City leaders seek county help on taxi regulations

Staff Reporter
The Destin Log

After more than an hour of discussion Monday night, city leaders took a step back from the proposed ordinance on the table and opted to reach out to county officals as they continue to look at proposed taxi regulations.

"If the county can do this, and they are doing it at the airport, then why do we need to duplicate it," City Manager Greg Kisela said of proposed taxi regulations at the city level.

With a 6-1 vote, the city council tasked Kisela with looking into whether or not Okaloosa County would be willing to draft a countywide proposal that would serve as an umbrella over the 11 municipalities.

If a countywide ordinance was put in place, city leaders in Destin would be able to implement a complimentary ordinance, according to Public Information Manager Doug Rainer.

Currently, the county has regulations in place for the transportation of passengers to the Destin-Fort Walton Beach Airport.

Operators must have a business tax receipt; a minimum of $300,000 in insurance; sign a hold harmless agreement; pass a 50-state background check; pass a vehicle inspection; and obtain an airport permit.

Taxi regulations have been heavily debated in Destin for the past few months, as complaints about fares, lack of proper insurance and overall safety and appearance of vehicles have come into question.

City leaders had a proposed ordinance in place during Monday's public hearing, but ultimately moved in a different direction, as not everyone could agree on specifics.

Part of the proposed ordinance would have required taxis, or vehicles for hire, to be no less than 10 years old, which drew heavy criticism from members of the audience.

"The city cannot arbitrarily put someone out of business," longtime boat captain and former taxi cab operator George Eller said. "It would be wrong. It would be immoral."

Lee James, who operates a local cab service, told city leaders the age requirement doesn't make logical sense, as a vehicle could be more than 10 years old, but impeccably maintained.

"I know that we have school busses that are much older than 10 years," he said.

And while not everybody agreed with the specifics of the ordinance, the overwhelming majority of those who spoke were in favor of some type of enhanced regulations.

"I am for this ordinance," said Justin Jackson, a local operator. "We need higher standards.

"I've been in this business for three years and I've watched it decline," he added.

Other points of contention revolved around having a physical office location in Destin and fee structures.

With the city's proposed ordinance now on hold, city leaders will wait to hear back from Okaloosa County officials on the countywide plan.

If an agreement is not reached, Rainer said the city council can either go back and consider its proposed ordinance or can decide to not implement any regulations at all.

Destin specific regulations could prove costly though, as the city would have to fund all aspects of the regulatory process.

"We're going to need additional resources," Kisela told his colleagues. "We just don't have city staff sitting around."