Taxis could run again in months

Published 12:04 pm Monday, June 14, 2010

After nearly a year without any taxi cab service in the city — a first in 75 years — the recently re-formed Vicksburg Public Transportation Board is hoping one or more cab companies will begin operations in coming months.

“I’m very optimistic that we’ll have at least one cab company back in Vicksburg, and maybe two,” board president Jim Stirgus Jr. said Friday.

The three-member, city-appointed transportation board disbanded last summer, shortly after the July closure of J5 Cab Company, the only remaining taxi service in the city. The board was re-formed two months ago, at which point the city began advertising for prospective cab company owners to apply for a certificate of responsibility and meet with the transportation board.

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When J5 went out of business, owners of the company cited costly insurance requirements under a 2003 city ordinance and increased competition by the NRoute mini-bus system as the primary causes for the closure. Other cab owners who folded before J5 also had said the insurance requirement, more than anything else, had driven their businesses into the ground.

Three prospective start-up cab companies that met with the transportation board this week said once again the ordinance is too restrictive.

“I challenged them to review the ordinance,” said Chris Green, co-owner of Highway 27 Motors and prospective cab owner. “There’s definitely a need for cab service in the city and we’d like to fill that void, but the insurance requirement is significantly higher than in other cities comparable to our size.”

Under the 2003 ordinance, cab companies are required to carry a minimum liability insurance policy of $75,000 for injury or death, and $150,000 for each accident or damage to property. Former operators have said such policies can cost as much as $1,000 per month, per cab.

Green said it’s possible he could get a cab company started under the current ordinance, but added, “I will push for a change before we actually go for it, because I just don’t know if it’s feasible under the current regulations.”

Stirgus said the ordinance was crafted to mirror those in place in Natchez and Meridian and does not place a higher burden on local cab companies than similar-sized cities in Mississippi. While any changes in the taxi cab ordinance would have to get majority approval from the transportation board, as well as the Vicksburg Board of Mayor and Aldermen, Stirgus said he’s not inclined to vote to lighten the insurance requirements at this point.

“We have to look out for the people riding in the cabs,” he said.

Daniel Turner, who has owned and operated City and County Cab Company in Raymond for about a year and was in the taxi business on the Gulf Coast for three years before, said the requirements in Vicksburg are “about the same” as those he has to meet in Raymond. He said he’d like to expand his business to Vicksburg in the coming months if all goes well.

“They don’t know yet how many companies they’re going to approve in the city, but we’re going to shoot for it,” he said. “It probably will take a couple months to get everything finalized if we get approval.”

Though Joseph Williams, former operator of Rocket Cab, did not return calls for comment, he was also one of the three at Tuesday’s meeting. A recorded message at the former number for the cab company states anyone who leaves a name and address will receive a coupon for one free ride and information about the company’s “grand re-opening.”

Stirgus said the board will review any certificate of responsibility applications filed with the city clerk in the coming month and will begin taking action on them at the next meeting, at 10 a.m. July 13, in room 109 of the City Hall Annex. If approved, prospective cab companies then will have to follow regular procedures for establishing a business in the city before launching operations, such as paying all applicable fees and getting all required licenses locally and with the state.

Except for a brief stint in 1998-99, at least one cab company has operated in Vicksburg since the 1930s. As many as five cab companies operated in the city between the 1940s and mid-1960s, including Rocket Cab, Safeway Cab Company, Veterans Cab Company of Vicksburg, Service Cab Company and Yellow Cab. Permits for Red Top and Rocket were revoked in June 2003 for noncompliance with safety checks and proof of insurance. Veterans ceased operations in 1998.

Red Top Owner Bill Williams sued the city in chancery and federal courts following the 2003 ordinance, claiming input from cab companies was never considered when the new regulations were put in place. The cases were dismissed.

In the absence of a legitimate taxi service in the city, it appears some illegal ride-for-hire services have sprung up across the city.

“There appears to be a bootlegging cab service in town, and we’ve asked anyone who sees anything like that going on to report it to us,” Stirgus said. “As of this time we haven’t heard anything from anybody.”