The Des Plaines City Council on Monday approved a six-month moratorium on issuing new taxicab licenses to give city staff a chance to study and develop a proposal addressing the high number of violations by licensed companies.
A city license entitles a cab to pick up fares in Des Plaines. A cab does not need a license to drop off a passenger within the city limits. To operate in town, taxicab companies must own a minimum of 10 licenses and not more than 55 licenses.
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The city has no limit on the number of cab companies allowed to operate in town. Des Plaines is primarily served by four major registered cab companies -- Horizon, American, 303 and Community.
In 2010, the city capped the maximum number of taxicab licenses it would issue yearly to 170 but later increased the limit to 275, anticipating a rise in demand after the opening of the Rivers Casino in July 2011. The city currently has 254 cab licenses issued.
"What you're finding out now is there isn't that need (for so many licenses)," said Tex Bullock, support service manager for the Des Plaines Police Department. "When the casino was finished they only had three staging areas in front of their facilities. The casino also has bus transports that they use. They have a livery system. Their exclusive taxi company that they call for their patrons is Horizon (out of Rosemont). Horizon knows where to go. They know where all the motels and hotels are. What has happened is we have all these little companies trying to come in."
Bullock said "fly-by-night companies" are charging cabdrivers up to $500 weekly to lease a taxi and charging riders flat rates instead of using a meter.
"They will charge them a flat $15, where if they pull the meter, which they are legally supposed to do, it will only be $4 to $5," Bullock said.
Since 2010, there have been about 600 parking or compliance violations issued to taxicab licensees after complaints from customers. The company with the most violations is Des Plaines Yellow Cab, which operates 22 cabs and has 80 violations so far this year. A company representative did not return a call for comment.
Companies also have been cited for the drivers' failure to use seat belts, not passing vehicle inspections, improper meter calibration, failure to post applicable fares and not honoring the city's senior voucher program.
The discount program allows seniors and handicapped residents to get multiple $3 vouchers from the city based on their need. The nontransferable vouchers can be turned in for rides, and the companies can get reimbursed by the city.
"They are not taking care of the senior citizens," Bullock said.
Bullock said he would like to see the number of cab licenses reduced to 170 or 150, which would allow the city to retain quality, established companies, while eliminating companies that are not serving the city well.
City Manager Mike Bartholomew said staff would like time to evaluate the taxicab program and come up with reasons and a methodology for phasing out current licensees.