BY ETHAN FORMAN
---- — DANVERS — It was a good thing for Peabody resident Neil Papamechail that selectmen granted temporary permission for certain cab companies to operate in town last night.
Without that permission, Papamechail told selectmen, he wouldn’t be able to get home from the meeting in Town Hall. Papamechail is legally blind and depends on cabs to get around.
“I got a ride here with one of you guys,” Papamechail said. “But, if you don’t make a decision, I will be stranded.”
Acknowledging that the town’s taxicab bylaw may have two fatal flaws in it that kept cab companies from pulling licenses in town and apologizing to those residents who could not get rides, selectmen voted 5-0 to grant companies that apply for a license by Thursday, March 7, temporary permission to operate. Cab companies are also required to show they have a valid license from another community. The permission was effective immediately after the vote.
Public hearings on taxi license applications were scheduled for April 2. Since the bylaw could be changed by Town Meeting in May, licenses granted in April will also be temporary.
So far, Beverly-based ND-A-RYD, Salem Taxi and Peabody’s North Shore Taxi have applied for licenses, officials said last night.
“Now we can operate legally, and they won’t bother us,” said Dennis Soper Jr., the operator of ND-A-RYD, who said his company was not caught in the police compliance check.
The crackdown on cab companies a week ago Tuesday, at the behest of selectmen, led Papamechail to take what he said was “an unexpected six-mile walk” from Costco on Route 1 to his home. He told the board he had his 10-year-old daughter with him at the time.
Papamechail was not the only one left without a ride after several cab companies were fined when officers called for rides from the Liberty Tree Mall, then cited those who showed up. Danvers has not licensed a cab company to operate in town for several years, even with a rewrite of its taxicab bylaw in 2009.
Ash Street resident Laura Powell, who said she has a handicap that prevents her from driving, was also stranded.
“This week, I was unable to take my son to an appointment because I could not get a taxi,” Powell said. She favored the idea of giving cab companies temporary permission but said the inability to get a taxi “caused a lot of stress in our home.”
She wondered why the town had not pursued cab operators to get the proper license in the town all these years.
“It got swept under the rug,” said Selectman Dan Bennett, who said the issue was not a priority for the board.
Selectman Trask said it is not up to the town to chase a businesses to get a license.
“The onus is on the business,” said Trask, who told Powell he was “sorry for angst it caused you.”
While the vote was unanimous to grant temporary permission, it came with some back-and-forth as some board members questioned the extent of the police crackdown.
“The Danvers Police Department had the best intentions,” Selectman Keith Lucy said. “But, they were probably heavy-handed.” He, too, apologized to those who were stranded. He noted that there are liquor establishments that depend on being able to call a cab for a customers who are too drunk to drive.
The crackdown was prompted when selectmen Chairman Bill Clark on Feb. 5 pointed out an ad by North Shore Taxi in The Salem News that advertised a Danvers phone number.
“It may have been heavy-handed, but it was what was needed to get cabs in compliance,” Clark said.
Other board members were quick to say that it was not the Police Department’s fault, given, as Trask said, “we had four cab companies operating illegally in town.”
Sean McKinnon, the general manager for North Shore Taxi, defended his Peabody cab company’s actions, saying the ad advertised the company’s limo service to the airport. Livery licenses are not regulated by the town, he said.
McKinnon said the proof of $1 million in insurance coverage that the town requires is impossible to obtain. The highest limits offered are $250,000 per person and $500,000 per accident. He said North Shore Taxi was not in operation when the taxicab bylaw passed in 2009, but he also said that perhaps he should have pursued a license anyway, after having made a casual inquiry to the town in 2010.
“I apologize to the board for not pursuing it further,” McKinnon said.
Town Manager Wayne Marquis said concerns from taxi companies center around the $1 million liability insurance limit as unattainable and unaffordable. Marquis said the town is still gathering information about insurance. Another problem is language that implies companies give “the intended place of business within the town of Danvers.” That wording, Marquis said, does not mean the company has to be based in town.
“To a lot of people, a cab is a luxury,” Papamechail said after the meeting. “To someone like me, if I can’t get a cab, I ain’t going nowhere.”
Staff writer Ethan Forman can be reached at 978-338-2673, by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter at @DanverSalemNews.