Taxis in Macon draw little city attention

The taxis tooling around Macon are officially regulated by the city, but city officials indicate that oversight may be a low priority.

Councilman Virgil Watkins brought up taxicab monitoring offhandedly at a Macon City Council meeting several weeks ago, but he lacked solid information about whether vehicles and companies are proliferating. Even so, it seems to him there are more and more on the roads.

“I used to never see a taxicab. Now, I see them all the time,” Watkins said last week.

And if any City Council committee should have a handle on the question, it’s the Public Safety Committee, which is chaired by Watkins.

“I know we control the rates,” Watkins said. “Once, maybe three years ago when gas prices were going up, the taxicab association ... came to us asking for a rate increase.”

At that time, the committee allowed an increase of about 10 cents per mile, he said. That’s the last action Watkins recalls dealing with taxicabs.

Officially, the city regulates taxis, based on an ordinance sponsored by Mayor C. Jack Ellis in April 2003. It establishes standards for service and requires annual vehicle inspections before business licenses can be renewed.

The city business license fee list requires payment of $100 per vehicle for taxicab companies, and a $19 permit for each driver.

The Yellow Pages lists three taxi companies currently serving Macon -- Middle Georgia Taxi Service, Radio Cab and Yellow Cab -- but a quick Internet search turns up at least four more that claim to operate in the area.

There’s only one taxi company registered with the city today, administration spokesman Chris Floore said. Two more are registered with Bibb County.

“Whether registered with the city or county, the company has the ability to operate throughout Macon and Bibb County. Registration is based on whether or not the business is physically located within the city limits or in the unincorporated county,” Floore said via e-mail.

The one registered in the city is Yellow Cab, said Sam Hugley, the city’s vehicle maintenance director. That company’s vehicles, at least, do get a going-over.

“We require and conduct annual inspections of the Yellow Cab company cars,” Hugley said in an e-mail this week.

He said the county handles inspections of the other cab companies, which are located in Bibb County.

The 2003 ordinance requires taxis to have a clean interior in good repair, heat and air conditioning, a fire extinguisher and basic safety equipment. It forbids smoking in cabs and requires cabs to be no more than 10 years old.

And it set up a seven-member Taxicab Advisory Committee, to be appointed to four-year terms by the mayor. It was to include a company owner and operator, a representative of the Macon-Bibb County Convention and Visitors Bureau, representatives of the mayor and City Council and two residents.

Hugley provided several documents related to the advisory committee’s initial operation, including minutes of one meeting about a year after its formation. The minutes, which show close cooperation with the Public Safety Committee, list Yellow Cab owner Jimmy Spires as chairman and mention attempts to inspect cabs owned by seven businesses. Only three had cars inspected at that time, including Yellow Cab.

Though inspections are still going on, the advisory committee may have fallen into abeyance. In any case, Watkins didn’t know of its recent operation, nor was mention of its meeting made by Floore.

Residents dissatisfied with taxi service can call the city’s customer service office at 751-7400, Watkins said. Each city-authorized cab has a sticker bearing that number, urging passengers to call if they have any complaints, he said.

Watkins said he knows occasional reports do come in, but practically all of them are about things such as cabs being late -- issues, really, for cab company supervisors to handle rather than the Public Safety Committee. The city’s intervention is only called for in cases of price-gouging, broken-down cars and really offensive behavior, he said.

And however many cabs may be circulating, residents aren’t flagging any unauthorized operators to the Macon Police Department, said Floore, who indicated that the police department’s traffic division and 1st Precinct have not seen any incidents of cabs operating without a license.

The CVB hasn’t really taken a position on taxicab tracking or regulation, but the organization is about to have a more active role in customer service standards, said Valerie Bradley, the CVB’s communications manager.

In the next couple of months the bureau will roll out customer service training for everyone in the hospitality and tourism industry, including taxi drivers, as part of its “I Am Macon” campaign, she said.

“When a visitor comes to the city, the taxis may be the first and last things the customer sees,” Bradley said.

To contact writer Jim Gaines call 744-4489.