Downtown offers a growing number of urban amenities, but the ability to easily hail a taxi isn't one of them. This just isn't a cab-friendly city.

A task force led by Experience Columbus hopes to change that.

After meeting for more than a year, the committee of community and business leaders has proposed new rules that would make it tougher to be a cabbie and easier to hail one.

They would like to see more taxi stands Downtown, with no restrictions on hailing and drop-off locations. The task force also proposes raising the minimum age of cabbies from 18 to 23 and enforcing dress and hygiene codes for drivers. A marketing program to promote taxis would include in-cab video screens to welcome riders with info about local attractions.

Any changes that involve city code must be approved by City Council. Other changes would be financed by businesses or the cab companies.

Dispatch story after the jump.

Downtown offers a growing number of urban amenities, but the ability to easily hail a taxi isnít one of them. This just isnít a cab-friendly city.

A task force led by Experience Columbus hopes to change that.

After meeting for more than a year, the committee of community and business leaders has proposed new rules that would make it tougher to be a cabbie and easier to hail one.

They would like to see more taxi stands Downtown, with no restrictions on hailing and drop-off locations. The task force also proposes raising the minimum age of cabbies from 18 to 23 and enforcing dress and hygiene codes for drivers. A marketing program to promote taxis would include in-cab video screens to welcome riders with info about local attractions.

Any changes that involve city code must be approved by City Council. Other changes would be financed by businesses or the cab companies.

Dispatch story after the jump.

Taxis as welcome wagons? Maybe New rules would make city cab friendly, leaders say

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

By David Conrad THE COLUMBUS DISPATCH

When you step into Norman Archie's Acme cab, he promises that you are "about to experience a ride with the latest and greatest."

But despite being the "smiling face of the city" for many tourists and new residents, as a 30-year Columbus cabbie veteran, Archie says that the city has frequently given him "a cold shoulder in return."

"I've seen it all, and I can tell you this: Columbus is not a cab-friendly town," said Archie, 59, a Linden native.

But the mayor and a taxicab committee are working to change that.

After more than a year of monthly deliberations, an 18-member committee of community, business and city leaders hopes that making it tougher to be a cabbie and easier to hail a cab, and giving away gifts to tourists, might make for a better cab town.

"Being able to hail a cab is critical for any growing city, and Columbus is stuck in the 1950s," said Cleve Ricksecker, committee member and director of Capital Crossroads, an organization of 550 Downtown property owners.

One of the concerns, Ricksecker said, is a lack of taxi stands -- places Downtown for cabs to park.

"Who builds a convention center without a taxi stand?" asked Gabrielle Marshall Thomas, business manager for Acme Taxi, Columbus' second-largest cab company. She would like to see at least 15 more taxi stands than the handful that are now Downtown. Ricksecker also said that cabs are reluctant to pick up people in area hot spots, such as the Short North and Arena District, because police cite them for driving too slowly or stopping traffic to pick up or drop off fares.

"We want to change the face of cab service," said Paul Astleford, president and chief executive of Experience Columbus, the former convention and visitors bureau.

Any changes that involve city code still must be approved by City Council, and it's not yet been decided how those already driving a cab will be affected. Policy changes suggested by the committee seek to ensure the professionalism of cabdrivers by changing the required driving age from 18 to 23; enforcing stricter dress and hygiene codes; and requiring drivers to brush up on Columbus history and tourist spots.

And then there's a recommendation that is drawing concern. The committee has suggested that all cabbies have a U.S. driver's license for five years, instead of the six months that's now required.

That change has Araya Gebremeskel, treasurer of the Independent Taxicab Association of Columbus, worried.

There are 325 independent cabdrivers in Columbus -- most of them immigrants -- and he expects that more than half would be in violation of that rule.

"I don't know why they would want to do that," he said. "I guess I can understand requiring more training to ensure drivers are familiar with the area, but for someone that is coming here from Somalia or Kenya to have to wait five years sounds unnecessary."

Other changes being considered are more playful.

In the works are plans to establish a "welcome script" for cabdrivers to say to passengers; a gift for airport fares; artistic lights to signal whether cabs are vacant or occupied; a form of "wrapping" around the car similar to what many Downtown buses have for advertisements; and video screens to include a welcome address from the mayor and information about local attractions.

"I'm smiling right now thinking about it," Astleford said.

The committee sat down with Mayor Michael B. Coleman on June 29. Mike Brown, a spokesman for the mayor, said Coleman likes the ideas.

The committee hopes the policy and city code changes take place in the next six months, Astleford said. The style changes might take longer.

City Council will decide Columbus' responsibility. Other changes will be financed by businesses, organizations or the cab companies, Astleford said.

Archie looked over the list of possible changes in his cab on the East Side.

"There needs to be more taxi stands, and police need to give us more freedom," he said. "But all this flash-and-dash stuff. This is not Disney World or Las Vegas, this is urban Columbus."

The more than 300 independently owned cabs dominate the business in Columbus. The others are owned by either Green Cabs Inc., which runs Yellow Cab, with 128 cars, and Acme Taxi, with 38.

The president of Green Cabs is on the committee, but he shares Archie's concern.

"I'm not wild about some things," said James Stofer. "But we had our place at the table, and I think the industry is looking forward to it all. I think these ideas deserve to get their chance."

Stofer had no ideas for the tourist gift.

Astleford said he's partial to peanut-butter and chocolate Buckeye candies.

"But I wouldn't want that in a hot cab," he said.

Copyright © 2007, The Columbus Dispatch