BY ETHAN FORMAN
---- — DANVERS — A small Beverly transportation company was the first yesterday to apply for a taxi license in town after police cracked down on several out-of-town cab companies Tuesday for picking up fares without a license to operate.
It will not be until March 17 that selectmen can hold a public hearing on the application of ND-A-RYD, located at the Cummings Center in Beverly. That’s the earliest a hearing can be held after it is advertised on March 7, Assistant Town Clerk Kathy Woytovich said.
On Wednesday, four cab companies took out applications, the same day that Woytovich was fielding calls from residents upset they couldn’t get a cab to pick them up.
The crackdown hasn’t only affected residents. Amanda Sylvester, a Salem resident who works as a cashier at Sports Authority at the Liberty Tree Mall, said yesterday that she might have to walk four miles home when she works closing shifts that last until 10 p.m., since the last bus leaves at 7:30 p.m. and she can’t always depend on co-workers to give her a ride.
“If I don’t have a co-worker who is able to drive me home on a closing shift, what am I supposed to do, walk in 17-degree weather four miles?” she said. “What am I supposed to do, call Danvers police and ask if they’ll give me a ride home every night? It sounds a little crazy, but that’s what this has come down to.”
Sylvester said she’s been depending on the $10 rides to and from work since she totaled her car about a month ago. Getting to her job hasn’t been a problem because taxis are allowed to drop customers off in Danvers — it’s getting home that’s the hard part.
Tuesday’s crackdown involved officers calling for rides from the Liberty Tree Mall and issuing $100 fines to those cabs that showed up.
A Peabody man, Neil Papamechail, who is legally blind, wound up taking an unexpected six-mile hike home from Costco on Route 1 when four cab companies refused to pick him up on Wednesday.
Assistant Town Manager Diane Norris said she is sorry that people are inconvenienced, but the licensing process is to ensure people’s safety.
Police Chief Neil Ouellette declined to name the cab companies cited because they have a right to appeal, but said they do have cab licenses in Salem, Beverly and Peabody. A similar compliance check took place shortly after the town’s new taxicab bylaw was approved in 2009.
The cab companies were warned about the need for a license, but none applied, according to the chief. The cost is $100 for the taxicab business and one cab license and $50 for each additional vehicle. Ouellette said a sticking point at the time was the need for $1 million in coverage for all vehicles.
“All we want them to be is compliant with licensing,” Ouellette said, so that the cabs are safe and properly maintained, and the driver undergoes a proper background check, among other requirements.
“It’s an excellent proposition for a legitimate business owner who wants to run a business in the community,” Ouellette said.
“I think it’s good they cracked down on them because they showed they aren’t fooling around,” said Dennis Soper Jr., owner of ND-A-RYD.
Soper said he was not caught in the cab crackdown. He said he has an account in Danvers to provide rides as a livery service. His company consists of one taxi and one livery vehicle, and he also drives a school bus part time to make ends meet.
He questioned why the town requires $1 million in liability, saying that seemed high, an amount a livery service might need to go to Logan Airport.
The crackdown was triggered when selectmen discussed cabs at a Feb. 5 meeting with Ouellette.
At the meeting, selectmen Chairman Bill Clark held an ad in The Salem News by North Shore Taxi that listed Danvers as one of the towns in which it operates. Owner Sean McKinnon said in a prior interview that his company has pulled a license application and was hoping for a grace period to be allowed to operate in town.
Yesterday, Clark said he has not received any complaints about the cab issue and said it should not take companies long to show evidence of background checks and insurance, given that they are licensed in other communities.
Selectman Gardner Trask said he spoke Wednesday with Papamechail and explained that cab companies failed to apply for licenses after the bylaw was changed in 2009. He said the issue of unlicensed cabs in town “flew under the radar” until selectmen spotted the ad.
At the Feb. 5 meeting, Selectman Dan Bennett foresaw the fallout from the cab crackdown.
“We also have an issue with people that need cabs,” Bennett said, “and is it our intent to ban them from the town of Danvers?”
“The unintended consequence is the folks couldn’t get cabs,” Bennett said yesterday.
Ouellette noted that taxicabs can drive through or drop a fare in Danvers without a license. Livery and limousine companies do not need a taxicab license because they are licensed by the commonwealth, Ouellette said.
Livery and limo companies, while prohibited from picking up passengers who hail on the street, can pick up people who call ahead for a ride. However, that short ride would be a costly one.
The limo and livery business is regulated by the state Department of Public Utilities and the federal Department of Transportation, said John Webb, owner of Webb Transportation Services of Danvers. There are insurance requirements of at least $1.5 million in coverage for a single limo to go to Logan. He also has to provide luxury vehicles and well-trained drivers.
“There are a lot of people out there who cannot afford our service, especially if you have to go to Market Basket,” said Webb, a former Danvers selectman whose company fielded some calls for rides after the crackdown. “We can’t put a car out on the road for taxi money.”
The issue of cabs not picking up in town has not yet spilled over to other businesses. Employees who answered the phones at Motel 6 and Braccia’s Four66 Pub & Grille, both on Route 1, said they have not seen problems with the issue.
“I guess it hasn’t affected us because that’s the first I’ve heard of this,” said Gale Harwood, co-owner of the Onion Town Grill on Water Street.
Staff writer Neil H. Dempsey contributed to this report.