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Schenectady council OKs taxi cab rules; sidewalk plan tabled

Schenectady council OKs taxi cab rules; sidewalk plan tabled

Schenectady council OKs taxi cab rules; sidewalk plan tabled
An Electric City Cab picks up a fare off Eastern Avenue in Schenectady on Jan. 2.
Photographer: Peter R. Barber

SCHENECTADY — The City Council has formally passed a resolution that will regulate taxi cabs. 

But they’ve punted on approving a resolution allowing neighborhoods to form special districts for sidewalk improvements as part of a pilot program. 

CAB RULES IN PLACE

The new cab rules were developed by Capital District Transportation Authority (CDTA) as part of an effort to standardize cab service among the Capital Region-area cities and destinations like the Albany International Airport.

Phil Gibbs, of Electric City Taxi, said greater autonomy would allow taxi businesses to keep up with a rising minimum wage and would level the playing field against ride-sharing companies like Lyft and Uber.

“Close,” said Gibbs of the proposals at the City Council meeting on Monday night. “But close, as they say, only counts for hand grenades and horseshoes.”

He requested several changes, including that a $1 surcharge be amended to also include weekends, not just evenings. 

And while stop requests by passengers will cost 50 cents, he wants the meter to continue to run while vehicles are paused in order to account for the driver’s time.

The ordinance allows each community to set cab fares within its boundaries and would establish regional fares for intermunicipal cab trips.

Fares for the first mile are $4, but Gibbs wants the number increased to $5 in order to offset the increase in minimum wage and the vehicle upgrades required as part of the new regulations, including a statute that determines cabs cannot be more than 10 years old.

While the new rules are now official, lawmakers said they will take up the issue of setting fare rates at their March 4 meeting.

The new rules and regulations cover everything from licensing and vehicle inspections to codes of conduct for drivers.

Among other items, operators must: keep travel logs; have clearly identified “taxi lights” on the roof; outfit vehicles with meters; transport passengers by the “shortest reasonable route unless requested otherwise."

City officials said the upgrades are also important because taxi companies serve a different clientele than those utilizing ride sharing companies, including passengers who require transport to medical appointments and grocery stores.

The new rules also set standards for things like cab cleanliness.

Gibbs said cab operators haven’t been told how much time they have to bring their vehicles into compliance. 

“We have to be able to have some type of time frame to operate under in order to meet all of these conditions,” he said. 

Sidewalk Program Tabled

The City Development & Planning Committee voted last week to approve a measure that would allow neighborhoods to create sidewalk improvement districts. 

But City Council members on Monday tabled the proposal in order allow for more discussion. 

“We need to have some more answers,” said Councilwoman Leesa Perazzo, who voted against last week’s resolution, after the meeting. 

Under the proposed program, the city would take construction bids and oversee sidewalk replacement for participating neighborhoods, fronting the cost of the repairs. 

Residents in the district would then have the option of repaying the cost of the improvements in full, or in payments that would be added to their tax bills over a yet-to-be-determined period.

The city has discussed borrowing $1 million for the work, with the money spent as neighborhood groups petition the city.

Stockade resident David Giacalone told council members he wanted more details on the impact of the program on trees, which he said increase neighborhood values and reduce noise.

“To have a sidewalk program and not mention trees anywhere is somewhat of a scary proposition,” he said. “Trees are one of the most important assets a city has.”

Following the city's removal of trees on North Ferry Street a decade ago, the neighborhood suffered as a result, Giacalone said.

“A smart tree city needs a real tree preservation policy,” he said.

Perazzo last week said she wanted the final legislation to require more than 75 percent of property owners to sign the petition seeking a sidewalk district, as well as offer a relief valve for low-income residents who may not be in a position to absorb increased costs.

Another Stockade resident on Monday questioned the protocol for homeowners to oppose joining a sidewalk district in neighborhood that has approved one. 

“If I don’t want it done, do I have to have it done if the majority wants it?” he asked. “These are things you ought to take into consideration.”

Mayor Gary McCarthy said last week the two neighborhoods that have already petitioned for the repairs, the Stockade and a block on McClellan Street, will serve as pilot projects to garner what residents like and dislike about the program.

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