SCHENECTADY -- City Council members decided Tuesday to schedule public hearings in February on adopting regional taxi regulations and on allowing city neighborhoods to form local sidewalk improvement districts.
Both hearings will be formally scheduled at Monday's City Council meeting, and will probably be held at the Feb. 11 council meeting.
The decision to take up the taxi regulations -- last seriously discussed in public a year ago -- came after the council's City Development and Planning Committee decided the rules should be considered separately from cabbies' recent calls for higher rates.
“We have people not following the rules and regulations," Council President Ed Kosiur said, explaining the need for regional cab regulations. "Then we can separately consider the rate structure."
The rules to be considered were developed by the Capital District Transportation Authority as part of an effort started in 2016 to standardize cab service among the Capital Region's main cities and destinations like the Albany International Airport. Saratoga Springs and Albany have adopted the ordinance, and Troy is in the process of approval, said Lauren Bailey, CDTA's mobility manager.
Schenectady has been the only local city with metered cabs, but the ordinance is requiring the other communities to switch to having cabs with meters that track fares, Bailey said.
The proposed rules specify that no cab operating in the city be more than 10 years old, and they set standards for things like cab cleanliness. However, Bailey said the ordinance allows each community to set cab fares within its boundaries.
Mayor Gary McCarthy said calls for minimum cab standards started several years ago, and stemmed from the arrival of GlobalFoundries and other new businesses in the region, bringing more national and international travelers to communities like Schenectady. Often, their first experience after arriving was in a cab, he noted.
"There was a wide variance in quality and fee structures," McCarthy said. “It was creating a negative first impression of the region."
Bailey said the proposed ordinance allows each community to set its own fare structure, though CDTA establishes rates for when a cab ride crosses municipal lines.
She said feedback CDTA has received shows customers mostly want clarity about what they will pay. "People don’t mind what the rate is, so long as they know what the rate is -- and there’s been a lot of confusion." she said.
Kosiur said there's currently a $4 minimum in the city and the council needs be aware of the impact on the public if rates go higher, but cab owners are also dealing with a higher minimum wage for drivers as of Jan. 1, as well as competition from ride services like Uber and Lyft. “We have to understand that these are small businesses trying to do business in New York state," he said.
"I think the universal rules and regulations are good, but we do need to look at the cost structure," said Councilman John Polimeni.
Changing rates would require a separate public hearing. Rates were last increased in 2016.
The city Planning and Development Committee also voted to call a public hearing on a sidewalk improvement district idea that Polimeni has championed. It was first discussed by the council two weeks ago.
It would allow neighborhoods where 75 percent of property owners sign a petition in favor to have the city create a sidewalk improvement district. The city would then take bids and oversee replacement of sidewalks. The city would borrow the money and property owners would bear the cost as a line on their tax bills.
Using what he said were conservative estimates, Polimeni said the cost would be around $15 per month to pay off a 15-year bond. If costs after seeking bids were deemed too high, the city would have the option of rejecting the bids and not doing the improvements.
Residents of Raymond Road and one section of McClellan Street have already petitioned the city for sidewalk improvements, prompting the discussion. Petitioners feel that better sidewalks would improve the neighborhood and increase the value of their homes.