Bobby Schroeder with BC Cab out of Conyers regularly makes runs into Covington. On Tuesday, he received a call to pick up a customer at Big Lots in Newton Plaza. - Staff Photo: Sue Ann Kuhn-Smith
COVINGTON -- The City Council Monday night passed the final reading of an ordinance regulating taxicab operations within the city.
Assistant Chief of Police Almond Turner previously told the Citizen that there have been reports of illegitimate taxicab operations in the city. Turner said individuals are identifying themselves as taxicab service providers even though they are not properly licensed or registered with the city.
The new ordinance will require taxicab services to apply and pay for a permit issued by the Covington Police Department. Permits will be issued after taxicabs have been inspected. Permits will have to be renewed on an annual basis. Taxicab drivers will be required to be permitted at a cost of $100 and drivers will be checked for criminal convictions, traffic violations and citizenship status.
Bobby Schroeder, owner of BC Taxi in Conyers, said the city of Conyers approved similar regulations in 2006.
"It's all good that they're doing that. The thing is, the police have to be wiser than the taxi drivers," he said, adding that it's hard to catch illegally operating taxicab operations that are unmarked. "Somebody knows how to beat the system," he said.
Turner said the CPD will be able to spot illegally operating cabs without the required stickers and will also enforce based on complaints, as often operators of legitimate businesses will report those who aren't following the rules.
Schroeder said illegal operations spring up because of the cost to run a legitimate business. A meter can run between $350 and $550, and the radio, signs and additional equipment, "that's $1,000 right away." That doesn't include the cost of insurance.
Schroeder is concerned that because his Conyers-based business drops off and picks up customers in Covington, he'll be required to be "double permitted."
Turner said that taxi operations running regularly out of Covington and advertising their services here will need to be permitted through the CPD under the new ordinance. That includes companies based in unincorporated Newton County that make regular runs in the city. If a taxi operation is based in Covington, the owner will need to pay their occupation tax, or business license, in the planning and zoning office before picking up a sticker issued by the CPD, said Planning Director Randy Vinson.
"If the operation has a business license in another jurisdiction, they will need to show proof of that to the CPD. The CPD will issue the sticker after they conduct the background check and safety inspection and with proof of a business license, whether in Covington or in another jurisdiction," Vinson said.
Vinson said there are currently three legitimate taxi operations out of Covington. Turner said there will be a grace period for existing companies to come into compliance, likely through the first of the year, and every effort will be made to notify existing companies of the new rules.
Cherie Mitchell, owner of A1 Taxi in Covington, said she's been in business "longer than anyone else around here" and she's not aware of any illegal operations. She said the regulations are "real extreme in my opinion."
"This is not Atlanta, this is not New York City. It's still a country town called Covington," she said.
But Turner said the goal is to protect businesses that are operating legally as well as to protect the safety of citizens.
Taxicab companies will also be required to have liability insurance of $100,000 bodily injury to one person and $300,000 for injuries to more than one person sustained in an accident and $50,000 for property damage.
Taxicabs will be required to have markings on the front doors in letters not less than 4 inches high and in colors contrasting with the color of the taxi denoting the telephone number and full name of the taxicab company. An identification decal issued to applicants that have successfully passed the police department's inspection must also be displayed on the front and rear windshield of each cab.
Cabs will also be required to have an identification insignia on top that is electrically illuminated at night and must carry either the name of the company or the word taxi, taxicab or cab, but it does not have to be illuminated when the cab is occupied.
Numbers assigned by the CPD must also be displayed on front and rear bumpers. Taxicabs under the same taxicab company will be required to be painted the same color scheme, approved by the CPD.
Cab drivers will be required to maintain a daily manifest record of each trip showing time and place of origin, destination and amount of fare paid for each trip. The manifests must be kept by the taxicab company for at least one year and be available for inspection by the CPD. Companies must also file their rate schedule with the CPD and will not be allowed to charge in excess of the rate schedule.