SCHENECTADY -- The City Council heard mostly positive comments about proposals to change how it regulates taxi cabs and to allow neighborhoods to form special districts to improve their sidewalks on Monday night.
The proposed taxi rules 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 already adopted the ordinance, while Troy is currently in the process of approving the measure.
The proposed rules specify that no cab operating in the city be more than 10 years old, while also setting standards for things like cab cleanliness. The ordinance allows each community to set cab fares within its boundaries and would establish regional fares for intermunicipal cab trips.
“We strongly support this proposal. CDTA has done a great job of reaching out to stakeholders and making sure they’ve gotten it right," said Thomas O'Connor, vice-president of the Capital Region Chamber of Commerce. “The CDTA’s regional approach is the right approach to take.”
Not everyone is pleased, though, with cab companies saying they face having to pay a higher minimum wage and unregulated competition from ride-hailing services like Uber and Lyft.
"I’m not really against the CDTA proposal, it just needs some minor tweaks. And I urge you not to adopt it until they are done," said Phil Gibbs, operations manager at Electric City Taxi.
Gibbs said those tweaks should include a provision that raises taxi rates automatically when the minimum wage rises, and a phasing in of the requirement that no cabs be more than 10 years old, to avoid a company incurring high replacement costs.
“I would like to see this new regional structure be fair to everyone involved," he said. "None of this addresses the elephant in the room of Uber and Lyft.”
The drive for regional cab standards traces back to the arrival of GlobalFoundries and other new businesses in the Capital Region, bringing more national and international travelers to the region. Often, their first experience after arriving in the region was in a cab, and backers of the standards say the cabs haven't always created a good first impression.
Changing rates within the city would require a separate public hearing. Rates were last increased in 2016.
The City Council took no action on the proposal on Monday. Council President Ed Kosiur said there will be "a couple more meetings" on the proposal, and said he's like to hear responses to the issues that Gibbs raised.
The sidewalk improvement district proposal 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 construction 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.
The city has discussed borrowing $1 million for the sidewalk work, with the money spent as neighborhood groups petition the city.
Most speakers at the hearing were from the historic Stockade neighborhood. They said they thought the idea was a good one, and could lead to safer sidewalks at a lower price than individuals doing the work themselves, and higher property values. “Let citizens and property owners have the option of improving their sidewalks," said Carol DeLaMater, president of the Stockade Association, which represents residents.
Councilman John Polimeni has 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, he noted.
"There are a lot of benefits to the program," said Polimeni, who has championed the idea.
No action was taken, but it is expected to be discussed at a committee meeting on Feb. 19, and could be adopted by the council at its Feb. 25 meeting. "The ultimate goal is to get a pilot program going in the spring," Kosiur said.