Aug 31, 2011 Walt Shepperd Uncategorized
Four taxis wait patiently at the curb mid block north from the corner of Salina and Washington Streets, just off the heart of downtown. A driver paces nervously back and forth along the row of cabs. How’s business?
“Nothing,” he replies.
No traffic? The ersatz cab stand is a displacement of the line of taxis which has traditionally waited for fares along the 300 block of South Salina, usually six vehicles stretching from the Fayette Street crosswalk along a row of empty storefronts.
“Nothing,” the driver repeats. “People don’t want to walk this far,” he adds, turning to stare at the fencing two blocks distant which blocks off the traditional stand. The fencing is formidable, difficult to navigate when hurrying to cross the busy intersection, especially with little ones in tow.
The fencing, which has also forced the rerouting of the Centro buses which line up on the southwest corner of the intersection, should have positive connotations, heralding the renovation of the abandoned Wilson and Witherill Buildings, with the promise of expanded downtown residential and hoped-for rejuvenated main street retail. For local cab drivers, however, it’s just the latest in a series of obstacles they face trying to make a living.
At a meeting two weeks ago at City Hall Commons, 20 cab drivers gathered to explore options for addressing their grievances. The consensus was to select three of their number to represent them on a reconstituted Ground Transportation Board, established by a half-century old city ordinance, but allowed, over time, to disassemble. John Perrigo, a veteran of the local taxi wars, facilitated the selection, and articulated the need to draw up a clear list of the grievances to submit to the Common Council.
The list is in the making, he says now, with five items agreed upon. “The Ground Transportation Board needs to be reconstituted,” he says now. He cites the generally accepted rule of thumb establishing a ratio of one cab for each 1,000 people in a city. Syracuse has 250, with 50 serving the airport, 100 more than the formula suggests. One item asks for uniformity in licensing, with drivers all having Ground Transportation Licenses, as well as Hack Licenses which require a background check.
Also agreed upon are the need to distinguish between taxis and liveries, less certified vehicles to which cab drivers are losing business, especially, Perrigo notes, the $3.20 a mile Onondaga County Medicaid allots for transportation. There is also concern over the process used by the city administration to contract for service at the airport.
Councilor Nader Maroun was at the meeting, and got a copy of the 50-page ordinance printed out for reference. His goal is to reconstitute the Ground Transportation Board as stipulated in the ordinance, including the three drivers, with five members appointed by the Council, and one each by the mayor and the police department. “I will talk to my colleagues on the Council to see how to proceed,” he maintains, “and check with the administration to get their views.”
Walt Shepperd is a weekly columnist with The Eagle.