Biddeford City Council meeting, councilors briefly discussed how to regulate drivers with the Uber service, which uses a smartphone application to coordinate independent drivers with passengers looking for transportation.

“I got asked to check if Uber had to follow the same rules as taxis that operate in the city,” wrote Ward 2 Councilor John McCurry in an email to the Courier. “I didn’t have the answer.”

Contact Staff Writer Anthony Aloisio at news@inthecourier.com.

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