North Charleston considers easing rules for taxi drivers with prior drug convictions
North Charleston is preparing to ease some of the city’s 4-year-old taxi regulations, including a rule that currently denies cab licenses to those with a drug-possession conviction for anything but marijuana during the past five years.
“We gave (the regulations) some time to see what works, what didn’t and what we needed to be a little more flexible with,” said Julie Elmore, special assistant to Mayor Keith Summey.
The current rules stem from a 2009 effort to address what the city said were complaints about dirty and poorly maintained cabs, taxi drivers who overcharged out-of-town visitors, and even cabs being used to facilitate criminal activity.
The crackdown resulted in complaints from cab drivers and criticism from some elected officials and the local NAACP. Drivers in 2010 complained that they were being repeatedly stopped and fined $500 for minor infractions, such as having a messy car.
The city later reduced the fine for violations to $100, and made other changes. Councilwoman Dot Williams said that under the city’s current taxi inspector, Patrick Pontieri, she hasn’t been hearing complaints from drivers.
The proposed changes to the rules would reduce the cost of annual safety inspections from $50 to $25 per cab, and make some adjustments to time periods for permits and paperwork filing, in addition to eliminating a licensing prohibition for those with drug-possession convictions more than 2 years old.
“Everybody wants the same thing, which is to have a shaped-up group of taxi drivers, but also have regulations that make sense,” said Armand Derfner, a Charleston lawyer representing an association of taxi drivers.
North Charleston’s rules for getting a taxi license are currently the same as those for being a city police officer, when it comes to past drug-possession convictions. A conviction within the past five years would be grounds for denial.
“That was just a little harsh for being a taxi driver,” Elmore said.
The proposed rules would continue to require that cabs have meters, and be regularly inspected by the city, and drivers would continue to be licensed subject to criminal record and driving record checks.
The changes would reduce the look-back period for drug possession from five years to two, for drugs other than marijuana. A marijuana possession conviction during the previous year would also be grounds to deny a taxi license, as it is now.
The City Council will take its first vote on the proposed changes at a meeting Thursday.
Reach David Slade at 937-5552 or Twitter @DSladeNews.