NEWS

'A level playing field': City to explore taxi regs

Matt Algarin

Based on the conversation from Monday night's City Council meeting, Destin's for-hire drivers could be subject to a new set of regulations in the near future.

"It's been an interesting issue to, especially statewide, as it relates to not just taxi cabs and regulations, but Uber and such," City Manager Greg Kisela told city leaders.

The idea of regulating taxi operators dates back to August 2014 when city leaders were approached by a local operator urging action. Now, a year later, the city has set the wheels in motion to establish a set of standards.

Concerns raised at the time ranged from price gouging, lack of insurance, a lack of criminal background checks, old and unsafe vehicles and poor appearance of drivers.

As a former taxi company owner, Capt. George Eller told city leaders that these vehicles can be the first impression a visitor has of Destin, as well as the last impression.

"Until the city puts down some very basic guidelines, how are you going to know who's playing the game legally and who isn't?" he said.

Municipalities in the state of Florida that have already instituted regulations on taxi cabs have put forth standards for annual licensing of vehicles and operators; license fees; standards of operation; minimum insurance requirements; vehicle standards; regulatory penalties; company signage and the display/or posting of charges.

And according to city documents, these regulations vary from jurisdiction to jurisdiction, while some ordinances are less than 10 pages and others are more than 60 pages long.

The council was provided a list of potential regulations that could be implemented into a new ordinance.

"We've given you an assortment of different options, based on what other cities have done, counties have done," Kisela said. One point I want to make is, however we move forward with this, that whether we regulate just registration standards and that, or if we decide we want to get into how to regulate the fares, it is in my opinion very staff intensive and we are going to need more resources."

With a unanimous vote, the council charged city staff with drafting an ordinance for review. Any new regulation/ordinance would have to be reviewed by the city's local planning agency, then approved by the city council at two separate public hearings.

Given the number of operators in the city and surrounding area, Eller told the council its time to "have to have a level playing field."

"Destin can be a taxi cab gold mine," he said. "I would like to see the city adopt this very simple ordinance."