Dozens and dozens of taxicabs will roll through an annual inspection at the end of the month, giving the village its first real opportunity to enforce a new set of regulations intended to standardize the industry and improve both safety and service in Forest Park.
Drivers looking to be licensed by the village will need to install bullet proof partitions, satellite mapping systems and possibly even purchase newer cars, all in accordance with an ordinance adopted in late March. Depending on the upgrades needed to bring their cabs into compliance the expense for drivers could be considerable, but by and large public officials said they’ve heard a minimal amount of grumbling.
Even a provision that institutes a dress code for drivers has drawn few criticisms.
“That’s all good,” Jerome Scott, a driver with Pinoy said of the regulations on hygiene and appearance. Scott, who has driven a cab off and on since the 1970s, said he would prefer taxi companies to issue uniforms to their drivers.
Jim Bennett is the general manager of Blue Cab, which operates one of the village’s largest taxi fleets. His company is responsible for providing drivers with any equipment their cabs may need, but each driver must purchase their own vehicle.
At Blue Cab, and in general, said Bennett, most cabs on the road already have the equipment that’s required by the newly adopted ordinance. The installation of either a bullet proof partition or camera system “is going to cost some money,” said Bennett, but the requirements shouldn’t create any real hardship.
“For the most part people are doing these things [industry wide],” Bennett said. “I really think it’s going to help the industry as a whole.”
While waiting for a fare at the Blue Line station on Desplaines Avenue, a cab driver for 303 Taxi said there are some facets of the industry that need to be regulated, but it can get confusing when drivers have to contend with different rules for different communities. Based in Mt. Prospect, 303 takes fares in several of the near suburbs and into DuPage County, according to the company’s website.
In his six years behind the wheel, Big Boy – as he prefers to be called – has seen cars that aren’t clearly marked and have different color schemes from other vehicles within the same company. Still other drivers, he said, have a reputation for indiscriminately changing their rates.
“You gotta follow the rules,” Big Boy said. “If you don’t follow the rules, how you gonna have order.”
Potentially, the village’s new mandate that no taxicab be more than 10 years old could have a deep financial impact on cab companies. But the regulation is not unique to Forest Park, according to several drivers. Big Boy, who was driving a vehicle built in 2000, said many towns have a tougher mandate than the one adopted in Forest Park.
At Blue Cab, Bennett is in the process of reviewing the company’s fleet for the upcoming inspection in Forest Park, but must also contend with regulations in nearby Oak Park. In that community, he said, the cutoff stands at eight years.
“Forest Park is not going to be our concern in that regard, it’s Oak Park that we have to comply with,” Bennett said.
A provision in Forest Park’s ordinance that takes hold in 2010 will also enforce a vehicle age limit of eight years.
When police officers conduct the taxi inspections in a few weeks, Chief Jim Ryan said his department will be looking closely for compliance with the new regulations. To receive an operating license from the village, said Ryan, cabs will need to have made the necessary changes. Upon adopting the new rules, the municipality sent copies of the new ordinance to every cab licensed here, said Ryan.
From a public safety standpoint, the addition of video cameras or bullet proof partitions will make it harder for criminals to commit crimes against cab drivers, said Ryan, but not impossible.
Scott, who drives for Pinoy, agreed that safety is important but said the equipment hasn’t changed much over the years and can be easily thwarted.
“I don’t really see the point,” Scott said of installing cameras or partitions. “When he gets out of the car he could destroy you through the window. It’s not updated enough. It’s all old school.”