By Jim Hagerty
ROCKFORD — Taxi companies and drivers may soon have to be licensed to comply with enhancements to the city’s existing taxicab ordinance.
Rockford has had such an ordinance on the books for many years, but it has lacked certain elements to make it strong enough for police to enforce. In fact, there are roughly a dozen taxi companies operating in the city and officials say none is licensed.
According to city code, companies must be licensed annually although no licenses were issued or renewed each year. Fines for operating without a license can be as much as $750 per day.
If aldermen approve enhancements to the regulation, all drivers must pass a background check, be fingerprinted and have an acceptable criminal record. Vehicles would have to be insured and pass inspection while companies must have their annual permit in place.
“Right now, there is not (many) teeth in the ordinance,” City Attorney Kerry Partridge said. “We could go out and issue citations for the owners of the taxicab companies and we’ve enforced it in the past. But, it’s fallen out of practice for them to even buy a license.”
There was one license issued in 2017.
Safety is also an issue in complementing the code. Partridge said by vetting drivers and ensuring taxis pass inspection will ensure that passengers are safe when these private companies use city streets to operate their businesses.
“Some of the vehicles they are driving are in very poor condition,” he said. “The citizens who use these vehicles for their primary mode of transportation deserve to be transported in safe vehicles.”
Inspections would be required on all cabs five years and older under the proposal, Partridge added. As an enforcement mechanism, any taxi found by police to be in violation of any part of the ordinance could be immediately impounded.
Restrictions to individual licenses could involve moving violations, DUI convictions and convictions for sex offenses and theft. Drivers could lose those their permits if they are found to have any amount of alcohol or other drugs in their system while operating a cab.
Taxi fares are regulated by the city and under the new ordinance would not be increased. Rockford’s revenue would come from the licensing fees.
The ordinance would not apply to limousines companies or independent contractors who drive for companies like Uber or Lyft. Those companies are subject to different regulations, largely because of the contracts they use.
The taxicab proposal was laid over Monday by the Code & Regulation Committee and could be back in front of the panel in two weeks before coming before the full council. R.