BY ETHAN FORMAN AND JULIE MANGANIS
---- — DANVERS — Four local cab companies fined in a police sting will not have to pay those fines after all.
Following a hearing yesterday in Salem District Court, an assistant clerk-magistrate dismissed the citations, according to the clerk’s office. The cab companies had appealed the fines, which were issued under the town’s taxicab bylaw after the firms picked up fares at the Liberty Tree Mall.
Ann Cocci, the clerk who conducted the hearing, said it seemed to be an issue of fairness.
“They were making efforts to comply,” Cocci said. “I didn’t think it was fair to issue complaints while they were trying to meet the requirements.”
Sean McKinnon, general manager of North Shore Taxi of Peabody, issued a statement that it and three other cab companies “have been cleared of any wrongdoing.”
McKinnon said in an interview yesterday that fines for all companies were handled together. North Shore Taxi and Tri City Services had representatives at the hearing, but the matter also involved Salem Taxi.
“They ended up throwing out all the citations, regardless,” McKinnon said.
The sting came after selectmen pointed out in early February that cab companies appeared to be operating in town without proper licenses.
In mid-February, police conducted the operation, calling for rides at the Liberty Tree Mall, then slapping cabs that showed up with fines. McKinnon said his company received two fines worth $200.
The unintended result of the police action was that many who depended on cabs to get around found themselves stranded when the taxi companies refused to pick up in town. The companies said the town’s more-than-3-year-old taxicab bylaw had onerous requirements such as the need for $1 million in liability coverage, which made it impossible to obtain a license. The bylaw had been revamped to attract cab companies and to keep passengers safe.
“We addressed, under the ordinance in place at the time, we were unable to obtain the $1 million insurance policy that wasn’t available,” McKinnon said.
After the sting, five cab companies applied for licenses and were given temporary approvals, and selectmen Tuesday licensed four of them to operate until the end of the year. One cab company is continuing with the licensing process.
A proposed revamp of the taxicab bylaw will be taken up at Town Meeting.
“If somebody has squared away the issue by the time it goes to the magistrate’s hearing,” police Chief Neil Ouellette said of the dismissal of the fines, “it’s not uncommon to dismiss it. The goal was to get them registered, they are registered.”
“I think it’s a great thing because we’ve been trying since we first opened (in 2010) to get a license in Danvers,” McKinnon said.
Staff writer Ethan Forman can be reached at 978-338-2673, by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter at @DanverSalemNews.