MVFH eyes deferral policy, shuttle service
“We don’t have a policy for deferrals because we haven’t needed it,” Commission on Motor Vehicles for Hire Chair Brad Marthens
told the group at its December meeting. He was referring to deferrals for individuals on the taxi license waiting list, whose name finally came up but who did not want to receive the license at the time.
The town issues only 32 taxi licenses, and there is an extensive waiting list of people, hoping for the chance to navigate the dirt roads and byways of Block Island with a van full of tourists and their luggage. Many people have been on the waiting list for many years, biding their time in anticipation of receiving one of the coveted taxi licenses, and the opportunity to pilot the taxicab on the ever-popular “island tour.”
Owning a taxi license is considered a solid source of income for a year-round islander and the idea that there would be people on the list who would want a deferral once their name finally came up has been considered ludicrous.
With the advent of the Covid pandemic, however, things changed for the commission and its waiting list. As multiple license holders gave up their license rather than drive during the time of Covid, the commission started going down the waiting list to fill the vacancies. But one after another, the people on the list asked the commission to skip them for the year. And as the commission moved down the list, it became more difficult to expect the person to be ready to jump onto the road in a taxi.
“This hadn’t been a problem before,” Marthens said. Member Sue Ann Shaw agreed, saying that usually people on the list knew when they were getting near the top. As such, the top two or three individuals were ready to figure out how to finance a taxi and get it on the road, should their name be called. But with people on the list passing due to Covid, the commission has been getting pretty far down the list, and people that low in the order generally do not have a plan in place.
One person reported being on the list for years, and it taking several years for him to progress up into a position in the top ten of the list. But with Covid deferrals, he suddenly found himself at the top of the list, with no ability to finance a taxi with only a couple of weeks before the start of the season. As such, he too had to defer.
“We need a policy now,” Shaw said, as people are still deferring due to Covid. The commission discussed the idea of allowing deferrals, but perhaps only a certain number of times before a person would lose their spot and fall to the bottom of the list. Marthens
suggested the group get a plan together and “run it by legal counsel.”
The commission also discussed the point-to-point shuttle service that was run as a pilot program by the taxis. Several taxi drivers in attendance offered feedback, with Jim “Rondo” Rondinone saying that the price of the shuttle was sometimes more than the price of
taking a taxi, depending on how many people were in the group. Marthens agreed, calling it “more financially responsible” to take a taxi if the group was three or more people. The point-to-point service charged a $5 per person, while the taxis charge a set rate for the trip and then $1 per additional person. So, for instance, the point-to-point would cost three people $15 to go from Old Harbor to New Harbor. A taxi would cost $12, ten dollars for the trip and one dollar per additional person.
“Even if [the shuttle] was free, people want the convenience,” Rondinone said. Shaw agreed, asking rhetorically if people really wanted to spend half an hour of their vacation riding the point-to-point along its route, when they only had two days on the island to begin with.
The commission agreed to wait until Judy Clark could join them in January to make any decisions about it. Clark compiled data and information on the point-to-point service over the summer, and was not able to attend the December meeting.