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New taxi regulations to begin for county

By Staff | Jul 31, 2015

Taxi cabs and vehicles for hire will be required to comply with new regulations starting Saturday in order to operate and offer their services within Lee County.

County Ordinance 15-05, or the “Lee County Taxicab and Vehicle for Hire Ordinance,” includes criteria that is aimed at promoting safety on the roadways and ensuring protection for residents and visitors. The Lee County Tax Collector will manage all of the related applications and permitting.

District 2 Commissioner Cecil Pendergrass initiated the conversation among county officials nearly two years ago to try to consolidate the permitting and application processes for vehicles for hire.

“I saw the duplication of services and the redundancy,” he said Thursday, noting that the businesses were required to obtain permits or licenses from each of the municipalities where they operated. “What we’re trying to do is streamline the process for all – one county ordinance, and one county license.”

“They can then operate countywide,” Pendergrass said.

The city of Fort Myers, however, will still require separate permitting.

Under the amended ordinance, taxicab companies, transportation network companies and other vehicles for hire as an independent contractor must obtain a certificate to operate. Initial applications will require that vehicles have an ASE mechanical inspection, as well as on-site visual inspection.

Stickers will be issued for each vehicle and displayed on the front and rear windows.

The cost is $10 for the on-site vehicle inspection and renewal sticker.

An ASE mechanical inspection will be required on the vehicles every three years.

Applicants must provide some basic information, including business location, ownership information and proof of insurance. The initial application fee is $30, with an annual renewal fee of $30.

“The most important thing is to protect our consumers, protect our citizens. Make sure the cabs are insured and make sure they’re clean,” he said. “You want them to have a safe environment.”

Under the new regulations, all taxicab or vehicle for hire operators much have a current valid driver’s license and must undergo a certified criminal background check with the initial application. The driver is responsible for the cost of the check, and they must go through an updated check every three years.

When working for a company, an authorization letter from the business will be required.

The ordinance notes that anyone found guilty of, convicted of or had adjudication withheld on any crimes from a certain list will not be permitted to operate a vehicle for hire. The list includes murder, kidnapping, carjacking, home invasion, exposure of sexual organs and registered sexual offenders.

A charge of the sale or possession of a controlled substance or driving under the influence within the last five years also invalidates a driver, along with a charge of reckless driving in last three years.

The Lee County Tax Collector will issue a photo identification card to approved applicants.

The initial processing fee for the card is $27, with an annual renewal cost of $15.

The photo identification card must be displayed in clear view for passengers.

According to Pendergrass, local taxi companies backed the ordinance during the discussions.

“They support it,” he said. “All the ones I’ve talked to.”

One up and coming vehicle for hire service, however, took issue with the changes. Uber, an international transportation network company, spoke out at the public hearing in March.

“They didn’t want to release drivers’ information,” Pendergrass said, reiterating that drivers must provide proof of insurance and go through a background check under the new regulations.

“They can operate in the county, if they work under the (new) ordinance,” he said.

Uber officials did not return a message seeking comment on Thursday.

According to Pendergrass, Uber involves local drivers using their personal vehicle to drive strangers around for a fee. In the case of a crash, an injured rider could not count on the driver’s insurance.

“If you get hurt, you get paralyzed, you will not be able to go after their insurance,” he said.

A database system has been developed for program administration and allows law enforcement to access vehicle and driver information. The fees collected from the applicants fund the program.

There is no additional costs to taxpayers, officials reported.

The Lee County Board of County Commissioners voted 5-0 to adopt the ordinance on March 17.

“It just goes to show that we’re trying to reduce the government regulations and still protect the consumers,” Pendergrass said.

For more information, visit the Lee County Tax Collector at: www.leetc.com.