While the Quincy City Council was deliberating whether to change the city’s taxicab regulations Monday night, Corporation Counsel Andrew Staff mentioned a Quincy Herald-Whig story that referred to the city’s taxi licensing process as “complex.”
He asked Police Chief Rob Copley to explain the process involved in getting a taxicab license. “It’s not that complex, I don’t believe,” Copley said.
He said the individual must make application with his office. The application must be reviewed to make sure all the qualifications are there. The police do a background check. A public hearing is held. After that, the chief makes a recommendation to the City Council.
That’s it in a nutshell, Copley said.
However, if you look closely at the City Code and the 12 pages of legal lingo that govern taxicabs and limousines in the city of Quincy, the process appears to be a little more complex than that — at least in the eyes of some people.
Sure, the application for a taxicab driver’s license appears simple enough. The person is required to submit his name, address, length of residence, physical description, birth date, citizenship information, prior employment for three years, prior taxi licenses issued to the person, details about any accidents or citations while driving a vehicle.
Then we get into the person’s minimum “qualifications” to be a taxicab driver.
The person must be at least 19 and able to speak and read English, which isn’t complicated at all.
But then there’s the “physical and mental competence” qualification. The code says: “Such person must be physically and mentally competent to drive a taxicab, evidence of which competency shall in part be by a certificate obtained at such person’s expense from a physician licensed to practice medicine in the State of Illinois.”
The basic qualifications also require the applicant to be “of good character, evidence of which shall be in the form of affidavits filed by two reputable persons who attest to the person’s good character” along with an affidavit from the person’s previous employer, “or other appropriate person if not previously employed.”
The driver applicant must have no more than two convictions for any offense involving a motor vehicle or any violation of a taxicab ordinance in the past year. In addition the applicant “must not have any convictions of any offense involving morals, drugs, reckless driving, driving while under the influence of intoxicating liquor or drugs, or similar violations or be on parole or probation for any such offense” for three years prior to the application, the code says.
Now, someone seeking a taxicab owner’s license — someone like Jonathan Schoenakase, operator of Courtesy Cabs, which might go out of business as a result of Monday’s ordinance change — would be required to jump through a few more licensing hoops.
Someone seeking a taxicab owner’s license has to provide even more information than mentioned above, including detailed information about all vehicles in the fleet, such as the make, type and factory number of each vehicle; state license numbers for the vehicles; and “the seating capacity of each such vehicle according to its trade rating.”
Corporate details must be revealed, and the person must provide detailed information about any felony convictions involving the applicant or any other principal member of the corporation or firm.
Prior to the public hearing by the police chief, notices must be sent by certified mail to all current holders of taxicab licenses, and a public notice must be published in the local newspaper, with all costs for this paid by the applicant.
After the police chief makes a recommendation, the City Council then shall “give due consideration” to the report “and conduct such additional investigations or public hearings as it deems advisable.” The council will then decide “whether the public convenience and necessity require the proposed taxicab owner’s license be issued.”
Prior to receiving a license, the applicant must provide proof of adequate insurance for each vehicle and pay a $10 annual fee for each taxicab owned or operated.
The owner also is required to establish a schedule of rates for taxicab services. In addition, the owner must allow police to inspect each vehicle at least once every three months, or more often if deemed necessary.
The code says: “If the Chief of Police, or his designate, is not able or not qualified to make an inspection, such inspection shall be made by an appropriate party selected by the taxicab owner and approved by the Chief of Police, or his designate, at the cost of the taxicab owner.”
In addition to being required to keep all vehicles safe, sanitary and in good working condition, the owner also must make sure each taxicab “shall have an exterior color scheme distinctly different from that of all other taxicabs” owned by other parties.
The licensed owner also must be prepared to issue receipts upon demand and maintain a daily master log of all trips, showing the time and place of origin and the destination and amount of fare charged.
While all of these requirements might not seem complex to some people, it’s understandable why Schoenakase fought so hard against having to be licensed.
Until the new ordinance was approved, he only had to fill up his gas tank, wait for a drunk to stumble out of a bar and ask for a ride, then hope the passenger dropped a tip into his bucket at the end of the trip.
At the council’s Sept. 21 meeting, Schoenakase’s attorney, Ryan Schnack, said if the ordinance is approved, “Mr. Schoenakase’s service will no longer be provided.”
Schnack said operating Courtesy Rides “is more of a hobby” than a business for Schoenakase.
“Frankly, abiding by all these requirements for a hobby seems a little excessive.”