Submitted by Suanne Z. Thamm
Reporter – News Analyst
(Originally published as part of a larger post covering actions of the Fernandina Beach City Commission Regular meeting held on August 18, 2015.)
In response to Police Department concerns, the commissioners considered changing existing code language with respect to, among other things, the need for all taxis operating within the city to display a city-issued medallion. Currently, vehicles for hire not based in the city are allowed to drop off passengers in the city without any permit or medallion requirement. Such vehicles are not held to the same standards with respect to equipment and operators as those services licensed by the city.
City Attorney Tammi Bach stated that the proposed ordinance would not regulate Uber or Lyft, since operation of those services in Florida is currently in litigation.
The change would mean that Nassau or Duval County operators of vehicles for hire could not drive into the city on business without a medallion. Community Development Director Adrienne Burke, who worked on the ordinance, said that currently such vehicles are required to register with the city, and this policy has led to confusion. After studying other communities such as Atlantic Beach, she opined that moving to the medallion would be much cleaner and easier to understand and enforce. She said that previously the city required a permit but not a medallion.
Miller asked that prostitution be added to the list of prior criminal offenses that would disqualify a permit seeker.
Boner said that he did not know that he was interested in regulating taxis that come through the city. He said he wasn’t sure that there were enough cases involved to justify the work and cost of regulation. He said that it would be very difficult to enforce.
Burke said that the Police Department had worked with her on drafting the ordinance changes and that they are one of the big drivers behind the change. “It’s public safety based,” she said.
Police Captain Jim Norman addressed the FBCC, citing a recent example surrounding the death of a football player and criminal activity being conducted out of a taxi. In response to a concern raised by Miller, he said that the police would only need reasonable suspicion, not probable cause, to stop a vehicle. Since the police cannot stop every taxicab, the absence of a medallion would give them reason to stop a cab.
Miller said that this matter had been brought to his attention by licensed and permitted local cab operators who were complaining about unpermitted cab operators, sometimes fired employees who were still operating as though they were associated with a licensed firm. Their concerns related to the safety of the public and their own business reputations. He said, “We are just responding to what business wanted, not the other way around.”
Gass expressed concerns that the police would still be able to make judgment calls. She said she did not want to hear about people trying to get home from the airport only to have airport cabbies say, “Oh no, we can’t go to Amelia Island.” Norman assured her that the FBPD uses discretion every day, writing more warnings than citations.
Commissioner Gass moved to adopt the ordinance and adopt those associated fees listed in the FY 2015-16 Master Fee Schedule. The motion passed unanimously on first reading.
No taxicab owners or operators spoke to the proposed ordinance.