Motor Vehicles Commission approves ordinance amendments

Town Council would act before summer season
Thu, 02/14/2019 - 4:45pm

The Commission on Motor Vehicles For Hire approved proposed amendments to the town's taxi ordinance and a new set of regulations for the industry at its most recent meeting.

The drafts were approved unanimously after the commissioners made some changes in the language prepared by Town Solicitor Kathy Merolla (who was not present for the discussion). The commission has been developing the changes with the solicitor, on and off, for several years.

The principal changes to the draft concerned grounds for loss of a town license, the definition of passengers, and specific penalties for violating each section of the regulations.

The board changed all uses of the phrase “passengers for hire” in the proposed amendments and rules to simply “passengers.”

“It just seems extraneous,” said Commission Chair Brad Marthens; his motion to substitute the term passed unanimously.

The amendments proposed to add language specifying “conviction of DWI [Driving While Intoxicated] as a ground for revocation or suspension” of a town license to own or operate a taxi, limousine or charter bus. While not touching directly on the DWI issue, the commissioners wanted to expand grounds for “permanent loss” of the town license to include permanent loss of a Rhode Island driver's license – broader than the current ordinance's reference to loss of a Rhode Island “chauffeur's license or Commercial Driver's License”.

The board agreed with Marthens' reasoning that the chauffeur's license or CDL is actually an endorsement on the driver's (or operator's) license; if the underlying license is revoked by the state, the endorsements are revoked as well.

The regulations proposed to reduce the amount of fines that could be imposed for each violation of the Motor Vehicles for Hire ordinance from “$500 or imprisonment for a period of ten days” to $200.

The five taxi owners present and the commissioners all agreed that $200 should be the maximum fine.

Then, as the commission reviewed the draft with the owners, they decided to impose fines for specific violations of the rules, ranging from $50 for not keeping the vehicle interior “clean and sanitary;” $200 for allowing children under 12 years old who are not paid passengers in the vehicle while it's operating; and $200 for transporting a pet other than one belonging to a paying passenger. (“That should have some bite,” Marthens deadpanned.)

A form and procedure for filing and addressing customer “compliments and complaints” about cab drivers and owners were also reviewed.

The Commission voted unanimously to return the proposed ordinance amendments and the regulations to the Town Solicitor to make the changes adopted in the meeting, and to forward them to the Town Council for public hearing and action. The goal is to have the new provisions in force for the 2019 summer season.   

At the close of the meeting, Marthens thanked taxi owner Fran Migliaccio (who was in the room) for continuing to push the island's state legislators to work on obtaining an exemption from the Rhode Island General Laws, which would allow the town to regulate transportation network companies such as Uber and Lyft operating on the island. The General Assembly gave the Division of Public Utilities and Carriers statewide authority over those alternatives to taxicabs. Ever since the “Uber law” was adopted, the island's taxi owners have been advocating an exemption parallel to the pre-existing state law allowing the town to license motor vehicles for hire.

“We'll keep going up there” to the state legislature, replied owner Jim Rondinone. “We'll give it one more shot.”

The next scheduled meeting of the Commission on Motor Vehicles for Hire is Wednesday, Feb. 20 at 9:00 a.m. at the Town Hall. The agenda includes a draft of a “compliment” form and a process for investigating and hearing complaints.