BY ETHAN FORMAN
---- — DANVERS — Representatives of five cab companies rode into Danvers last night seeking licenses to do business in town.
They came away without permanent licenses and with lots of questions, but they did get a unanimous vote from selectmen to extend their temporary ability to operate until May 9.
They also hailed assurances from selectmen that the town would work to change its taxicab bylaw to address their concerns that it makes it too expensive and onerous to do business in town.
“I think the $1 million (insurance) liability (on taxicabs), you can’t get it. It’s unobtainable in the state of Massachusetts,” said Dennis Soper, owner of Nd-A-Ryd of Beverly. He’s seeking a single cab license for his small cab company.
Other cab companies also agreed that the amount of insurance coverage the town requires is unobtainable and prohibitively expensive.
It’s been more than three years since the town rewrote a bylaw to attract cab companies and protect passengers, as the town has been without its own cab company for about five to six years, selectmen Chairman Bill Clark said. Even the two spaces that once formed a cab stand in Danvers Square have been converted to parking spaces.
Police conducted a sting on Feb. 19 and fined cab drivers for responding to what turned out to be officers calling for rides at the Liberty Tree Mall. Police said they lacked town cab licenses. Sean McKinnon, general manager of North Shore Taxi of Peabody, said his driver was told by police that if they were seen in Danvers again, they would be pulled over and fined.
The unintended consequence of the sting was that cab companies stopped picking up fares in town, and residents were left without rides.
The plight of those left stranded was embodied by Peabody resident Neil Papamechail, who is legally blind and regularly uses taxicabs to get around. He found himself stranded at Costco on Route 1 in Danvers, unable to get a ride home, after getting a lift there, he said at the time.
To temporarily remedy this, selectmen granted temporary licenses to those cab companies that applied within a narrow time frame. Those who did were, in addition to Nd-A-Ryd, were: Salem Taxi Co. for a 12-car taxi license, North Shore Taxi for a 10-car taxi license, Land Jet of Salem for a two-car taxi license and Tri City Services of Peabody for a two-car taxi license.
It adds up to 27 cab licenses.
McKinnon and other cab company representatives pointed to wide variations in the amount of coverage required from community to community. Selectman Gardner Trask said Peabody requires liability insurance of $100,000 per person and $300,000 in liability coverage per incident, while Beverly follows the state minimum and offers $20,000 per person and $40,000 per incident. The higher the coverage, the more expensive the premium.
The licenses are not expensive for the companies, about $100 for the first vehicle and $50 for each additional one, plus an annual $100 permit fee for the driver. It’s this latter fee that the cab companies said should be lowered, because it is more than double the next-highest amount on the North Shore.
“Less is best for a cab driver if you are trying to make a living,” said McKinnon, whose father owns the company. McKinnon also asked the town not enforce a section of its bylaw apparently taken from state law that requires every town a company serves to be painted on the cabs.
McKinnon also noted that Danvers rates are too low and differ from other communities. The Danvers rate is currently $4 for the first mile or fraction thereof and 25 cents for each additional quarter-mile.
Town Clerk Joseph Collins said the town has collected license fees but is holding them in escrow until the bylaw can be straightened out. Town Manager Wayne Marquis said the upcoming annual Town Meeting will have an article that hopefully will contain those changes.
Likterov, Soper and representatives for Salem Taxi, including Vice President Ricardo Villanuevo, favored a limit on the number of cab licenses.
“If there is too many taxis, nobody makes money,” Likterov said.
Soper said a license limit would level the playing field among small companies like his and large ones with a lot of cabs.
Police Chief Neil Ouellette said Lt. Walter Roberts and Sgt. Paul Stone have been working diligently to complete the paperwork to get all the drivers in compliance with the bylaw requirements.
The temporary licenses were extended to May 9 to give the town more time to work out changes in the bylaw. Last night’s public hearing was extended to the next selectmen’s meeting to keep the discussion going.
Staff writer Ethan Forman can be reached at 978-338-2673, by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter at @DanverSalemNews.