Need a lift? Long Branch may increase taxi licenses

Staff Writer

The Long Branch City Council is considering doubling the number of taxi licenses after hearing complaints from riders about long waits for a cab ride home.

Jason Roebuck, director of public safety, said during the Feb. 25 workshop meeting that the city should increase taxi medallions, or licenses, from 50 to 100 to provide better service.

“The city is getting bigger, we are getting more people around here,” Roebuck said. “We need to move them around, especially in the summertime when it’s hard to park.

“We’ve gotten a lot of phone calls when people could not get a cab,” he added. “There were a lot of people saying they had to wait an hour or even longer to get a taxicab.”

The proposal, which includes raising several yearly fees and fines for taxi companies, would amend the city’s ordinance regulating taxicab services, which Roebuck said has not been updated since the 1970s.

Traffic Safety Officer Thomas Hueston said the plan is to begin with 25 new medallions.

“We would like to increase them to 100, but right now only put out 25 to see that the need is definitely there,” he said. “We don’t have to put all 50 out right away.”

Under the current ordinance, any new medallions must be put out to bid, and the public safety director has the right to set the minimum bid price.

Roebuck said the bid should be set at a $50,000 minimum for the first 25 medallions.

The proposal also includes increasing fines for nonlicensed cabs, which are not allowed to operate within the city, from $25 to $250 for a first offense and from $50 to $750 for subsequent offenses.

“We heard from the one cab company we have left in town, complaining about an out-of-town cab company that is coming into town and illegally taking people [within] Long Branch,” he said.

According to Roebuck, the city cannot regulate taxis that pick up out-of-towners and bring them into Long Branch, nor can it restrict taxis from picking up riders in the city and taking them out of town.

“What they can’t do without a taxi license is [transport] within the city,” he said. “We are having a lot of that.”

Hueston said currently Shore Cab of Long Branch is the only licensed taxi company in the city, and some outside companies continue to break the rules.

“It has absolutely become an epidemic here in town, and we’ve had several meetings with managers,” he said.

Also included in the proposal is the increase of several other fees, including renewal and replacement fees for taxi licenses, inspection fees and license transfer fees, many of which haven’t been increased since the 1970s.

Should the ordinance be adopted, the council would also relax the cruising prohibition that allows taxis to drive around the city, particularly in Pier Village and West End.

City attorney James Aaron said the prohibition is causing taxis to conduct more business in other Shore towns with bars that attract large numbers of patrons, including Belmar, Asbury Park and Seaside Heights. “They find, in the summer particularly, they could go down to Bradley Beach and Belmar where the bars are and do phenomenally well,” he said. “That leaves our entire waterfront and our entire business areas [devoid] of cabs.”

Also included in the proposal is an elimination of taxi stands, considered obsolete, but the city may permit sandwich board signs with phone numbers and names of the licensed taxi companies.

However, Councilwoman Joy Bastelli said there is some concern about adding additional taxis to the city streets.

“This would add an additional 25 taxis to our town, I have concerns about the way I have seen taxicabs blow their horns obnoxiously over and over again early in the morning, late at night and during the day,” she said. “This is not a good situation, especially in my neighborhood.”

Aaron said the council could amend the current ordinance and change some of the regulations governing taxi drivers.

Roebuck said obtaining a license would be expensive and a taxi company would not likely want to lose a license because of violations.

He said the proposal would suspend or revoke the license of anyone found guilty of three violations.

“If they are going to spend the money for [a license], I don’t think they are going to want to lose it.”

Roebuck said the ordinance could be introduced during the council’s March 11 meeting. If it is adopted, bids could go out in April, and the additional cabs could be licensed and on the road before summer.