MVFH: No need for a jitney service

Is consensus of taxi commission
Thu, 03/28/2019 - 6:00pm

The members of the New Shoreham Commission on Motor Vehicles for Hire made it clear at its recent meeting that they do not support a proposed island-based jitney service. The commission’s discussion on the subject was prompted by the Town Council’s interest in exploring the operation of a jitney service primarily to transport people from Old Harbor to New Harbor.

Matt Houston, a Delaware businessman, proposed the service to the commission and the Town Council last fall, but taxi cab owners and drivers made their opposition to the idea completely clear.

At the council’s March 6 work session, Councilor Chris Willi said the commission should “have first crack” at operating the service, and that Houston deserved a response.

MVFH Chair Brad Marthens said the council could direct the commission to explore the proposal, but he didn’t think it would be necessary to operate the service, as the commission and the island’s cab drivers and owners believe they fulfill that role. “I don’t see what a jitney is going to solve,” Marthens said. Marthens also said the council should give Houston a response regarding his proposal.

After discussing the subject, the consensus by the commission, and some drivers and owners, seemed to be that the island’s taxicabs can efficiently accommodate the town’s transportation needs. The commission consulted with Town Solicitor Katherine Merolla during deliberations, which involved questions about regulating such a service. Merolla said the council had not assigned her to research legal aspects involved with operation of a jitney, so her knowledge on the subject was limited.

Island cab owner Jim Rondinone told the commission that six owners and one driver had met earlier that morning to discuss the topic, and thoughts included requesting a one-year reprieve to come up with a solution, as well as allowing drivers to solicit multiple fares.

Town Clerk Molly Fitzpatrick said, “There is a belief on the street that a jitney will solve some of the island’s traffic problems.”

Taxi driver Kristine Monje contended that the need for a jitney service is based on a false premise that the drivers “aren’t moving people around efficiently. We are moving people around efficiently,” she said. “So if it’s not an issue why are we making it an issue?”

Monje said the town should provide data stating that the island’s taxicabs are not moving people around efficiently on the island before contemplating implementation of a jitney service.

“I don’t see a need until it’s proven,” said taxicab owner Champ Starr. “I don’t see how someone can come in and say they’re going to run a jitney.”

“It doesn’t really matter if we don’t think there is a need,” said Marthens. “If the (Rhode Island Division of Public Utilities and Carriers) feels there is a need then that’s what matters.”

“If there is a need, we’ve got a waiting list of 15 people. We can put on two more cabs,” said Starr, who noted that the number of cabs was downgraded from 34 vehicles to 32 at one point in time. “I would like to see the data that there is a need.”

“The threshold is very low” for the Division’s determining a public need for a transportation service, said Merolla.

Merolla said the Division is responsible for granting a Certificate of Public Convenience and Necessity license, and the route, for a common carrier, such as a jitney, based on a public need for the service.

At the commission’s request, Merolla read the Division’s definition of a jitney into the record: “A jitney means, and includes, any motor bus or other public service motor vehicle operated, in whole or in part, upon any street or highway, in such manner as to afford a means of transportation similar to that provided by a street railway company, by indiscriminately receiving or discharging passengers; or running on a regular route or over any portion thereof; or between fixed termini.”

Starr asked Merolla what the difference was between a jitney and a bus, but Merolla was not able to provide the distinction, due to her limited research on the subject.

MVFH Vice Chair Vin McAloon said he thought the vehicle should be categorized as a bus, and that if the town wanted to operate a jitney, “it should be run by someone local.” McAloon also said congestion on the streets is partly caused by people coming off the ferries.

Fitzpatrick suggested that the commission members and the taxicab owners and drivers attend the next Town Council meeting when the subject is on the agenda.

Block Island has 32 separate cab licenses, and a taxi ordinance regulating its transportation services that has been in place since 1929. Although some taxicabs operate year-round, most are in operation between Memorial Day and Columbus Day. 

In other news from the meeting, the taxi commission is going through the process of amending its rules and regulations, which would include new fines for taxicab violations.

The next MVFH meeting is scheduled for Wednesday, April 17 at 9 a.m.