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CDTA poised to oversee region's taxi cabs

CDTA poised to oversee region's taxi cabs

The Capital District Transportation Authority could oversee taxi cab services in four Capital Region

The Capital District Transportation Authority could oversee taxi cab services in four Capital Region counties under legislation that passed the state Senate and Assembly last week.

The bill would set up CDTA as the organization making sure taxi fares and other taxi standards are consistent across the region — Albany, Schenectady, Saratoga and Rensselaer counties — and fielding the calls when there are complaints.

Allowing CDTA to oversee the region’s half-dozen cab companies and the licensing of their drivers could reduce problems with a system in which companies are overseen community by community, with varying standards and levels of enforcement.

“Right now it’s very jurisdictional,” said CDTA CEO Carm Basile.

The bill introduced by Assemblyman John T. McDonald, D-Cohoes, passed the Assembly on June 14 with a single “no” vote, and was then approved unanimously by the state Senate.

A bill justification memo authorized by the staff of state Sen. Neil D. Breslin, D-Albany, says there have been complaints for years about the quality of taxi service.

“It should not require an hours long wait time and excessive fees (charged, quite frequently, in violation of local law) to simply traverse the ten-minute distance between the Rensselaer Train Station and the New York State Capitol,” the bill memo states.

Ride-sharing services like Uber and Lyft have disrupted existing taxi and limousine business models in many major cities, but they didn’t win approval in this legislative session to begin operating upstate.

“Regardless of whether or not ridesharing comes to the region, improved taxi service is essential to the continued growth of the Capital Region economy as well as local economies,” Breslin’s bill memo states.

CDTA has been quietly working on the concept for months.

“We’ve been working with [state] legislators for a number months, with communities and with law enforcement,” Basile said.

The CDTA Rensselaer Amtrak station and Albany International Airport are among the places that generate a lot of taxi business now.

Taxi activity is expected to grow, however, with the pending construction of a convention center in downtown Albany and the opening of the Rivers Casino and Resort in Schenectady next spring.

“Right now if you’re from out of town and you have a complaint, you don’t know who to call,” Basile said.

CDTA is best-known for the regional bus service it provides in Albany, Schenectady, Saratoga and Rensselaer counties, but it also owns the Rensselaer and Saratoga Springs train stations.

Overseeing cab companies fits within CDTA’s overall mission of providing alternative mobility solutions, Basile said. The authority has also researched or experimented with bike-share and car-share programs, he noted.

Basile said he hasn’t had any direct contact with the governor’s office, but he has no reason to think the legislation won’t be signed, given the concept’s overwhelming legislative support.

Communities that have taxi oversight now, including Schenectady and Albany, would need to contract with CDTA to take over those oversight functions, which could include setting rates and standards for cab cleanliness and driver conduct.

“Let’s bring some order to a system that doesn’t have as much order as it probably should,” Basile said.

Basile said the taxi program might require a new staff person, but he doesn’t expect a large impact on staffing.

If the governor signs the bill, Basile said an oversight system could be up and running in as little as three months. “We’re working on it as we speak,” Basile said.

Reach Gazette reporter Stephen Williams at 395-3096, [email protected] or @gazettesteve on Twitter.

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