Story by Chioma Onwumelu
The five taxi companies based in New Brunswick have been sending out a cry for help to the members of the city council.
The Taxi Industry has served and continues to serve the New Brunswick community since its inception 70 years ago in 1946.
But recently, the New Brunswick Taxi Industry has been at a crossroads with the illegal competition that they face from out of town taxis and Uber drivers.
The New Brunswick Taxi Industry could arguably be one of the most important functions of the New Brunswick Community transportation system, however; the industry and its members continue to face problems that may hinder its continuity.
Taxi drivers in New Brunswick say they are suffering as a result of illegal taxi businesses along with stifling city regulations that threaten their only means of livelihood.
On October 7th, Roger Gerges spoke on behalf of the city’s taxi drivers. According to Gerges, New Brunswick has become very attractive to illegal taxi businesses, including controversial services like Uber, that are constantly taking business away from licensed and registered taxi drivers.
Gerges lamented that the issue with illegal taxis in New Brunswick has become one with the ferociousness of a wildfire with new unlicensed taxis appearing as they are being shut down but also with other municipalities awarding taxi drivers licenses that encroach on New Brunswick territory and the rising popularity of Uber and other similar services.
Uber taxis are a new wave of personalized transport services that allow for drivers to conveniently use their private vehicles to pick up and drop off customers without having a license of any sorts.
According to Gerges, these drivers often hang around designated taxi waiting spots and steal businesses from New Brunswick taxicabs.
Gerges requested that the police department do a better job of regulation so as to restrict the expansive range to which these Uber drivers are reaching and cut down on the amount of business they steal from licensed cab drivers in the city of New Brunswick.
According to a poll recently conducted by the Global Strategy Group, a good number of New Jersey residents are in favor of rideshare apps like Uber. 46% percent of people reported that Uber was most favorable to them and said that they believed that the services had an overall positive outlook on transportation in New Jersey.
This is not the overall problem here as services can be divided among companies, the main issue the New Brunswick cab drivers have is that they are being subjected to strict regulations whereas these Uber drivers aren’t.
The 46% percent of people in the poll that voted in favor of the Uber also called for proper regulations to be given to Uber drivers so they operate freely in different parts of the state ultimately taking away business from local taxi drivers and companies.
Most people believe that the provision of these regulations is a critical step forward in the path of transportation in New Jersey.
Kimberly Gonzales, a community member in New Brunswick who was also present at the October 7 council meeting, said that she was in favor of the Uber drivers becoming more of normality in New Brunswick.
“I’m a commuter so I usually end of taking taxis everywhere. I usually don’t have cash on me so the Uber is better because I can pay before hand and not have to worry about the tax that comes along with card payment in regular Cabs,” she said.
Gonzales also added that she really hopes that the regulation passes at some point to make Uber drivers legal.
Captain JT Miller on behalf of the NBPD responded to the requests made by Gerges saying, “We agree a hundred percent, illegal cabs have been a problem for years and we have worked together (with the drivers) to get them off the streets”
Captain Miller also said that the NBPD could, “get more educated about the Uber but it’s not a very good use of our resources to spend the entire time tracking down each and every Uber. We would just have to find a happy medium to tackle the problem”
Gerges, one of the leaders of Victory Taxi in New Brunswick, also brought up the issue of increased operating cost of running a taxi company in New Brunswick.
These increased operating costs are attributed insurance premiums for personal taxi cars that sum up to about $8000, which is almost $100.000 in coverage in New Brunswick.
A coverage that is $65.000 more than the New Jersey coverage for Taxi drivers, Gerges pleaded with the council to make amendments to the bill paying so taxi drivers can pay the $35.000 that New Jersey requires.
He also requested that the council under the tight supervision of the NBPD provide newer and more doable vehicle time limits so the drivers are able to survive.
Currently, the taxi drivers are required to have vehicles that are 6 years and newer; this requirement puts this drivers in a position to spend a lot to keep their businesses running.
Georges also pleaded with the council to extend that leverage to 10 years and to also allow for the taxi companies to increase their fair charge
According to the New Brunswick city Ordinances, taxi fares have not increased in 12 years but the variables that surround it have gradually increased.
The Taxi drivers are unable to increase their prices due to the fear of losing their business to other taxi businesses that may charge less so they are subjected to surviving with barely enough.
The local taxi drivers have to deal with the threat of outside companies taking their business so they do not increase their fare because of it.
However, mixed feelings on the transportation problem have not been inherently exclusive to New Brunswick Residents and Taxi drivers, out of town opinions have also been voiced.
On Wednesday, December 2nd, the owner of the Checker cab company in Highland Park, Randy Shutz took the stand during the weekly council meeting to voice his opinion on the New Brunswick Ordinance that prevents out of town cabs from operating in New Brunswick.
Randy has been in business for over 35 years running a taxi company that has existed for over 60 years and he said that it was unconstitutional to refuse out of town cabs form picking up customers from New Brunswick.
Randy told the council of an incident that involved him not being able to pick up a patient he had dropped off from Robert Wood Johnson Hospital because of the ordinance that was passed.
He said, “I don’t want to go into this and I don’t want the council to go into this but we all know that this is unconstitutional. People have a right to use whatever taxi companies they want to. ”
Randy also added that his motive was not to put the New Brunswick taxi drivers out of business but to be able to pick up and drop off his customers regardless of their location.
This only adds to the current issue that New Brunswick taxi drivers are facing with encroachment on licensed territory.
The council Lawyer present at the meeting responded on behalf of the council and the ordinance saying that city is working nonstop to better the taxi business here and that particular ordinance was implemented to help them.
He said, “Outside companies that aren’t licensed in New Brunswick can drop off but not pick up, it’s pretty straightforward.”
Randy threatened to take the issue to court regardless of the fact that the ordinance had been active for over 35 years; this has the possibility of causing so many problems for the taxi drivers alongside the issues of licenses.
“We are on the floor bleeding now, we cannot keep up with our bills, our insurance bills our repairs… it’s about 150 drivers representing 150 families, we cannot make it like this,” Gerges told the council that Wednesday.
He also added that a lot of the drivers in New Brunswick are willing to give up their licenses to pursue other means of livelihood. This is an issue that affects not only the drivers but also the masses that utilize their services.
New Brunswick Resident, Stephanie Quartsin said during an interview that she was unaware of the issues that the drivers faced on a daily basis.
She said, “It’s unfair how they have to struggle to make ends meet and also deal with other illegal taxis stealing customers. I think the city should let them increase their fares, I mean NJ Transit frequently increases theirs so what is the problem.”
The Taxi Companies in New Brunswick hope that something could be done to help them and save their businesses.