COLUMBIA — Taxi stands are here to stay — at least for now.
The Columbia City Council decided Monday to continue its taxi stand pilot project until December, when it will be evaluated next. The project originally started May 1 and was due for evaluation as of July 31.
Taxi stands are enforced 9 p.m. to 2:30 a.m. Thursday nights through Sunday mornings. Non-taxis can be ticketed or towed during these hours.
- Sixth Street and Broadway
- Tenth Street and Broadway
- Ninth Street and Elm Street
- Ninth Street and Locust Street
- Tenth Street and Cherry
The project created zones along streets in the downtown area where taxis are allowed to pick up or drop off passengers and others where they are not allowed to do the same. Enforcement occurs between 9 p.m. and 2:30 a.m. Thursday nights through Sunday mornings.
It was initiated following a recommendation by the Downtown Safety Summit in June 2010 and modeled after a similar program that is running in Boise, Id., said Columbia Police Department Lieutenant Chris Kelley.
Large crowds in front of bars have a tendency to back up sidewalks and streets as they try to hail transportation. Additionally, there is the risk of pedestrians being hit as they move out into traffic, Kelley said.
"This is about crowd management," he said. "If you move them, they will disperse."
Along with the four taxi stands, the project includes five "no drop off (or) pick up" zones, where taxis are prohibited from stopping.
Some taxi drivers have noticed the program has caused an increase in altercations at taxi stands when dealing with bar crowds late at night.
"Sometimes when you pull up, it's all out war," Terry Nickerson, owner of Taxi Terry's, said. "People are under the influence, and everybody has called for a taxi."
Nickerson reported that an irate person kicked and damaged one of his taxis because he thought his taxi had been taken by somebody else.
In contrast, Kelley said that police reports don't reflect this problem.
"We have not seen it empirically," he said.
A report from the city manager's office to the council states that there has been no observed "increase in assaults or disturbance in (or) around the taxi stand areas," and that police have noticed a quicker clearing of bar crowds late at night, due to the stands.
As for the future of the program, Nickerson — who originally was against it — supports the continuation of the taxi stands but would like to see a few changes in enforcement.
His concerns include:
- Whether the same regulations for "no pick up (or) drop off" zones will remain in effect during inclement weather.
- Whether exceptions will be made for "no pick up (or) drop off" zones when placed in front of residential buildings. Currently, people who live in these buildings cannot be dropped off at home even if toting laundry or groceries.
- Whether there are more relaxed regulations of "no pick up (or) drop off" zones for the elderly or people requiring assisted mobility. At this time, people may have to travel several blocks to reach a taxi stand, which may be difficult for some.
Taxis that service people with disabilities in regulated zones and during the enforcement period would not be cited, Kelley said.
"In the spirit of the law, an officer will use good judgment and let the cab get to them," he said.
During the first three months of the project, 174 citations were issued to illegally parked vehicles at taxi stands; 72 vehicles were towed from taxi stands, and five citations were issued to taxis for loading or unloading in a prohibited zone.
Of the 174 citations issued, the majority, 67, were given at the taxi stand on Tenth St. and Cherry.
Nickerson said the project will work long-term only if enforcement stays strict.
"(Enforcement is) down from when it started," he said. "If they stop ticketing, people are going to take advantage."
Kelley said that he did not think that consistent enforcement would be a problem.