When downtown Charleston's Market Street bars close after last call on weekends, there's a run on taxicabs.
Girls in heels run to chase down cruising drivers, drunken shouting creates conflict and arms get raised in a sort of competition, all in hopes of flagging a ride home.
Police Chief Greg Mullen describes the nightly ritual as an unsafe exercise in confusion, sometimes clouded by alcohol.
Now the chief has drafted a cure that he hopes can head off the weekend free-for-all by creating stationary taxi stands where cabs could queue up on a first-come, first-served basis.
As envisioned, from 12:30 to 3 a.m. Friday through Sunday, the stands would be the only places where taxi and rider could meet within the confines of Market and surrounding streets.
Just like at major airports where cabs line up, Mullen said his plan “presents a very established process of loading up, especially when places are closing late at night.”
One of the stop sites would be on Market Street, across from the Planters Inn.
Another would be at Market and East Bay streets, near the Noisy Oyster and the Customhouse.
The largest of the three stands would be at the corner of Market and Anson streets, where horse carriage tours line up during the day.
Supporters say putting cabs in the popular horse carriage zone after dark would provide an obviously beneficial dual use of the space.
When “the horses go back to the barn, the taxicabs can move in,” City Councilman Marvin Wagner said.
Mullen estimates as many as 25 cabs could fill the queue in the horse area, which means dozens of cabs would be kept from trolling the street for riders, adding to the street snarl.
All three points would become incorporated into what Mullen is calling the taxi “No Flag” zone. The recommended fine for violators would run to $262, which is in line with other taxi moving violations, the police department said.
Drivers would “pull into the stand from the rear and shall advance forward as the cabs pull out,” the ordinance proposal says.
Drivers in the first two cabs would also have to stay behind the wheel, meaning they couldn't get out and chatter, like bored cabbies are known to do.
Some of the additional problems the queues would head off, Mullen said, are the so-called solo “gypsy” cabs cruising the market looking for riders, or cabs claiming riders who already made a call and were waiting for another company to show up.
Taxicab drivers interviewed last week had a mixed response. “That would be a great idea,” said Alicia Drayton of Colonial Taxi. “It wouldn't be so boring, driving around,” she said, adding that it would also stop her burning gas circling the street.
Others said limiting their trolling habits on weekends is going to greatly cut into their profits.
“That's how we get most of our calls, by cruising,” said Jeulissa Anglin, of Seven Star taxi. “Friday and Saturday — those are our 'money' nights.” Especially from midnight to 2 a.m.
Some bar employees also questioned the wisdom of forcing people who have been drinking to herd into one area waiting for the next available ride.
Meanwhile, Barry Newton, director of the Charleston City Market, said the idea didn't seem poised to interfere with the area's retail operations, saying the taxicab issue is one for after-hours.
“Basically, we're a day-time market,” he said.
If City Council approves the proposal as a one-year pilot later this summer, Mullen hopes to have the stands in place and operating within the next 45 to 60 days. “This will really organize things,” he said.
Reach Schuyler Kropf at 937-5551.
Taxi cab traffic cruises Market Street on late weekend nights.×
Taxi cabs would have to queue up for fares in three spots on Market Street under a proposal by Charleston police.×
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